The num­ber of Chi­nese vis­i­tors to Europe is boom­ing, and they’re in­creas­ingly look­ing for unique des­ti­na­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences

China Daily European Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - By CECILY LIU in Lon­don cecily.liu@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

The tourism in­dus­tries in both China and Europe are cel­e­brat­ing a new era of col­lab­o­ra­tion, char­ac­ter­ized by un­prece­dented growth in vis­i­tor num­bers and the in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated needs of vis­i­tors. Grow­ing tourism con­nec­tiv­ity is be­ing hailed by an­a­lysts as a cru­cial in­gre­di­ent for en­hanc­ing cul­tural un­der­stand­ing, which is con­sid­ered fun­da­men­tal to the China-led Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, which seeks to boost trade and in­vest­ment be­tween China and the rest of Asia, as well as Europe and Africa.

Since China and the Euro­pean Union signed an Ap­proved Des­ti­na­tion Sta­tus agree­ment in 2004, the num­ber of tourists trav­el­ing be­tween China and Europe has grown by an an­nual av­er­age of 10.6 per­cent.

Coun­tries that have signed an ADS agree­ment with the Chi­nese govern­ment are al­lowed to re­ceive Chi­nese tourist groups and pro­mote their own des­ti­na­tions in China.

The year 2018 is EU-China Tourism Year, and con­fer­ences, ex­hi­bi­tions and events are planned with the aim of en­hanc­ing tourism un­der­stand­ing and im­prov­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“Chi­nese out­bound tourism is en­ter­ing a new era, char­ac­ter­ized by un­par­al­leled growth in tourist num­bers, their in­creas­ing con­sump­tion pow­ers and their rapidly grow­ing level of in­ter­na­tional aware­ness,” says Tim Wang, CEO of Elite UK Travel.

“Tourism is a cru­cial part of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, be­cause it in­stills un­der­stand­ing and trust be­tween Chi­nese and Euro­pean peo­ple and can lead to many more other col­lab­o­ra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties ...” TANG CHAO CEO of Arc­tic China, a des­ti­na­tion man­age­ment com­pany based in Ro­vaniemi, Fin­land

Tang Chao, CEO of Arc­tic China, a des­ti­na­tion man­age­ment com­pany based in Ro­vaniemi, Fin­land, agrees.

“Tourism is a cru­cial part of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, be­cause it in­stills un­der­stand­ing and trust be­tween Chi­nese and Euro­pean peo­ple and can lead to many more other col­lab­o­ra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fields of trade, in­vest­ment and ed­u­ca­tion,” Chao says.

In 2016, Chi­nese trav­el­ers made a to­tal of 3.49 mil­lion vis­its to Euro­pean Union coun­tries, but the po­ten­tial to in­crease that num­ber is im­mense, given that Chi­nese tourists made around 122 mil­lion over­seas trips that year.

As well as be­ing sig­nif­i­cant in their num­bers, Chi­nese out­bound tourists also have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing big spenders while on va­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the tourism shop­ping tax re­fund com­pany Global Blue, Chi­nese shop­pers’ duty-free spend­ing in Europe dur­ing the first nine months of 2017 ac­counted for 28 per­cent of to­tal sales.

The high spend­ing habits and high growth num­bers of Chi­nese tourists have made them a key fo­cus for many Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions.

Lux­ury shop­ping malls, de­signer shops and ho­tels are in­creas­ingly train­ing Man­darin­speak­ing as­sis­tants and in­stalling pay­ment plat­forms that are fa­mil­iar to Chi­nese tourists, in­clud­ing Ali­pay and UnionPay.

Ali­pay, China’s largest mo­bile pay­ment net­work, op­er­ates in 18 Euro­pean coun­tries. To use it, a Chi­nese shop­per needs only to scan a QR code with their Ali­pay mo­bile app and the pay­ment is made in­stantly through their mo­bile phone. The Chi­nese users pay in yuan, while the over­seas re­tail­ers re­ceive pay­ment in their lo­cal cur­rency.

“Such a small ser­vice can en­cour­age im­mense spend­ing growth,” says Alexan­der Yin, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer at TGC, the par­ent com­pany of ePassi, a Fin­nish pay­ment ter­mi­nal provider that works in part­ner­ship with Ali­pay. With ePassi’s help, Ali­pay is now ac­cepted at 700 points of sale in the coun­try.

“Fin­land is of­ten the first stop for Chi­nese trav­el­ers head­ing for Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. Tra­di­tion­ally, Chi­nese shop­pers were re­luc­tant to spend too much money in Fin­land be­cause they pre­ferred to save their cash for later stops. But now they can spend as much as they like with Ali­pay, with­out con­sciously cal­cu­lat­ing if they have enough cash left,” Yin says.

Af­ter Fin­nair in­cluded Ali­pay in its in-flight pay­ment in­fra­struc­ture in Jan­uary 2017, shop­ping on di­rect China flights dou­bled.

While the first wave of Chi­nese tourists fo­cused on such des­ti­na­tions as Lon­don, Paris and Mi­lan, tourists are now ex­plor­ing other des­ti­na­tions.

“Chi­nese tourists are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing so­phis­ti­cated. Their choice of lo­ca­tion re­flects their pref­er­ence for lux­ury, priv­i­lege and ex­clu­siv­ity,” says Michel Gut­satz, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at China Europe In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness School.

Gut­satz says one such ex­am­ple of a hid­den gem is Le Marais in Paris, which was once the cen­ter of the Jewish com­mu­nity in the French cap­i­tal but is now home to bou­tiques, art gal­leries, bars and restau­rants.

