Jennifer Cormack, sales and marketing director at Windermere Lake Cruises, says the Chinese market provides a wealth of opportunities.
One fifth of our passengers come from overseas.
As well as welcoming visitors from Europe, the US and Australasia, the Lake District is the most popular destination for Japanese visitors outside London, primarily due to the Beatrix Potter connection.
Significantly, we’ve also seen a steady increase in the proportion of visitors from China in recent years.
With the number of people travelling to the UK from the world’s most populous country set to grow further still, we’ve been working with a consortium of other local businesses to run the English Lake District China Forum since 2015.
The China Forum builds on the model of the successful Japan Forum, which has now been running for more than 20 years.
It also draws on research from Lancaster University’s Confucius Institute, highlighting the need to raise the profile of what and where the English Lake District is, and on the flipside, encouraging businesses here to better understand the specific travel and cultural needs of prospective Chinese visitors.
There are currently nine member organisations within the English Lake District China Forum, driving a range of activity including international trade missions and high-profile meetings with Chinese decision-makers.
It’s a real team effort and each business provides dedicated time and support to help attract Chinese visitors.
The Forum collectively employs a Chinese-speaking marketing expert and a social media expert, who is responsible for driving our presence on key channels such as Weibo.
As a region, it is vitally important to show how we can work together to adapt our customer service and travel itineraries for the Chinese market.
This might include translating marketing materials, maps and business cards in Mandarin, or providing staff with specialist tourism training to help them communicate with non-English speakers and ensure they are genuinely ‘China ready’.
Developing and refining bookable product on online platforms is another important part of our strategy.
I’m proud to say the collective efforts of the English Lake District China Forum have recently resulted in a bronze award in the ‘Innovation in Tourism’ category at the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2018.
The growth of flights from mainline China into the UK via Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin continues to create exciting new links, and the recent inscription of the Lake District as a World Heritage Site gives some of these prospective visitors another compelling reason to visit us.
The Forum will be sending representatives to China for the sixth time this autumn, as part of a joint Lake District trade mission to strengthen speak directly to airlines, tour operators, press and other high-level influencers.
We see this face-to-face contact as essential for shaping the region the visitor destination of choice for Chinese travellers heading to Europe in 2019.
We’re also currently looking to broaden out the membership of the Forum, to include an even broader range of businesses from a wider geographical area.
With the recent from the US and India into Manchester Airport, there is now the real possibility of rolling out the Forum model to target other key international markets.
The English Lake District China Forum is undoubtedly a great building block for the future – and there is still so much more to achieve.
Jennifer Cormack will be speaking at the Future Global Opportunities for UK Tourism conference in Liverpool (June 28).