County urged to target Chinese tourism

A SUFFOLK-based entrepreneur is spearheading a bid to make the county a focal point for Chinese tourists. Dominic Richards, a property developer and businessman, believes there is huge potential for developing Chinese tourism in Suffolk.

A SUFFOLK-based entrepreneur is spearheading a bid to make the county a focal point for Chinese tourists.

Dominic Richards, a property developer, businessman and a founder the English Teddy Bear Company which was eventually sold to toy giant Hamleys, believes there is huge potential for developing Chinese tourism in Suffolk.

He is due to meet with Suffolk tourism chiefs next week to discuss his ideas for tapping into what he believes could be a highly lucrative market for the county.

Mr Richards, who owns and lives at wedding venue Yaxley Hall, near Eye, and has launched an English language corporate training business in China called Yaxley Education, pointed out that despite the worldwide recession, China is still anticipating growth of 6.5% in 2009, and has become far more outward-looking in recent years. The number of Chinese to go abroad is projected to rise from 17million in 2002 to 100million by 2020, he said.

He has produced a proposal to make Suffolk the first China-friendly county in the UK against a backdrop of increasing trade and business links with the country.

“Chinese visitors are quite different to visitors from many other places. Foreign language skills are often limited and they frequently have no fixed opinions about where they should visit,” he pointed out.

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“The UK is competing effectively on a blank canvas with other countries. Within the UK, other than London, there also is remarkably little fixed idea on which place or place are “must sees”.”

Against this background of an enormous potential market and few preconceptions, it would be “easy” for a region or county to mark itself out as being “China-friendly”, he argued.

Encouraging businesses to translate at least part of their websites into Chinese, providing menus or other literature in Chinese or marketing directly within China are among the measures he is calling for.

“This proposal is for the county of Suffolk as a whole to encourage and facilitate the above type of measures by businesses here. Very few Chinese will be aware of Suffolk's existence. An organised campaign on a micro and macro level could rapidly change this.

“Because of the sheer rarity of having taken this step, Suffolk could achieve great amounts of publicity and positive PR within China with relatively simple measures.”

Mr Richards, who spent three years as a trustee of the Prince of Wales' Prince's Foundation and went to represent the prince in the Dashilan redevelopment project in Beijing, aimed at sympathetically regenerating a historic quarter of the Chinese capital, is calling for an initiative involving countywide bodies, such as Suffolk County Council, the Suffolk Development Agency and Choose Suffolk.

His vision is for a Chinese language website promoting Suffolk as a whole within China, a campaign announcing the initiative including press releases and television interviews to be released within China, and a campaign involving Suffolk businesses to promote China friendliness on a micro-level, and twinning exercises between towns, schools and potentially at council level. He would also like to see visits of key figures from Suffolk to China and of Chinese tour operators to Suffolk.

“China is desperately keen to reach out to what it perceives as a frequently hostile outside world. The goodwill that could be created with such an initiative is potentially enormous and the benefits to this county that it could bring about substantial,” he said.

Mr Richards has invited a group including chief executive of Choose Suffolk Celia Hodson to a meeting to discuss his ideas on Monday, April 6.

“I have already had a meeting with Charles Michell, the chairman of Suffolk County Council, and he is very keen on the idea and is speaking to the county council to get their support,” he said.

Mr Richards, who has made many trips to the country, and is in daily contact with his business there via the internet, has already made personal links with Madame Fu, the Chinese ambassador to London and other highly-placed individuals in China, and says he is keen to use these contacts to develop the First China Friendly County initiative.