Europe searches for charms to lure Chinese tourists

Updated: 2013-03-08 11:00


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In Spain, where tourism accounts for 11 percent of gross domestic product, 57.7 million tourists visited in 2012. But arrivals from Britain, the country's biggest source market with close to a quarter of the total number of visitors, were flat.

"The British and the Germans are not getting richer... and the times of flying for 10 pounds from London to Spain are ending," Wolfgang Georg Arlt of Chinese tourism research institute COTRI said.

Spain has therefore set a target of reaching 1 million Chinese visitors a year by 2020, up from 177,100 in 2012, a goal described by Arlt as a tall order.

Shao Qiwei, chairman of China's National Tourism Administration, said Spain must also overcome the language barrier to attract more Chinese tourists and adapt dishes to their tastes.

"We are hoping for more Chinese tour guides in museums and tourist sites and to see Chinese television in Spanish hotels," Shao said at a UNWTO event in Madrid.


It's not easy to adapt though and the ETC's Santander said his organization would try to ensure all parts of the tourism chain, from taxi drivers to tour guides and luxury hotel owners were educated on Chinese travel wishes and customs.

Spain has even already put on some bullfights where the bull was not killed at the end, to appease Chinese tourists who do not like blood.

Tour company Marly Camino, which offers high-end walking packages on the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage route to a cathedral in northern Spain, has seen an increase in enquiries from Asian tourists from Singapore and the Philippines, but said there was only one official Chinese-speaking tour guide in the region.

"There's the cultural barrier too, the etiquette is a little different. If we're going to be receiving that kind of client we want to be in the loop with how you treat that kind of client and what they expect," said co-director Samantha Sacchi Muci.

Marly Camino therefore plans to create packages for Chinese agencies to directly market to tourists to side-step the language barrier, saying it needs such agencies as an intermediary to help crack the market.

Tourism watchers at the ITB in Berlin said Europe's beach resorts could follow the example of the Maldives, among the top five most popular destinations for Chinese tourists.

The islands made a conscious effort to attract arrivals from sun-wary China with island hopping tours, night fishing and snorkelling when arrivals from Europe collapsed after the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

"Forty years ago, when Germans and Brits first started coming to Spain and Greece, they were a strange race too," said Martin Buck, who helps organize the ITB, the world's largest travel and tourism fair.

"But Spain and Greece used the chance to make those visitors into an important pillar of their economies. Why shouldn't they do the same with the Chinese?"

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