The main focus on developing Chinese related business often revolves around selling goods or services to China. However, one should not ignore the fact that many Chinese people are resident abroad, and many travel internationally on holiday. With regards to residence, it is estimated that the Chinese population in the UK, for example, is around 400,000, with London having a population of at least 125,000.
With regards to Gibraltar, for many decades, there has been a small local Chinese population, largely concerned with the restaurant trade. Today, the population is not far under 200, a rather remarkable increase. The reason for the increase is the impressive economic success of Gibraltar, and the employment opportunities that has brought.
For the first time in Gibraltar’s history, the number of Chinese people in Gibraltar is such that it is can be fairly called a community. This is reflected in the recent establishment of the Gibraltar Chinese Association, a cultural organisation set up by members of the local Chinese community. The Association organises Chinese related cultural events throughout the year which reflect important events in the Chinese calendar. It is true that many resident Chinese are in Gibraltar for work purposes and may not stay permanently. However, some have been in Gibraltar for many years now and have started families. I’m aware of two births due in the next two months alone. This is resulting in a unique situation, namely children born here can be called Gibraltar Chinese.
The greatest opportunity for Gibraltar to participate in Chinese related business may therefore be found here in Gibraltar, in particular, through its local Chinese community and in servicing the needs of our Chinese visitors. How can Gibraltar best utilise these resources? One can answer this with a series of questions:
If you are in the tourist industry in Gibraltar:
Does your staff include a Chinese speaker?
Does your website and marketing information have a Chinese version?
Have you considered the interests and needs of a typical Chinese tourist, and are you satisfying them?
If you are a Gibraltar business looking towards China:
When you are visiting China, do you attend with someone who can speak Chinese?
Are materials provided in both English and Chinese?
Do you have the means to build relationships?
Do you have a Chinese version of your company name, and indeed, do you? Perceptions are important.
Further considerations apply if you are trying to attract Chinese business to establish a Gibraltar presence. In cultural and in physical terms, Gibraltar is thousands of miles from China. This does not make business impossible, but means the efforts necessary for success are that much greater.
Gibraltarians are clearly very interested in China. For example, the Gibraltar Chinese Association has been asked by local schools to provide Chinese language lessons. Other aspects of Chinese culture can be seen here, for example, in the thriving martial art clubs and, for the less energetic, the tai chi classes now available.
Turning to tourism, this has particular relevance to Gibraltar as it represents a very significant element of its economy. It is estimated that about 11 million people cross the Gibraltar/Spanish border every year to go shopping or sightseeing. Cruise passenger numbers visiting Gibraltar are increasing, and Gibraltar airport has now achieved more than 500,000 passengers in a single year.
Chinese overseas tourism has undergone a boom in recent years. Higher incomes have allowed millions of Chinese to start taking holidays outside their country. While Asian countries make up the top five destinations, France, Italy Switzerland and Germany are also in the top 10. The UK is also a major destination, with Chinese visitors already accounting for almost a quarter of tourist spending in the UK. Indeed, Chinese tourists are amongst the biggest spenders, estimated to spend £2,688 a head in the UK. There are hopes that the Chinese will double their spending in the UK so that it reaches £1 billion by 2020.
How can Gibraltar attract more of this business? Firstly, you need to look at travel formalities, in particular visa requirements, as tourists are likely to travel to countries that are easier to enter. In this respect, Gibraltar is partially linked with the UK. The UK is working hard to attract Chinese visitors. In particular, visa requirements for Chinese visitors have been considerably relaxed, with the UK introducing a new two-year visitor visa for Chinese nationals, also enabling holders to make multiple trips to the UK. The flexible approach was absolutely necessary because the UK (and Gibraltar) are at a competitive disadvantage to much of the EU in that it is outside the Schengen area. Chinese visitors to Europe will usually apply for a Schengen visa, which does not in itself cover the UK or Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has taken two significant steps recently, firstly, it has modified rules for Chinese tourists (and tourists of some other nationalities) who hold multiple entry Schengen visas with a minimum remaining validity of seven days, who now do not need a separate visa to visit Gibraltar. Secondly, visitors holding a valid UK multiple entry visa issued for six months or more, and visitors holding a UK residence permit with more than six months validity, can enter Gibraltar without the need for an additional visa. In theory, nearly every Chinese tourist (and student) in the UK could visit Gibraltar without further formality, as can nearly every Chinese tourist in Spain holding a multiple Schengen visa.
The number of Chinese visitors to the UK is rising at this time, boosted in part by the fall in the pound. Gibraltar needs to tap into this increasing activity. Publicity is key, and the possibilities here are many. For example, whilst on a long haul China-UK flight, what effect might a five-minute video (in Chinese, of course) on the flight entertainment system extolling the virtues of Gibraltar have on our visitor numbers? Many Chinese visitors to London are now taking two or three day trips to cities such as York and Edinburgh. Why not a two-day trip to Gibraltar? In terms of required documentation and expense, there may be little difference between the options.
An opportunity clearly exists in Gibraltar to have greater numbers of Chinese tourists. How do we actually attract those tourists? Clearly, we need an understanding of what they are seeking. This always includes a quality of service at the hotel and hospitality level. Five star hotels, top quality restaurants and related facilities are practically a must. Sightseeing and shopping are other obvious draws.
Language is a key issue in visitor experience. The majority of Chinese tourists do not speak English, and yet, it is very difficult to find any tourist information in Gibraltar in Chinese. This starts with national websites. The VisitBritain website, for example, is in multiple languages including Chinese. The VisitGibraltar website offers nothing but English. In fact, it takes great effort for a Chinese speaker to find any information at all about Gibraltar in their own language. Once in Gibraltar, the situation is no better. Take a look at the materials in the tourist information centre and you will not find a single word in Chinese.
Gibraltar has a mix of cultures, and it is exciting that a local Chinese flavour is developing here to add to that mix. This diversity is enriching in itself but it can also be useful economically as it represents a resource that understands China. We have in the midst of our own community a source of knowledge and language capability that can readily be utilised to our advantage. A significant opportunity for Gibraltar to participate in Chinese related business is very close to home.