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Welcome mats already out for Chinese guests


David Elliott, Business Editor

David Elliott, Business Editor

David Elliott, Business Editor

You wouldn't immediately have thought George Osborne's 5,000-mile jaunt east would have much impact on us but it turns out it has.

That's because warmer relations between the UK and China could provide a boost for Northern Ireland's tourism industry and high-end retailers.

The chancellor unveiled a raft of deals between the two countries on a visit to Beijing this week aimed at boosting exports from the UK and attracting inward investment.

One of those will see a simplification of the visa process for Chinese tourists planning to come to the UK.

By booking through selected travel agents, Chinese nationals won't need to submit separate visa applications for both the European Union and UK.

Currently, if they wanted to travel to both regions they would have to fill out separate visa, a process that is said to have been enough to put many off visiting the UK

But the new rules are expected to boost the number of Chinese tourists coming to Northern Ireland, and some retailers here are already prepared for a surge in trade.

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Lunn's Jewellers installed a payment system specifically for payments from China-based customers over a year ago.

Even with the difficult visa rules, they've already had a steady stream of customers from China and have adapted to suit their needs.

Most wanted to use their UnionPay card method of payment rather than the conventional UK credit card payment systems so last year the company invested in a new system.

"We introduced the UnionPay system in partnership with Danske Bank and it has proved to be extremely successful, with a very positive uptake in both our stores. This sends out a very clear message to tourists from mainland China – the world's second largest economy – that they are very welcome at Lunn's, that they are very welcome to Northern Ireland and that we want to do business with them."

That's the type of welcome we need to give China's tourists and business leaders, who, with an increasingly wealthy population of 1.4bn, provide a huge market for the Northern Ireland economy.