Jennifer Cormack, Lake District China Forum chair, and Colin Fox, Lake District Japan Forum, chair, discuss targeting Chinese and Japanese tourists.
Q: How did the forums begin?
CF: There was a big increase in Japanese tourists in the 1990s and there is a love of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter, plus the Kawaii culture of cute animated characters and the desire to find out more about their heritage.
JC: After a noticeable increase in Chinese visitors in 2014, Windermere Lake Cruises and English Lake Hotels Resorts & Venues met in 2015 to see how they could work together to enhance the exposure of the English Lake District.
A group of Lake District tourism businesses formed a marketing consortium in May 2015.
Q: Why is it important to target Japan and China?
CF: The English Lake District capitalised on this interest and became a firm favourite on the destination many Japanese tourists coming to the UK. The forum was set up to maximise awareness of the National Park, Hill Top, Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter as well as many more things in the Lake District.
JC: Twice as many people travelled from China to the UK in 2017 as in 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing overseas destinations among Chinese tourists.
Most Chinese visitors stayed in the UK for between eight and 10 days, spending around 10,000 yuan (£1,137). Trips lasting for longer than 15 days were also popular.
Q: What is the appeal of the Lake District to the Japanese and Chinese?
CF: Peter Rabbit is still a big draw and Hill Top is a must-see location. Other attractions such as The World of Beatrix Potter are very popular, but there is so much more the Japanese can do and see.
The Japanese travel trade and media are very knowledgeable and have created some great Lake District itineraries with our help over the years.
JC: Unlike the Japanese market, the Chinese do not have any direct links with Peter Rabbit or Beatrix Potter.
The outdoors, mountains, lakes and stunning scenery is the appeal of the Lake District to Chinese visitors, as is fresh air.
Many of our overseas visitors are travelling from cities where blue skies and green landscapes are an uncommon sight. The Lake District has a huge amount of locally produced food and drink, Chinese visitors certainly do like to experience food and drink which is grown and produced in the area.
Our inscription as a Unesco World Heritage Site has increased the appeal of the Lake District as a ‘must see’ destination.
Q: How do you get your message to the right people?
CF: A mix of marketing on a relatively low budget, so targeting and consistency are key. It helps if you love the country and its people. It is a fantastic place to visit and see the excellent, genuine hospitality in practice in Japan. We learn from every visit.
JC: We attend UK events with VisitBritain, UKInbound and ETOA, to maintain relationships and create ones.
We also attend overseas trade missions and visit the offices of our main tour operators in mainland China and Hong Kong.
We have hosted two events in London, for Chinese agents based in London.
All of the above works really well for groups business, but for FITs (independent travellers) we have developed social media channels and websites hosted in China.
We also target Chinese nationals living in the UK and Chinese students studying in the UK.
We host a press, operators and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) here in the Lake District, and produce bespoke itineraries for them, offering translators and guides.
We feature in a destination guide, which is translated and distributed in all major visa centres in mainland China.
Q: How important is social media?
CF: We have not prioritised this in Japan and have focused on travel trade and media rather than consumer traveller awareness. Our representation in Japan, Mr Takenaka, conducts on average 30 office visits and meetings a month to update the most influential trade professionals.
JC: Social media is hugely important when targeting and communicating with Chinese visitors.
We created a website with a .cn domain hosted in China, and social media promotional channels were secured for the ‘English Lakes’.
We developed Lake District sites on Chinese platforms WeChat and Weibo.
Our Weibo platform is used regularly by guests and businesses also have translated materials and signage to help visitors on arrival.
Q: How do you get different businesses across your region and the north west to work together – and how are the forums funded?
CF: It is about building working relationships that are productive for all concerned. Self-funding is important and external funding must be seen as a bonus.
JC: We only have a small budget, funded by the businesses in the forum, so we have to work creatively.
By working with other destinations in the north of England, we have created itineraries for overseas visitors using Manchester as a gateway.
Q: How can you measure success?
CF: I can calculate the numbers and the revenue from Japan and China staying at English Lakes Hotels, but not those staying and dining elsewhere in the country.
JC: We do struggle to monitor the amount of Chinese visitors coming into the area but each business can monitor some level of nationality.
English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues saw an 85% year-on-year increase in the last financial year for Chinese visitors.
Over the past four years, Chinese groups business to Windermere Lake Cruises increased by 400%.
Windermere Lake Cruises also noticed a huge increase in independent travellers, many of these are booking tickets on the day.
Q: How can businesses prepare for Chinese and Japanese guests?
JC: All of the members of the forum have signed up to the Great China Welcome and have promotional materials and web pages translated into Chinese.
We have all, along with many customer-facing staff, completed a ‘China Ready’ training course.
We have materials in local tourist information centres which promote the forum and also our Weibo/Wechat.
We commissioned a research programme by students from the Lancaster University Management School to discover what Chinese visitors expect when travelling.
Forum members and staff have attended China Outbound Tourism Research Institute training run by Capela Training.
Q: What future plans are there?
CF: The huge success of the English Lake District China Forum is the proof that the model of one forum can be applied to another market.
The formula for cluster groups needs quality businesses that will pay in and work together; a strong brand that will appeal to the market; and individuals with skill and passion, plus their company’s support.
JC: We wish to introduce new products and services and encourage visitors to stay longer. We are looking to work with other World Heritage Sites to create World Heritage tours.
We plan another visit to China this year, to visit more cities, and are planning multi-destination itineraries throughout the UK and Scotland.
The Lake District is becoming established within the Chinese market, but there is huge potential for growth, and this model can be applied to other overseas markets.
Jennifer Cormack is sales and marketing director at Windermere Lake Cruises, and Colin Fox is group marketing manager at English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues.