In a tropical, island resort south of Hong Kong and some 2,000 miles from the Great Wall of China, it is the walls of a Yorkshire city that may be next week’s big attraction.
A delegation of officials was arriving last night in Sanya, where the high-rise hotels overlooking the South China Sea have earned it the unofficial title of the Chinese Florida, to attempt to persuade the nation’s vast army of tourists to take their next holiday in York.
The city is already a destination of choice for many from China. An estimated 23,000 made the trip to York last year – more than double the previous figure.
It is an international catchment bettered only by the USA, from where 61,000 visitors came in 2017. In total, overseas visits to York were up by nine per cent, with Germany the third most valuable market.
Aiming to capitalise on the growing interest in the far east for English medieval architecture, the tourism agency Visit York will host face-to-face meetings at Sanya’s trade show with 70 Chinese tour operators.
Michelle Brown, Visit York’s marketing manager, who is in Sanya for Monday’s event, said the city had benefited from its partnership with the Government’s £40m Discover England Fund project, aimed at tapping into the global tourism market.
The industry is said to employ more than 2m people across the UK and to be worth £106bn a year to regional economies. York takes in nearly 7m visitors a year, spending £564m.
“One of our goals is to increase our market share of international visitors, so it’s great to see visits up,” Ms Brown said.
She said the key had been “unprecedented interest” from Chinese tour operators over the last three years, fuelled by a new service from Beijing to Manchester Airport.
The effect of this summer’s Shakespearean “pop-up” theatre – an Elizabethan-style structure erected in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower – has yet to be reflected in the tourism figures. It attracted audiences totalling around 80,000 and will return next summer and the year after.
But many of the city’s other attractions, York Minster, the Jorvik Viking Centre and the National Railway Museum among them, are supporting the Chinese drive.
Other Yorkshire tourist destinations have also seen the benefit of the ripples from York, with coach parties visiting the newly installed replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour at Whitby harbour.
A video in the Mandarin language, produced for prospective visitors to York, been seen more than 500,000 times, and Ctrip, China’s biggest online travel agent, has begun selling the city’s “York Pass” sightseeing card.
Across Britain, China is only the 22nd biggest market for incoming visitors. But in York it has been among the top five for the last three years. Paul Whiting, head of Visit York, said: “It’s great news to see strong growth in the American and Chinese markets.
“However, the figures also show us we cannot let up targeting the important European markets as well, as these visitors are perfectly positioned for a short break to York.”