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23 Aug 2017

Chinese tourists set sail for Northern Ireland

60,000+ Chinese expected to visit this year

Chinese visitor numbers to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland have seen strong growth in recent years. Many of those visitors are expected to arrive this summer by ferry into Belfast. According to Stena Line, the growth they have seen in Chinese visitors on sailings from Cairnryan is a direct result of Stena’s participation in Tourism Ireland’s sales missions to China in recent years. This has led to several leading Chinese tour operators featuring the Stena sailing – and Northern Ireland – in their programmes, as part of a wider UK tour.

The British–Irish Visa Scheme, which enables Chinese travellers to visit both the UK and Ireland on a single visa for either country, has also played a significant part in driving the growth in visitor numbers to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

In 2016, we welcomed approximately 60,000 Chinese visitors to the island of Ireland.

David Boyce, Tourism Ireland’s Head of Asia, Middle East and UK Inbound, said, said: “China is an important emerging travel market and one that Tourism Ireland is committed to growing over the coming years. Approximately 4 million Chinese travel to Europe annually and Tourism Ireland is working hard to win a greater share of that business for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. We are really pleased that our sales mission to China has resulted in such positive results for Stena Line and we look forward to welcoming many more Chinese visitors in the future.”

Ian Bailie, Stena Line’s Key Account & Product Sales Manager – UK & Ireland, said: “The Chinese market is becoming an increasingly important sector for Stena Line, so much so that we have embarked on a number of customer service initiatives to make our Chinese guests feel even more welcome.  Recently, Stena Line’s Belfast-Cairnryan service became the first ferry company in Europe to achieve the Chinese Tourist Welcome (CTW) certification.  This award is recognised by tour operators in China and Europe and uniquely positions Stena Line as a key travel partner for this increasingly important market.  We have made a number of changes on board, including updating our guest services, products and communications to ensure that we are ‘China Ready’ and focused on providing a very special welcome to all of our Chinese and other international guests.” 

According to data from the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization), China is now the world’s largest outbound travel market – with 135 million people travelling overseas each year, spending about $261 billion.

Tourism Ireland has a strong network in China, with offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. The organisation’s activity involves establishing and building relationships with influential Chinese intermediaries, including the travel trade, airlines and media – highlighting our natural attractions, cities, castles and our proximity to Great Britain. The Chinese version of Tourism Ireland’s international website is; and social media is also increasingly important in helping to raise awareness of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland in this mobile-dominant country.

David Boyce, Tourism Ireland (second left), and Ian Baillie, Stena Line (second right), with Chinese visitors Sun Rav Hui, Wang Cheng Xin and Cheng Jie from Shanghai, on the Stena ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.

Notes To Editors

  • Tourism Ireland is the organisation responsible for promoting Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland overseas as a leading holiday destination.
  • Tourism is responsible for in excess of 5.2% of GDP in Northern Ireland and supports 61,300 jobs.
  • In 2016, we welcomed a record 2.1 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, delivering revenue of over £543 million.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted about 19.37 million visitors in 2016.