Record num­ber of Chi­nese en­joy fes­ti­val over­seas

Out­bound travel jumps 12.5 per­cent, with Europe high on list of des­ti­na­tions, re­port in Brus­sels, in Lon­don and in Paris.

China Daily (Canada) - - FOCUS7 -

On Tues­day, Wu Chong re­turned from an eight­day trip to Swe­den, Fin­land and the Czech Repub­lic. She said she found few Chi­nese trav­el­ers in the mu­se­ums and his­toric sites of Scan­di­navia, but saw sev­eral groups of them in Prague.

So, when she boarded a flight from Paris to Shang­hai and dis­cov­ered that most of the other pas­sen­gers were Chi­nese, she won­dered where they had all come from.

“The flight was al­most ex­clu­sively Chi­nese peo­ple, who were all busy putting their bags of new clothes and other items into the over­head bins,” Wu said.

A record 4.5 mil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple are es­ti­mated to have trav­eled over­seas dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val, a rise of 12.5 per­cent from a year ago, ac­cord­ing to the China Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While Europe was one of the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions, there are marked dif­fer­ences be­tween coun­tries and fac­tors such as the con­ve­nience of the visa ap­pli­ca­tions, the in­flu­ence of pop­u­lar cul­ture and the spe­cial ser­vices pro­vided for Chi­nese trav­el­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Han Fang, an em­ployee at Man­darin Voy­ages, a French travel agency that deals mainly with tourists from China, agen­cies are cit­ing Paris as one of the busiest des­ti­na­tions.

“We have seen a rapidly in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese tourists in Europe this year. France and Italy are among the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions for them,” she said.

The French gov­ern­ment has pledged to fast- track the ap­pli­ca­tion process for Chi­nese tourists, which will al­low them to ob­tain a visa in 48 hours. Han was op­ti­mistic that the move would at­tract more Chi­nese tourists to France and other Euro­pean coun­tries.

“We’ve also no­ticed that a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese tourists are not sat­is­fied with sim­ply tak­ing pho­tos in front of the land­marks and shop­ping for lux­ury goods. Many of them pre­fer in-depth travel pack­ages be­cause they want to spend sev­eral days in one place — Paris, for ex­am­ple — and they want to ex­plore the city, visit the mu­se­ums and gain greater knowl­edge about its his­tory. Many of them have clear plans and tar­gets of their own,” she said. Lack of flex­i­bil­ity

Al­though she en­joyed her stay in Europe, Wu Chong had some compl aint s , mainly about the prob­lems in­volved in ob­tain­ing visas. “The north­ern Euro­pean coun­tries, es­pe­cially Fin­land, deal with visa ap­pli­ca­tions in an un­friendly way, in my opin­ion,” she said.

The itin­er­ary must be planned be­fore­hand and po­ten­tial tourists have to buy their air tick­ets be­fore sub­mit­ting their visa ap­pli­ca­tions. “It means that if I, as a sin­gle per­son, want to change my travel plans dur­ing my stay, it will not be pos­si­ble,” she said.

More­over, the du­ra­tion of the visa is ex­actly the same as the pe­riod in­di­cated on the air ticket. “This al­lows lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity for trav­el­ers,” Wu said.

For Han’s agency, the most pop­u­lar prod­uct dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val was an in­ten­sive pack­age, which took the visi­tors to five coun­tries in four days — France, Ger­many, Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Lux­em­bourg.

“The price ef­fect is still no­tice­able when it comes to out­bound tourism from the Chi­nese mar­ket,” she said.

Tian Dong, who is cur­rently vis­it­ing France, said a sim­pli­fied visa ap­pli­ca­tion process would make the coun­try a more at­trac­tive desti­na­tion, but she still has safety con­cerns be­cause Chi­nese tourists have be­come tar­gets for crime in France.

“We were ex­cited to learn that it will be much eas­ier for us to ap­ply for a French visa. That will cer­tainly make the coun­try more at­trac­tive to us,” she said.

“But safety is still a con­cern. I have to be al­ways on alert when I travel in the coun­try. It would be good if the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties could do more to ad­dress the safety is­sue,” she said.

The French tourist in­dus­try has been at­tempt­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the long diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and France, and as part of the Spring Fes­ti­val cel­e­bra­tions, many tourist hotspots or­ga­nized spe­cial events such as tra­di­tional dragon and lion dances. A new trend

An in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese see over­seas travel as a fash­ion­able way to cel­e­brate Spring Fes­ti­val, ac­cord­ing to Kevin Shao of Omega Travel, one of the UK’s lead­ing travel agen­cies.

