Major events industry suppliers from across the UK took part in a speed-dating style event today to boost opportunities with the Chinese business tourism market.

More than 600 one-to-one appointments between 27 UK suppliers and 25 selected buyers from China took place at Edinburgh’s Grand Sheraton Hotel on Friday morning as part of the first-ever ‘MeetGB China’.

Organised by VisitBritain – and supported by destinations across the country – some of the biggest Chinese business tourism operators arrived in London last Saturday for a week-long immersion into UK culture.

They were divided into groups of five separate ‘fam’ (familiarisation) trips and toured big convention destinations and popular tourist spots in Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland.

The buyers – who came from multi-national Chinese MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) companies, including Shanghai-based CTS Mice Service Co – then arrived in Edinburgh on Wednesday for a series of engagements, including a luxury reception on board the Royal Yacht Britannia and a dinner at Edinburgh Castle.

Kerrin MacPhie, Head of Business Events at VisitBritain, said: “I think it’s fair to say the event has been seamless, considering all the elements. With the arrival last Saturday and the fam trips, it’s been a long visit with a lot to take in, but I think the whole schedule has been well-planned and all the destinations involved have really thought about the audience.

“VisitBritain has worked hard with all the destinations to create great itineraries and everybody, all the buyers, have so far had a fantastic time. More importantly, they’ve seen things and experienced things that they never knew existed, which is amazing for the UK, in terms of exposure to such a big market. And with the heavily experiential element of the visit the buyers will hopefully be able to explain the offer in real terms to their clients. It is a great opportunity for us all going forward and for the UK to win a bigger slice of a $79bn market.”

The event comes on the back of a record year for Chinese business tourism in the UK; according to national statistics, the market grew by 31% compared to 2016, with a value in visitor spend of £117m; China has now been recategorised from an ’emerging’ to ‘core’ market by VisitScotland.

One buyer who seemed to be particularly impressed with the offer was Ling Jin, of CTS Mice Services Shanghai. She said: “I have been to London three times [before], and I’m familiar with it, but this time I was showed different things, like the Shard tower and The Royal Gardens [a venue opening next year]. This is very useful for our events as we are always looking for some new things and Edinburgh has also been a big surprise for me. This is my first time to Scotland and yesterday we went on a tour of Edinburgh; the Chinese-speaking guide was brilliant, he was very familiar with Scottish history – I was so surprised to leaern about the university with such famous doctors and writers.”

Ms Jin added that the reception on board the Royal Yacht Britannia was a very special experience on Wednesday evening, saying: “We were like, ‘my God, we will come next year’. I can tell my clients what’s really here in Scotland and Edinburgh with facilities like the EICC. I think it’s the best convention in the world! The technology was amazing, and very useful for conferences and incentives. It is very convenient and this is very important for the big incentive groups – we need safe and quick travel.”

Ling Jin, of CTS MICE Services, Shanghai

Ms Jin said the size of her incentives group vary hugely depending on the requirements but that her last large trip involved 7,500 delegates from Amway, the world’s largest direct selling company, travelling to Queenstown in New Zealand. “Some of our clients are very big; we also work with big international pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and MSD, so it was very useful to get to know the university in Edinburgh. You have the best hospital and university and this is very useful information.”

She added: “I’m very excited for this trip – thanks so much to UK tourism and the convention bureaux. We are five small teams, and everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, they have so much we have never touched before’.”

However, she pointed to one downside, which was the experience arriving in the UK at Heathrow Airport. She said the one-and-a-half hour wait at immigration would spark complaints among her clients if they were delayed for that long.

She said: “The airports, the hotels, the DMCs, convention bureaux have all been very positive, but at immigration we had nothing to do waiting for one and half hours. A lot of the experience of our clients come from the flight, the pick up and the traffic. If it’s a big group I cannot imagine, they will complain, you know. This was my true experience.”

The event was hosted in Scotland’s capital after a direct air route between Edinburgh and Beijing was opened in June this year and brings together 27 meeting and incentives suppliers from across the UK with Chinese buyers. Delegates are also attending networking events, boosting their knowledge of the UK as a business events destination.

Ahead of the main event this Friday the Chinese buyers took part in educational visits across the UK. From Edinburgh to York, Cardiff to London, Belfast to Manchester, the buyers are experiencing first-hand the best of the UK’s venues, food, hotels and attractions for the meetings and incentives sector with destinations showcasing their infrastructure, accessibility and the delegate experiences on offer.

Tourism Minister Michael Ellis said: Our culture, scenery and history are among the many reasons Chinese visitors are coming to the UK in record numbers. We are also home to world-class incentive travel experiences and events infrastructure and we are committed to expanding this important economic market. Through events like MeetGB China we are promoting the first-class service we provide to Chinese business visitors to help attract more international incentive groups and conferences to the UK.”

VisitBritain Chief Executive Sally Balcombe added: “Our inaugural MeetGB China event is a fantastic opportunity to showcase to the Chinese MICE market the outstanding quality of our meetings and incentives industry.”

MeetGB China is hosted by VisitBritain in partnership with London and Partners, VisitEngland, Visit Wales, VisitScotland and Tourism Northern Ireland, with support from the host-city Convention Edinburgh.

As part of the MeetGB China event, being held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa in Edinburgh, Chinese delegates are also attending events across the city including evening receptions at The Balmoral Hotel, the Royal Yacht Britannia, Victor and Carina Contini Restaurant as well as Edinburgh Castle and the Scotch Whisky Experience.

In the lead-up to MeetGB China, VisitBritain has published a China MICE Market Study to support the sector in understanding the characteristics of the Chinese meetings and incentives market.

There were a record 61,000 business visits to the UK from China last year, up 31% on 2016 with business visitors spending a record £117 million.

VisitBritain promotes business events worldwide under Events are GREAT, part of the UK Government’s GREAT Britain campaign. Events are GREAT drives awareness of Britain’s destinations and products, highlighting its history of research, innovation and high-quality infrastructure, positioning it as a leading destination for business events.