Causeway and Dark Hedges makes Northern Ireland a must-see for Chinese
Northern Ireland is well on its way to becoming a must-see location for Chinese tourists, an international travel authority has claimed.
And a major hotel group in Northern Ireland has also said that there is a growing interest in Northern Ireland as a tourist destination.
China is in focus this week as firms take part in an Invest NI trade mission to the country, led by the Stormont Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell.
At a workshop in Shanghai attended by more than 70 travel agents, minister Bell said Northern Ireland's scenery, cultural heritage and growing food scene were key factors in the drive to attract Chinese tourists.
Kain Craigs of Iconic Golf Group, which brings Asian visitors to play golf in Northern Ireland, added: "There's a lot of work to be done, but every year there is more and more demand from the Chinese to come here. They love the simple things about Northern Ireland - the fresh air, green fields and rural sights."
Mr Craigs added that his Chinese clients demanded a more tailored service than other visitors. He said: "An American tourist might be happy to get on a bus to go to the Giant's Causeway, but for many of the groups we work with, we will hire a classic car and work with Queen's University to get a guide who speaks Chinese to explain the history, and we'll get a photographer to document the trip.
"Even small things like acknowledging Chinese customs, knowing which way round to say their names and knowing a few token phrases go a long way to make them feel more welcome. With the Chinese, it shows you have gone that extra bit to welcome them. It's something that wouldn't have the same effect with, for example, Germans, but it makes a huge difference to a Chinese visitor."
Since 2010, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the island is believed to have quadrupled - though there are no separate figures for visitors to Northern Ireland.
Tourism Ireland estimates that between 35,000 and 45,000 Chinese visitors came to the island of Ireland in 2014, almost four times more than in 2010.
Aileen Martin, sales director at Hastings Hotels, said the group had seen a "huge" increase in the number of Chinese visitors over the last four years.
Its Culloden Hotel recently hosted the cast and crew of Chinese reality show, I, Supermodel.
Ms Martin added: "The sense of history here is a big draw for Chinese tourists because it's just so different from the modern cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai. They love the buildings and photogenic gardens, as well as the Giant's Causeway, Titanic Belfast and Game of Thrones."
Ms Martin added that a growing number of Chinese couples were travelling to the UK to get distinctive wedding photos - and she said that could be a market for Hastings.
Recent statistics from Barclays showed that by 2017, Chinese travellers will bring an estimated additional £1bn into the UK economy each year.