Record number of Chinese enjoy festival overseas

Updated: 2014-02-07 07:59

By Fu Jing in Brussels, Zhang Chunyan in London and Li Xiang in Paris (China Daily)

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High spending

As incomes and living standards rise, an increasing number of Chinese visitors are now demanding high-end facilities during their trips, according to Shao. "Some tourists are not satisfied with three-star hotels and choose four- or even five-star 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 Wallonie-Bruxelles 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.

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."

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Li Xiaofei in Brussels and Yang Yang in Beijing contributed to this story.


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