The West End is preparing for a record influx of big-spending Chinese tourists for New Year celebrations at the end of this week after a doubling in flight bookings to Britain.
The weak pound, easier visa application arrangements, and the publicity blitz surrounding Theresa May’s visit to China earlier this month have given a huge boost to interest in visiting the UK, according to tourism chiefs.
Celebrations to mark the start of the Year of the Dog on Friday will be followed by the “Golden Week” break when affluent Chinese tourists are likely to flood into the shops, restaurants and hotels of central London.
Hoteliers have hired dozens of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers to help deal with the expected surge in Chinese guests.
Bosses at the New West End Company, which represents traders in and around Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, estimate that £32 million will be spent in the two weeks from Friday alone by Chinese tourists, and that the total in central London this year will easily pass the £400 million high set in 2017.
Wendy Wu, a specialist travel agent, said: “We are seeing so much growth because the relationship between China and Britain has entered a golden era. There was so much media exposure in China of Theresa May’s visit and that will propel the growth.”
Flight data from analyst ForwardKeys shows that bookings from China to the UK for this month are almost double that for the same month last year.
A spokesman for Gatwick said the number of passengers using its new route to the northern centre of Tianjin was up 41.7 per cent in December.
Events in London to mark Chinese New Year include a parade from Charing Cross to Chinatown and performances in Trafalgar Square, with food and family zones in Leicester Square and martial arts performances in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Ciaran Fahy, chief executive of The Ritz, said: “We have Mandarin speakers in reception with an in-depth understanding of Chinese culture. We offer a Chinese-style breakfast, as well as a hospitality tray in rooms for our guests with Chinese teas, fortune cookies and a Chinese language newspaper.”
At the British Museum, 50 per cent of audio guide sales are in Mandarin.
Chinese visitors spend an average of £1,972, which is more than three times the average for foreign tourists.