Part of the backdrop to Leo Varadkar's visit to China was an online survey by Tourism Ireland of 1,000 Chinese adults in the top four cities – Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. All of the respondents have either visited Europe at least once or intend to visit the continent in the next decade.
The survey shows that 62 per cent claimed a reasonable degree of familiarity with Ireland, compared with 46 per cent for Scotland. Only Switzerland tops Ireland for "beautiful landscape and scenery" among Chinese travellers, with Ireland on a par with France.
Chinese travellers do like their iconic Celtic heritage sites – 70 per cent of those surveyed mentioned that Unesco designation was an important factor in their choice. Ireland has three Unesco World Heritage Sites – the Giant's Causeway, Skellig Michael and Newgrange.
“Quaint villages and world-class sites such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway are recognised by about two-thirds of respondents and have the greatest appeal among this target audience,” the research showed.
Logistics were a key factor. Some 81 per cent of those surveyed showed that ease and speed of visa process was important, as well as acceptance of Chinese bank cards, also 81 per cent.
This is something where a lot of work needs to be done, as I discovered during a recent visit to Ireland where I was unable to use my Chinese bank card at any local ATM as they did not accept UnionPay system cards.
Where Ireland placed lower than key competitors was in knowing there would be lots to see and do, with only 24 per cent of those surveyed endorsing Ireland on this dimension.
Ireland has scored some notable successes in tourism of late – Ctrip, the country’s largest online travel agent which offers travel services to over 90 million members, named Ireland “best potential destination” for 2014 at an awards ceremony in Shanghai earlier this year.