“Com­pared with last year, the num­ber of Chi­nese visi­tors rose by 30 per­cent dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val,” Shao said, adding that the peak time is the first week of the new lu­nar year.

Travel as a fam­ily or as sev­eral fam­i­lies in a group has been an im­por­tant new trend this year. Groups such as this pre­fer to de­sign the travel routes and choose the ho­tels them­selves, rather than use an agency to do it, he said, adding that Chi­nese visi­tors usu­ally have some knowl­edge of the UK or have done a lot of home­work be­fore trav­el­ing, which pro­vides greater flex­i­bil­ity and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Hav­ing gained a taste for Bri­tish cul­ture via TV, movies and books, Chi­nese tourists are mainly in­ter­ested in mu­se­ums, palaces, cas­tles and the an­cient uni­ver­si­ties. Lon­don, Ox­ford, Cam­bridge, Bath, York and Ed­in­burgh are the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers.

Beth McKil­lop, deputy di­rec­tor of the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don, said, “We mon­i­tor which col­lec­tions the Chi­nese visi­tors view dur­ing their visit as part of a ‘rest of the world’ cat­e­gory, which also in­cludes Asia, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, South Amer­ica and Africa. The top four V&A col­lec­tions vis­ited by this group are cur­rently sculp­ture, fash­ion and tex­tiles, me­dieval and Re­nais­sance, and jew­elry,” she said.

In 1991, the V&A be­came the first Euro­pean mu­seum to fea­ture bilin­gual cap­tions (English and Chi­nese), which were in­stalled in the T. T. Tsui Gallery of Chi­nese Art. The mu­seum also has an ac­tive Chi­nese com­mu­nity pro­gram with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the Chi­nese New Year and mid-Au­tumn fes­ti­vals.

Be­cause Bri­tish TV dra­mas such as Down­ton Abbey and Sher­lock, plus the Harry Pot­ter movies and books, have cap­tured the imag­i­na­tions of a huge num­ber of peo­ple in China, many tourists want to visit the lo­ca­tions or stu­dios when they visit the UK, ac­cord­ing to Chen Wei, who has worked as a travel guide in Bri­tain for 10 years.

Ed­u­cated, as­pir­ing Chi­nese view­ers find th­ese dra­mas com­pelling view­ing and be­lieve they pro­vide in­sights into the Bri­tish way of life, he said.

Tom Jenk­ins, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Tour Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion, said, “Chi­nese visi­tors ap­pear to be ex­cep­tion­ally well be­haved and in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated in their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Western cul­ture.”

Last year, in­sen­si­tive be­hav­ior by a few Chi­nese tourists — such as the 15- year- old who de­faced a sculp­ture in the an­cient tem­ple at Luxor in Egypt — made head­lines around the world, and led to the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties writ­ing travel eti­quette into the reg­u­la­tions to help trav­el­ers pre­pare for, and re­spect, other cul­tures. High spend­ing

As in­comes and liv­ing stan­dards rise, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese visi­tors are now de­mand­ing high­end fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing their trips, ac­cord­ing to Shao. “Some tourists are not sat­isfi with three-star ho­tels and choose four- or even fives­tar es­tab­lish­ments in­stead.”

Th­ese high-spend­ing tourists have be­come an in­creas­ingly wel­come sight in the UK and across Europe, and ev­ery coun­try wants to cap­i­tal­ize on the trend.

“The one-day shop­ping trip to Bices­ter Vil­lage, an out­let shop­ping center, is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among Chi­nese visi­tors,” Shao said.

Chi­nese visi­tors to the UK spend three times as much as Arabs, Rus­sians or other tra­di­tional big spenders, ac­cord­ing to Vince Cable, the UK busi­ness sec­re­tary, in an ar­ti­cle for the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard on Mon­day.

Ac­cord­ing to Cable, the num­ber of visi­tors from the Chi­nese main­land has risen steadily in re­cent years, from 89,000 in 2009 to 179,000 in 2012. Pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures for 2013 (to the end of the third quar­ter) have al­ready hit 160,000, sug­gest­ing a record year in store.

“I want to en­sure that Chi­nese visi­tors — be they tourists, busi­ness visi­tors, stu­dents or fam­ily mem­bers — are made wel­come in the UK,” Cable said.

By con­trast, be­cause Bel­gium is not a ma­jor desti­na­tion for visi­tors dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day, Chi­nese tourists are not the main fo­cus for the coun­try’s travel in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to Do­minique An­dre, man­ager of New Mar­kets at Wal­lonieBrux­elles Tourism in Bel­gium.

