Europe rolls out red carpet for Chinese

AFP
With Chinese tourists visiting Europe set to soar by nearly 70 percent over the next five years, European countries are rolling out the red carpet to make the guests feel welcome.
AFP

Chinese tourists are big spenders and with the numbers visiting Europe set to soar by nearly 70 percent over the next five years, European countries are rolling out the red carpet to make the guests feel welcome.

A total of 12.4 million Chinese, mostly in guided tour groups, came to Europe in 2017, according to the European Travel Commission. The Chinese Tourism Academy is expecting the number to reach 20.8 million by 2022.

“A few years ago, the Chinese came to Europe solely to do some shopping. Now, they’re increasingly keen to know the culture and the countryside,” Dai Bin, CTA’s president, said in Venice at the launch of the year of tourism between the European Union and China.

“They want to have personal experiences and visit areas where they don’t see any other Chinese,” said Eduardo Santander, ETC’s executive director.

“They like the cuisine, the music, the blue skies ... most of them come from the coast, where pollution is extremely high,” Santander said.

China is the world’s biggest market for foreign tourism, with 129 million holidaymakers traveling abroad a year, accounting for one fifth of the total number of tourists globally.

Furthermore, they spend more than twice the amount that American tourists do — US$261 billion in 2016 compared with US$123 billion.

Small gestures can go a long way toward making tourists from China feel more at ease in Europe, said Jacopo Sertoli, head of Welcome Chinese, a body that awards certificates to tourism companies catering for Chinese customers.

“You can make them very happy by offering them a glass of hot water,” he said, noting most Chinese families drink water at that temperature rather than cold. 

Chinese language television stations and good Wi-Fi in hotel rooms are a good idea while payment methods favored by the Chinese, such as UnionPay, Alipay and WeChat Pay, are a must.

CTA’s Dai said Europe should reduce the red tape for its Chinese visitors. “We hope Europe will make it easier for Chinese to get a visa,” he said.

“In a number of eastern European countries, for example, it’s easy. But it’s very difficult in others. And when Chinese tourists visit Europe, they want to visit several countries, not just one,” Dai said.

By reciprocation, China would become “more flexible when granting visas and Europeans can stay in Beijing or Shanghai for 144 hours — or six days — without a visa,” he said.

According to ETC data, France is the No. 1 desired destination in Europe for Chinese tourists, with 61 percent of visitors hoping to go there, followed by Germany with 37 percent and Italy with 28 percent.

Nevertheless, that picture has started to change in recent years, and travel to eastern Europe is booming, not least because of the easier allocation of visas and the increased availability of cheap flights. The string of terrorist attacks in France and Germany in recent years is also a factor.

In 2016, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Serbia, for example, rose by 173 percent, and numbers were up by nearly 90 percent in Montenegro.

But while “Chinese are very alert to questions of security, they tend to forget more easily than other tourists,” Santander said.

Popular for perceivedly having deep pockets — a result of the Chinese tradition of giving presents — Chinese visitors haven’t always enjoyed a reputation for cultural traits of politeness, etiquette and manners.

But that’s an image which China is itself keen to remedy, with “some tourist agencies offering lessons to customers before they go to Europe,” said Dai.


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