Undaunted, Chinese arrive on first package tour to UK

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The Independent Online

Despite heightened anxiety across London, the Beijing travel agent, part of the first group of Chinese package tourists to visit Britain, said she felt completely safe.

"We heard all about the bombings before we came but we are not really worried," she said. "I think that London is probably safer for tourists now because of all the precautions."

Arriving in the UK on Sunday night, the group checked into a four-star hotel in Marble Arch. The morning's itinerary began with a catamaran trip along the Thames. After a trip on the London Eye, their coach took them via a Buckingham Palace photo opportunity to the Phoenix Palace Chinese restaurant, an eatery near Baker Street Tube station whose diners have included Tony and Cherie Blair.

Asked whether she liked English food, Lin Li, a Beijing student who won the trip in a television competition, said: "Oh yes. I had a lovely hamburger on the aeroplane."

After lunch a visit to Madame Tussauds became the scene of excited posing for pictures alongside waxworks of David and Victoria Beckham and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

In the wake of the London bombings, VisitBritain has estimated that income from overseas visitors would fall by 2 per cent this year - a drop in takings of £300m - 50 per of which would occur in London. Amid such uncertainty, the Chinese market represents a potentially lucrative fillip.

Until this week, visas have been granted only to those Chinese coming to Britain to study, for business or to visit family. But Beijing has granted the UK approved destination status, paving the way for leisure visits.

This week's trip to Britain, made by a group of invited media, tourist officials and 20 tourists, cost an estimated £1,000, or five months' wages for the average Beijing worker. A visit is made more expensive by the cost of the visa (£65) and the £1,000 bond to ensure the tourists' return.

Qui Qui Shen, an English teacher from Shanghai, said: "Rich people are more common in China nowadays, but most people there are too busy to travel."

Mrs Shen has already visited Europe five times but she described her first trip to the UK as a "dream come true". She said: "I am very interested in art and literature and heritage."

The group will move on to Oxford today, where they will visitChrist Church college, which features in the Harry Potter films. Then the serious business at the Bicester Village retail park will begin. "Chinese people love to shop," Patty Rowe, a Chinese-born tour guide from Kent, said. "They go to Switzerland for watches and Italy for leather goods and here Burberry is very popular. I bet they empty the stores."

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