We were approached by the Chinese Consulate in Manchester just over three years ago, who asked if we would consider working more closely with the City of Sanya, which is in Hainan Province, in Southern China.
Now we all know that China is already seriously important in terms of financial clout – it’s the second biggest economy in the world, and although growth has slowed recently, it has slowed to around 7% – a rate of growth that we in the West can only dream of!
Our local Chinese community here in Blackpool make a huge contribution to the town. Peter Lui and Danny Hui of the Blackpool Chinese Community Association were very keen for us to pursue this opportunity, so we invited Sanya to come over here and see us.
I was very impressed with their current list of sister-cities (which includes Cannes, Cancun and Hollywood!), and with their plans to look at how our tourism and leisure expertise could assist them, whilst their experience of levering in private investment could help us. Just to give you an idea of the scale of the place, they’ve got 75 five-star hotels.
When I visited earlier this year, and attended a number of different events and installations – I was particularly impressed by the International School in Sanya – and the Mayor of Sanya talked about the potential for Chinese students to experience the British hospitality industry as part of their studies.
As well as meeting with Government officials – from both the UK and China, and potential investors in Hong Kong – we saw huge opportunities to tap in to new markets and new ways of thinking.
The UK Government is hugely supportive of expanding Sino-British links, and it was encouraging to hear our new Prime Minister recognising the importance of China to the UK, in her recent visit to the G20 summit in Hangzhou.
An early “win”, if you like, of our involvement, was the signing of a deal worth £500,000 deal to use Blackpool’s name in promoting Ballroom Dance in China and the Far East – and a deal has now been reached with Thomas Cook, to promote links between the two regions.
We need to look increasingly further afield for investment and new ideas – if we are to truly deliver on our town’s motto of “Progress”.