Word of mouth can turn a trickle of new tourists into a flood
Published 20/02/2012 | 05:00
Images of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the Cliffs of Moher are being broadcast into the living-rooms of millions of wealthy Chinese on their plasma TVs. Many of them will be planning foreign holidays for this summer.
The outbound tourist market in China is the most exciting in the world today. Travel restrictions have been lifted, it is easier than ever to get a passport - and a Visa -- and, perhaps most importantly, China's burgeoning middle classes have the means and the drive to go out and see the world as they keep up with the Zhaos next door.
The World Tourism Organisation put the number of outbound Chinese tourists at 100 million a year by the end of the decade. If we make a better attempt to bring more Chinese to the Emerald Isle, and capture even a tiny slice of that market, the economic benefits will extend far beyond the balance sheets of our battered B&Bs.
But like any other business, the key to success lies in the industry's knowledge of their customers and willingness to give them what they want.
Despite the efforts of Tourism Ireland and other organisations, this country still falls seriously short in its ability to cater to Chinese tourists and their unique demands and expectations. This has to change. Word of mouth is a strong guiding tool for behaviour in any culture, but it is particularly so among the Chinese.
If we manage to send back even a few thousand happy Chinese visitors, that trickle could become a flood as those WTO forecasts are realised.
We have a great chance to do that this summer. The Government has waived the Visa requirement for Chinese travelling to the UK for the London Olympics, so there's scope for these travellers to tack on an Ireland trip, and Tourism Ireland is working to make sure they do.
We have a fascinating culture that's almost as old as their own, and a clean, mild and quiet country that provides the perfect break from the chaotic conurbations where the Chinese earn their wealth. Our legendary craic is well-suited to the affable Chinese, and they learn of our literature at school.
A few small actions, marketed in the right way, would make the country far more appealing to the thousands of Chinese travel agencies who put together overseas trips.
Richard Mullins lived and worked as a journalist in China for six years and runs redgate.ie, a Sino-Irish website