“They want to show their fam­ily and friends in their pho­tos that they have vis­ited some­where unique,” he says.

This trend is con­firmed by statis­tics from the Rezi­dor Ho­tel Group, which saw book­ings from Chi­nese vis­i­tors rise by 100 per­cent in Fin­land, 69 per­cent in Swe­den and 47 per­cent in Nor­way from 2015 to 2017.

The ef­forts of lo­cal tourism boards to at­tract Chi­nese tourists play a big role. In Ro­vaniemi, where it is some­times pos­si­ble to see the north­ern lights, and from which tourists can en­ter the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the lo­cal tourism agency has part­nered with the Jiangsu Tele­vi­sion show We Are

In Love to film episodes there and in­crease ex­po­sure of the des­ti­na­tion within China.

Michael Wen­deroth, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Spain’s IE Busi­ness School, says the gov­ern­ments of Euro­pean coun­tries can also help grow their des­ti­na­tions’ at­trac­tive­ness by im­prov­ing their safety, which he be­lieves is the top con­sid­er­a­tion among Chi­nese out­bound tourists. He cites as ev­i­dence a drop in the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists to Europe in 2016 due to ter­ror­ism con­cerns.

The num­ber of Chi­nese tourists trav­el­ing to Europe in­creased by 32 per­cent to 4.78 mil­lion in

2015, with growth strong­est among those head­ing to Ger­many and France. That trend changed af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris in Novem­ber 2015 that killed 130 peo­ple. In the first six months of 2016, the num­ber of visas is­sued by the French govern­ment to Chi­nese vis­i­tors dropped by 15 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2015.

The de­gree of dif­fi­culty in ob­tain­ing visas is an­other im­por­tant fac­tor. When the Czech Repub­lic joined the Schen­gen visa area in 2007, it ex­pe­ri­enced a sud­den in­flux of tourists, says Zhu Lingxin, founder of Sino Star, a Prague-based tour op­er­a­tor.

“Many Chi­nese tourists pre­fer vis­it­ing sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries at once, so, be­fore the Czech Repub­lic’s join­ing of Schen­gen, many found the need to ob­tain an ad­di­tional Czech visa trou­ble­some,” Zhu says.

Be­fore 2007, the num­ber of Chi­nese vis­i­tors to the Czech Repub­lic each year was so small that no of­fi­cial statis­tics ex­isted, but that num­ber grew to 300,000 in 2016.

The United King­dom has also worked on sim­pli­fy­ing its visa ap­pli­ca­tion process for Chi­nese vis­i­tors. In 2015, the UK govern­ment an­nounced a new pol­icy to sim­plify the visa ap­pli­ca­tion process, which al­lows vis­i­tors to use the same form for both their UK and Schen­gen ap­pli­ca­tions.

The new pro­gram was cre­ated in re­sponse to lob­by­ing ef­forts by the Bri­tish Hos­pi­tal­ity As­so­ci­a­tion, which es­ti­mated that Bri­tain loses out on £1.2 bil­lion ($1.9 bil­lion; 1.4 bil­lion eu­ros) of po­ten­tial tourism rev­enue a year be­cause wealthy Chi­nese tourists have cho­sen to visit Schen­gen coun­tries, where one visa gives them ac­cess to 26 na­tions.

In re­cent years, train­ing pro­grams in which hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try work­ers learn how to bet­ter cater to Chi­nese tourists have be­come pop­u­lar. One such pro­gram is the GREAT China Wel­come pro­gram, which was cre­ated by VisitBri­tain, the coun­try’s tourism author­ity. It has reached more than 500 ho­tels, at­trac­tions, re­tail­ers and tour op­er­a­tors in the UK. In Italy, a sim­i­lar train­ing pro­gram is be­ing pro­vided by the Italy China Foun­da­tion’s Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion School.

Al­though Chi­nese out­bound tourism is boom­ing, sig­nif­i­cant growth can also be ob­served in the other di­rec­tion.

“Euro­pean tourists are also in­creas­ingly vis­it­ing China, es­pe­cially as China’s in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence grows,” says Olivia Rug­glesBrise, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil.

In par­tic­u­lar, the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics and 2010 Shang­hai Expo opened the world’s eyes to China as a mod­ern coun­try and cre­ated huge tourism in­ter­est. Rug­gles-Brise says the rapid de­vel­op­ment of tourist in­fra­struc­ture in China has been very im­pres­sive.

In 2016, cit­i­zens from EU coun­tries made a to­tal of 3.1 mil­lion vis­its to China.

Pa­tri­cia Yates, di­rec­tor of strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at VisitBri­tain, says knowl­edge shar­ing is very im­por­tant. She adds that the UK and China have the op­por­tu­nity to share knowl­edge about how to use tourism to pro­mote eco­nomic growth in less-de­vel­oped ar­eas and ru­ral re­gions.

At the UK-China Peo­ple-to-Peo­ple Di­a­logue in De­cem­ber, the gov­ern­ments of the UK and China agreed to fur­ther share knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence in this area.



Tourists visit an ice palace in cen­tral Switzer­land. In 2016, Chi­nese trav­el­ers made a to­tal of 3.49 mil­lion vis­its to Euro­pean Union coun­tries.


Vis­i­tors at Santa Claus Vil­lage in Ro­vaniemi, Fin­land.


A cus­tomer uses Ali­pay to pay for his ho­tel in Fin­land. Ali­pay, China’s largest mo­bile pay­ment net­work, is ac­cepted at 700 points of sale in Fin­land.

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