A departure in every sense for Brackenbury’s Britain was my trip to China on the “Midlands Engine” trade mission to Shanghai and then Hefei, capital of Anhui province for a couple of days, before returning to Shanghai for more business activity.
Exporting encompasses tourism. It’s about bringing individuals and their foreign currency into the UK. I knew we had a good tourism offer in the East Midlands and wanted to see if there was any interest in China. It would also be a great opportunity to network with the Derby and Derbyshire delegations with their tourist focus on the trip and quite honestly, I was really attracted by the idea of seeing China the first time. It is a commonplace about the Chinese love of the “set-piece” sites such as the Tower of London, Stonehenge and Bicester shopping village, but what about the rest? Would there be any interest? Having seen that Chatsworth House, a benchmark for English heritage tourism, had Mandarin on its audio guides, I thought there may be.
I arrived in Shanghai on a Sunday morning and so had the afternoon to wander round the centre of the city. It’s difficult to write a piece like this without descending into cliches. But, buildings really are bigger, the trains are faster and more efficient, the roads are more crowded and the sense of change really is more palpable than anything I’ve experienced. It really was quite mind-blowing with old and new still existing cheek by jowl with pockets of Third World-like conditions in the centre of Shanghai. I walked a mile up the Bund, a promenade with large Imperial-style buildings from around a century ago still proudly bearing plaques identifying the Edwardian era British designers and builders. On the other side of the river were the skyscrapers for which Shanghai has become famous. The tallest (the Shanghai Tower) is the second tallest building in the world and as “VIPs,” we had our own trip up there a few days later. However, walking to the Bund, only two blocks back, I saw scenes could have been out of a film of Old China.
The next three days were spent out in Hefei. Derby and Derbyshire were civic guests of that city (one I had never heard of heard of but with a population of over 5 million people) which is the capital of the province of Anhui. Back to the cliches, the province had a population of over 77 million people i.e. obviously significantly greater than the whole of the United Kingdom. The few days there were a round of civic receptions, civic banquets, factory visits and business meetings. All fascinating but if I’m honest, the best bit for me was the high-speed train gliding seamlessly the 300 miles in each direction. And, as one might expect, a wide range of Chinese food. I didn’t knowingly eat anything too exotic and politely passed on the dishes of ducks’ tongues.
Back in Shanghai, the CBBC (China British Business Council) had done us proud. After a really useful morning of talks about doing business in China, the afternoon was spent in the conference suite of the Mandarin Oriental with each UK visiting business (of whom Brackenbury’s Britain was one) having its own table complete with dedicated translator. Four people had shown interest in my business and of those, two have been in touch since. If business comes from either of those, from a commercial perspective alone, the trip will have been worthwhile. But of course, the whole experience was just wonderful.
The evening was spent travelling in a bus to the home of the Deputy British Consul. Over two hours on double-deck road systems to travel around 5 miles evidenced the clichés pf Shanghai traffic pollution.
DIT’s hashtag for this trip was “exporting is great.” It is, and on this experience, it is massive fun. I am not naive enough to think that every such trip will be as enjoyable from a personal perspective but this one hammered home the point to me that, particularly in this moment of our national development, it is more important than ever to demonstrate what we have to sell which, in tourism’s case, the fantastic range of things to see but most of all underpinned by the warmest of personal welcomes to our guests. There is a massive amount of goodwill at the level of individuals and businesses in China towards our country. Continuing to be outward looking is our best hope of profiting from this and, given the slightest opportunity, I will do my bit to help.