Ctrip, the second largest travel agent in the world, played host to Nicola Sturgeon on day four of her visit to China. Sturgeon met with Jane Sun, the company’s CEO and owner of the Edinburgh-based Skyscanner. Sun is one of China’s leading female businesswomen and is a strong supporter of gender equality, a cause she champions within her businesses, ensuring that the female voice is heard.
Sun assured Sturgeon of Ctrip’s commitment to the United Nation Women’s Empowerment Principles. Naturally, top of their agenda was the issue of equal opportunities for women in the world of business. More than 50% of Ctrip’s 30,000 plus employees are female and it has a higher female participation rate than the top 25 tech companies in Silicon Valley, which stands at 19.6%.
This attitude and approach match Sturgeon’s ambitions for Scotland of achieving 50/50 gender representation on the boards of public, private and voluntary sector organisations by 2020.
Sun said: “The relationship between China and Scotland has always been a positive one. As more Chinese visit Scotland, mutual respect and understanding is reinforced. Ctrip remains by the side of our travellers to ensure that they have a positive experience and we look forward to more collaboration with Scotland across all fields.”
During this meeting, Sun confirmed Ctrip’s plans to continue its investment overseas and has hopes that it will be able to tap into new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing to increase profits and better serve their 300 million registered users. With Scotland’s reputation as a digital pioneer and a ready pool of tech talent, it seems likely that some of this investment will be within Scotland.
According to Ctrip’s data, each year an increasing number of Chinese tourists are travelling to Scotland, in 2017 this figure jumped 120%. The top destination for these tourists is Edinburgh swiftly followed by the Highlands and Loch Ness, and with these tourists spending £1616 per person on average it is clear why fostering this mutually beneficial relationship between Scotland and China is important.
Shortly after its 12 billion yuan acquisition of Skyscanner, Ctrip announced big plans to open its first call-centre in Edinburgh. Recently, Ctrip also signed a £20m partnership deal with Edinburgh-based tour operator Rabbie’s Small Group Tours.
Scotland’s First Minister said:
“I was delighted to meet with Jane Sun and her Ctrip colleagues today for what was a fascinating exchange of ideas. While working in different environments, as women leaders we clearly share many common experiences – as well as a desire to see gender equality improved and to be role models to girls and young women.”
“Ctrip’s investment in Scotland is a great example of collaboration between Scotland and China in the key areas of tourism and the economy – and with a direct flight between Edinburgh and Beijing about to begin, this will only go from strength to strength.
China and Scotland Sign Historic Trade Treaty
This positive meeting between these two formidable ladies, came ahead of a historic moment which took place on April 13th 2018, when China and Scotland signed a treaty to open China’s multi-trillion-dollar, globe-spanning “Belt and Road” infrastructure programme to Scottish businesses. The programme is part of China’s President Xi Jinping’s goal of linking China to the West.
This deal is expected to deliver substantial trade agreements for participating Scottish businesses. It will provide information and support on trade and investment to Scottish businesses looking to make deals in China. This move is likely to strengthen ties between China and Scotland as trade-partners.
Building on Established Good Will
Trade and tourism bonds between Scotland and China has been growing over the past few years. In March 2018, it was announced that travellers would be able to take direct flights between Edinburgh and China, negating the need to journey via Amsterdam or London. This is expected to significantly increase the number of travellers and students coming to Edinburgh.
The University of the West of Scotland has just received accreditation from the Chinese government to provide foreign expertise in technical and managerial training to organisations in China. China Ocean Engineering Shanghai, an offshore construction and decommissioning specialist, is set to establish a project based in Dundee, providing a significant boost to the city’s waterfront renaissance.
Critics Accuse Sturgeon of Putting China First
Despite all this welcomed inward investment, some critics are uncomfortable with Sturgeon’s actions on this trip, such as meeting with the bosses of a state-owned Chinese firm bidding to build a power plant in Scotland covered by the National Planning Framework. In the past, Sturgeon has been criticised for signing a deal with a Chinese company to provide the steel for the Queensferry Crossing instead of using local companies and supporting a Scottish industry that was in dire need of a boost.
The issue of humans right could also prove prohibitive as the Scottish Government is under pressure to conduct and publish human rights checks on any deals struck with Chinese companies. Previously, Sturgeon had been seen to quietly sign a Memorandum’s of Understanding in 2016, worth an estimated £10bn, with Sinofortone Group and China Railway No3 Engineering Group. The latter company had been named in Amnesty International’s report on human rights abuses and had been blacklisted by Norway’s oil fund. This revelation sparked outrage and ultimately the deal collapsed due to its unpopularity.
China has a less than favourable history when it comes to the issue of human rights, it will be a large undertaking for the Scottish Government to assure the public that it is not making deals with firms that exploit or support the abuse of human rights. However, if the Scottish Government takes the necessary steps and puts in the due diligence, Scotland’s increasingly close ties to China has the potential to offer a massive boost to the Scottish economy.