A SOCIAL media blitz aimed at attracting more Chinese tourists to Edinburgh has helped boost visitor numbers by up to 40 per cent in just over a year.

The Edinburgh Chinese Social Media Campaign, launched in November 2016 by the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, has had 60,000 followers and received 66 million hits across its channels.

VisitScotland said Edinburgh businesses are already seeing the benefits with participating businesses like Edinburgh Castle, Haggis Backpackers and Laing the Jeweller reporting 20 to 40 per cent increases in visitor numbers from China.

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It is part of a push to double the number of Chinese visitors by 2020.

It used influential Chinese social media sites, Weibo and WeChat, to serve up tips, itineraries and promotions in Mandarin from the city’s most popular tourism businesses, recommending key points of interest for Chinese travellers, such as history, architecture, film locations and shopping.

Adverts and promoted posts on social media and digital campaigns also promoted the destination in key cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

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The increased availability of Edinburgh’s official channels on Chinese social media resulted in organisations like National Geographic Traveller China and China Central Television looking to work with the campaign on projects which include a wedding photoshoot and a live-stream of the Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo.

China is an important and growing market for the Scottish tourism sector with Edinburgh being the most popular UK destination after London.

Edinburgh Castle figures reveal that over 177,000 visitors of Chinese origin visited the landmark attraction in 2017.

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It comes against a backdrop of a plummeting pound and rising visitor figures with a record two million at both the the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle last year.

The campaign is part of the city’s “China-Ready” initiative - launched by ETAG in 2015 and supported by Scottish Enterprise - which has seen over 200 hotels, visitor attractions, universities, festivals and retailers across the city engage with cultural awareness workshops, guides and meetings aimed at increasing Chinese visitor numbers and developing the city’s position as a China friendly destination.

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Supported by a £40,000 VisitScotland Growth Fund award, it was said to be an influential collaboration of China-focused businesses, securing 21 private sector industry partners, as well as providing Chinese social media briefings to 75 businesses and sharing best practice with 132.

Five additional partners, including Edinburgh University and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, have also join the campaign, the national tourism agency said.

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Rob Lang, chair of Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s China Ready Initiative, said it “exceeded all expectations”.

He said: “We’re ranked among the Top 10 WeChat city accounts worldwide and our city Weibo campaigns have been seen over 60 million times in China.

“Working collaboratively has helped us put Edinburgh and Scotland in the best possible position to benefit from the world’s largest outbound tourism market.”

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Graham Kelly, VisitScotland Market Manager China & East Asia, said the Chinese market has “huge growth potential for tourism in Scotland”.

He said: “Supported by our Growth Fund, it has helped position Edinburgh as a ‘must see’ destination for visitors from China.

“It’s great that Edinburgh businesses are already reaping the benefits and I look forward to welcoming many more Chinese visitors as this campaign continues to go from strength to strength.”

Danny Cusick, Director of Food and Drink, Textiles, Tourism and Fintech at Scottish Enterprise, said “The Edinburgh China Social Media Project is an excellent example of how Scottish Enterprise acts as the catalyst for developing new market opportunities, driving innovative new approaches and partnership investment.