A study launched at the British Embassy in Beijing this morning revealed a new “golden era” of relations between the North of England and China.
“The China Dividend: Two Years In” has tracked the economic and social benefits that have been felt across Yorkshire in the two years since direct flights began.
Chinese investors are keen to tap into the Yorkshire market, furthering a trend sparked by President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to the North nearly three years ago.
The study reported a 77 per cent increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Yorkshire since 2016 – a growth rate far higher than the UK average and higher than London. The UK average increase in Chinese visitors is 30 per cent.
The average Chinese spend per visit to Yorkshire increased by 30 per cent and is now 26 per cent higher than the national average.
The number of Chinese students in Yorkshire and Humber has grown by 2 per cent and there has been a 114 per cent increase in Northern students gaining Chinese internships,
with more than 70 per cent from low income backgrounds. Yorkshire and Humber has seen a 220 per cent increase in students gaining Chinese internships.
In terms of cities, China has soared from being York's 15th biggest visitor market five years ago to fourth last year and second now.
China now accounts for 14 per cent of overseas visits in York, up from 9 per cent 12 months ago. Some York hotels have reported bookings doubling in the past year.
A quarter of visitors to York Minster are now Chinese and Castle Howard has seen a 50 per cent increase in Chinese visitors.
Michelle Brown, marketing manager at Visit York, said: “The direct flight to and from Beijing marks a milestone for our relations with China.
"As a major international gateway into the North of England, the direct flight opens up a world of new opportunities for York, Yorkshire and the North of England, both for tourism and investment generally.
"China has moved rapidly from the 11th largest overseas tourism market for York to ranking 2nd place behind the US.”
The report revealed that Sheffield has also seen an increase in Chinese investment, thanks to projects like the New Era City Development.
Mark Lynam, director for programme commissioning at Sheffield City Region, said: “A number of firms in the Sheffield City Region area have seen success in trading with
“These businesses make the most of the niche opportunities China’s maturing market is presenting, focusing on high end manufacturing and innovative technology.
“There tends to be particular success in the region by developing links with Chinese cities which are lesser known in the UK, where these opportunities are otherwise undiscovered.
“This direct flight from Manchester to China is therefore of great benefit to businesses not just on the west of the Pennines, but across the North.”
Elsewhere is Yorkshire, Bradford is building links with Qingdao, a relationship built on both area’s specialism in film. In 2017, Bradford opened a film office in Qingdao, and Qingdao joined Bradford as a UNESCO City of Film.
Jamie Bettles, managing director of InternChina, said: “I am delighted that the direct air route has contributed to our recent success and we have seen 114 per cent year-on-year growth in students from the North of England taking internships in China since 2016.
"This year our student numbers from the North West and Yorkshire regions have increased at more than three times the rate of that in London and our growth is expected to continue during 2019."
The report was launched at an event hosted by the Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for China, Richard Burn, who said: “UK-China bilateral trade links have never been stronger: in 2017 UK-China bilateral trade expanded by 15 per cent to reach a record £67.5bn, whilst UK exports of goods and services to China grew by 28.5 per cent.
"This report demonstrates the clear benefits of direct UK-China linkages for facilitating flows of trade, investment and people between our two countries."
Zheng Xiyuan, consul general for the People’s Republic of China in Manchester, said: “Over the past two years since the establishment of the direct flight to Beijing, the North of
England has continued to experience rapid growth in trade and communication with China."