SHANGHAI — Chinese travelers are seen booking trips to the United Kingdom to take advantage of a weak pound in the wake of the Brexit vote, but observers warn the trend could prove to be short-lived.
The China International Travel Service expects to see an increase in interest from Chinese tourists about package tours to the U.K., according to a spokesman. But he added that the spike in travelers won’t be significant immediately because most Chinese travelers plan their trips at least six months in advance. Meanwhile, the uncertainty of where the U.K. might be in six months could deter risk-adverse Chinese travelers from planning for trips within that timeframe.
Torsten Stocker, a China expert and the chief operating officer of the lifestyle division of property and logistics company Thakral Corp., said the long-term outlook for Chinese tourism to the U.K. — which soared almost 40 percent year-on-year in 2015, according to figures from tourism body VisitBritain — is hard to predict.
“There are…people saying if there is a lot of instability in the U.K. that will deter tourists, but we don’t really know how that will play out over the next three or six months — we will have to wait and see,” he said.
Both Shanghai Spring Tour and online travel operator Ctrip reported jumps in tours booked to the U.K. since Friday, when the results of the referendum were finalized, according to local media. Neither agency could be reached for confirmation.
Traditionally, Chinese travelers across the spectrum — from budget to high-end — have placed an emphasis on value for money in terms of travel, said Stocker.
“Chinese tourists have been really good at seeking out bargains based on currency fluctuations, in recent years we have seen waves going to Korea, Japan and Russia, where the currency fell and the people going there to buy luxury goods will benefit from the arbitrage,” he said.
Great Britain has been overtly courting Chinese tourists in recent years. Last year it announced a loosening of its visa requirements for Chinese visitors, allowing them two-year, multiple-entry tourist visas.
Since Britain is not part of the Schengen zone, Chinese tourists traveling to European Union countries, such as Spain or France, as well the U.K. have always had to acquire two separate visas for their travels, so that aspect will remain unchanged.
But what is uncertain – and potentially worrying for Britain’s tourist industry in the long term – is the impact Brexit may have on the V.A.T. and customs duties big-spending Chinese travelers might have to pay if they are traveling to both the U.K. and E.U. countries.
“If the U.K. actually leaves the E.U…if you leave the U.K. for Ireland, France or any other E.U. country, you will have to declare what you bought tax-free in the U.K., and vice versa,” said Daniel Meesak, chief operating officer of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
“For tourists intending to do a lot of shopping, they will have to choose whether to do their tax-free shopping either in the U.K. or the E.U., or they will risk having to pay V.A.T. and customs duties,” he said.