“At present, we are not mar­ket­ing or do­ing a lot to at­tract Chi­nese tourists be­cause we fo­cus more on the neigh­bor­ing mar­kets. I think the north­ern part of Bel­gium is mar­ket­ing it­self in an ef­fec­tive way in China, and the Brus­sels re­gion wants to at­tract more Chi­nese visi­tors and be­come more in­ter­na­tional,” she said.

How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion in Wal­lo­nia is rather dif­fer­ent be­cause the re­gion is renowned for its nat­u­ral scenery, fes­ti­vals and cul­ture, and at present most Chi­nese tourists pre­fer to visit cities for shop­ping, she said.

An­dre be­lieves Bel­gium needs to fo­cus more on “deep travel” and pro­mote spe­cial at­trac­tions: “Tourists pre­fer to visit some­thing typ­i­cally Euro­pean, but dif­fer­ent from other Euro­pean cities. There­fore, we have to fo­cus on what the Chi­nese would like, and fo­cus on the very spe­cific prod­ucts of cer­tain cities.” She sug­gested that more money and in­vest­ment are needed to fa­cil­i­tate ex­plo­ration of the Chi­nese mar­ket.

Last year, Chi­nese trav­el­ers to Bel­gium reg­is­tered more than 11,000 pur­chases with Global Blue, a fi­nan­cial com­pany that pi­o­neered tax-free shop­ping ser­vices. Those visi­tors spent an av­er­age of al­most 800 eu­ros ($1,080) per pur­chase, which re­sulted in Chi­nese shop­pers ac­count­ing for 15 per­cent of to­tal tax-free busi­ness in Bel­gium.

The com­pany said 60 per­cent of all Chi­nese pur­chases are fash­ion and cloth­ing, in­clud­ing bags, while watches and jew­elry ac­counted for 28 per­cent. How­ever, Global Blue ad­mit­ted that it has not seen a marked in­crease in spend­ing dur­ing the New Year pe­riod be­cause most Chi­nese buy their goods in Europe around May 1, dur­ing the sum­mer months and the so-called golden week in au­tumn. Low-key at­mos­phere

Mean­while, the dif­fer­ences in the way the Chi­nese cel­e­brate Spring Fes­ti­val at home and in Europe were ob­vi­ous to Zhang Jun, who vis­ited his mother in Brus­sels dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val.

“It seemed that the at­mos­phere was very low- key. Al­though there were dragon and lion dances, they were lim­ited to Chi­na­town and I didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to see them,” said Zhang, who has been trav­el­ing with his fam­ily in France, Switzer­land and Bel­gium since Jan 23.

225

es­ti­mated num­ber of Chi­nese peo­ple trav­el­ing dur­ing the

2014 Spring Fes­ti­val

4.5

num­ber of Chi­nese peo­ple trav­el­ing out­side the coun­try dur­ing the 2014 Spring Fes­ti­val, an in­crease of 12.5 per­cent over

2013

EM­PLOYEE AT MAN­DARIN VOY­AGES, A

FRENCH TRAVEL AGENCY

Al­though it’s tech­ni­cally the off- sea­son, they have seen Chi­nese tourists all over France and Switzer­land. “We found quite a lot of them — even in In­ter­laken, which is a re­ally small Swiss city,” he said.

Another man, who would only give his sur­name as Wu and was vis­it­ing Brus­sels with his fam­ily, said the num­ber of Chi­nese that ob­serve the fes­ti­val tra­di­tions is in de­cline. “Now, there is no fes­tive at­mos­phere any­where. Maybe in the north of China they still stick to the Spring Fes­ti­val tra­di­tions, but we don’t pre­pare any spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions, ex­cept for vis­it­ing rel­a­tives and watch­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val Gala on TV,” he said.

How­ever, the lack of tra­di­tion didn’t bother Zhang and his fam­ily. “We just took the Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day as the per­fect chance to travel around.” Con­tact the writ­ers at fu­jing@chi­nadaily.com.cn, lix­i­ang@chi­nadaily.com.cn and zhangchun­yan@ chi­nadaily.com.cn Li Xiaofei in Brus­sels and Yang Yang in Bei­jing con-

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chi­nese tourists play in front of Notre-Dame de Paris. Data sug­gest a record num­ber of them chose to travel abroad dur­ing this year’s Spring Fes­ti­val.

ZHANG LIYUN / XIN­HUA

Cel­e­brat­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val in down­town Lis­bon, cap­i­tal of Por­tu­gal, over­seas Chi­nese keep tra­di­tion alive.

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