Europe awaits return of Chinese tourists after pandemic

After three years of job switchings, Slovenian tour guide Luka is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first group of tourists from China.

After three years of job switchings, Slovenian tour guide Luka is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first group of tourists from China as now the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has improved a lot.

As one of the few registered Chinese-English tour guides in Slovenia, Luka is warming up his spoken Chinese, as droves of tourists from China are expected to arrive for the summer holidays.

In 2019, 13 million Chinese tourists landed in the European Union member states, according to a report by the Brussels-based European Travel Commission (ETC).

This number has plunged since the pandemic, till the reopening of European countries and the relaxation of China's outbound travel restrictions.

At the beginning of this year, China resumed its outbound travel business. Currently, China allows group tours to 60 countries.

In late March, Hungary welcomed its first group of Chinese tourists after three pandemic years. The 22 Chinese visitors, who arrived in the country for a nine-day stay there, were greeted by Hungarian government officials at the Budapest Airport.

"This is my third visit to Hungary," said Lou Zhiyuan, 60, who flew in from China's Guangzhou city and had just retired. She signed up for the tour group immediately when the possibility opened up. She last visited Hungary eight years ago.

European tourism was badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to recover speedily with the return of Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists made 22.2 million overnight stays in the EU in 2019. Due to the pandemic, this number fell to 3 million in 2020 and declined further to 1.6 million in 2021, according to the EU's statistical office Eurostat.

Before the pandemic, Croatia welcomed more than 300,000 visitors from China per year. "We will do everything in our power to facilitate the arrival and stay of Chinese tourists in Croatia," Kristjan Stanicic, director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, told Xinhua.

Direct flights between Athens and Shanghai were also launched in December 2022, after the direct flights between Athens and Beijing commenced in 2017.

"We are a Chinese-ready airport," said Ioanna Papadopoulou, director of communication and marketing at Athens International Airport (AIA), where virtual assistants help Chinese tourists with information in their own language. They can also use familiar methods of payment which they use back home at AIA's duty-free shops.

According to the ETC, Chinese tourists are still rare in France, although it was the most popular destination for them outside Asia before the pandemic.

In 2019, more than 2.4 million Chinese visited France, and Chinese tourists spent around 180 euros (199.7 US dollars) per day there, the ETC said.

"We have seen a significant increase in the number of our Chinese customers," Ms. Wang, owner of the New Shanghai restaurant near the Palace of Versailles southwest of Paris, told Xinhua.

Not far away, the line of tourists waiting for entering the Palace stretches for nearly 100 meters, but only a few of them are Asian, mostly from Japan and South Korea.

"After three years of pandemic life, Chinese travel agencies have lost contact with Europe's hotels and car rental agencies. In the short term, it is difficult to return to the preferential prices we could offer them before the pandemic," Liu Yuan, a tour guide operator in France, told Xinhua.

But for Luka, at least he could count on the returning Chinese tourists for a much more stable job.

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