Time to brush up on your Mandarin?

The British government recently announced that it’s going to simplify the visa application process for Chinese tourists, in the hope that more visitors from the country will now head to the UK.

This is excellent news for anyone working in the hospitality industry, as China has become one of the world’s largest tourism spenders – collectively Chinese travellers spent £65 billion during overseas trips in 2012, a sizeable market for the UK to tap into.

What’s more, other destinations in Europe have already cottoned on to how much money Chinese tourists can bring into the economy – Germany and France, which have less complicated visa procedures, attracted one million Chinese holidaymakers last year, compared to the UK’s 215,000.

It is also estimated that the UK lost out on £1.2 billion in tourism-related income as a result of the difficulty for Chinese travellers to obtain a visa to enter the UK, compared to elsewhere in Europe.

So, if you’re working in a hospitality job, it could now be worth learning Mandarin to allow you to work with this burgeoning market. Chief executive of the British Hospitality Association Ufi Ibrahim said that the government’s announcement was “welcomed by the UK hospitality and tourism industry”.

“By 2023, China will be the largest outbound tourism economy in the world so it is important that the UK makes every effort to welcome the Chinese traveller into our country,” he added.

So, what can you do to help with this? Learning Mandarin or Cantonese is the obvious choice, but not everyone is great with languages. However, there are a few simple things to be aware of to help you avoid making any cultural faux pas when you’re dealing with Chinese guests.

For example, in China it is considered rude to call someone by their first name unless you have known them since childhood, so it’s best to stick to formal titles.

Most Chinese people will introduce themselves with a handshake, but they avoid more intimate forms of contact like hugging, kissing on the cheek or patting on the back. It’s also worth remembering that having a weak or limp handshake is a sign of humility and respect in China.

As a general rule, you should stand up when you are greeting someone and remain standing until everyone in the group has been introduced.

It can also be considered rude to make direct eye contact, while having your hands in your pockets while you’re speaking to someone is a big no-no unless you want to offend.

Hotels that provide complimentary gifts to their guests may want to check that what they offer won’t be taken the wrong way by any Chinese visitors. For example, cut flowers are often associated with funerals and are therefore not considered to be suitable gifts, and you should avoid wrapping presents in white, black or blue paper – red or gold are better colours to choose.

If you work in a restaurant and have a group of Chinese tourists, don’t be surprised if they leave food on their plate. This indicates that they’re satisfied – in China, clearing your plate is a sign that you’re still hungry and that your host should provide more food!

So, be prepared to see a rise in the number of Chinese tourists hitting the UK, especially in places like London that already attract a high proportion of the holidaymakers who visit from this Asian nation.

Berkeley Scott provides specialist advice and support to help you with hospitality careers.