Opinion |  Chinese perspectives

World adapts to waves of Chinese tourists

By Wu Liming and Shang Xuqian  |   2011-6-20  |     NEWSPAPER EDITION

The story appears on Page A6
Jun 20, 2011

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HUANG Meng, a veteran reporter for a Chinese news outlet, still vividly remembers his first trip to Paris in the mid-1990s.

When he entered the pyramid gate of the Louvre Museum, a mecca for Paris visitors, he saw there were free introductory pamphlets for visitors. But none of the handouts was in Chinese and as a result, he was lost in the huge maze of exhibits as he spoke only little English.

Last year, Huang visited France again. This time, he found not only pamphlets in Chinese in the Louvre, but also the museum's Chinese web page. Moreover, some shop assistants at the luxurious Galeries Lafayette department store spoke Mandarin, while hotels with many Chinese guests provided TV channels in their native language.

"I am very exited to hear Chinese spoken and see Chinese signs in Paris. It is convenient for Chinese tourists," Huang said. "And the hospitable French people really make me feel at home."

Huang's experience is not unique among the fast growing numbers of outbound Chinese travelers. While they are influencing the world tourism landscape in economic, cultural and other ways, the destination countries are also adapting themselves to the booming influx of Chinese tourists.

Outbound tourism has become a lucrative business for travel agencies in China, and heavy spending by Chinese tourists overseas has contributed to the economies of destination countries. In 2009, less than 5 percent of China's over 22,000 travel agencies were engaged in the outbound tourism business. But overseas tourism generated 22 percent of China's total tourism revenue, according to the China Tourism Academy (CTA).

Major tourist destinations across the world have seen surging numbers of Chinese visitors in recent years. In 2010 alone, 57.39 million Chinese traveled abroad, spending US$48 billion overseas, according to CTA figures. The World Tourism Organization has estimated that the number of outbound tourists from China would reach 100 million by 2020.

Thailand has long been a popular destination for Chinese tourists. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says China will become the biggest source of foreign tourists in Thailand in two to three years. At present, the number of tourists from China ranks third in Thailand, after those from Malaysia and Japan.

In Europe, France is among the favorite destinations for Chinese tourists. "Last year, the official figure of Chinese tourists in France reached 550,000. But the problem is that now with the Schengen Agreement, we don't know exactly how many (Chinese tourists have actually visited France)," said Paul Roll, managing director of the Paris Office du Tourisme et des Congres.

"We feel by 2020, when there are 100 million Chinese visitors (globally), 1 or 2 million will come to Paris, so this obviously means that we need to get prepared," Roll added.

The United States is another important destination for Chinese tourists. The country saw the biggest increase of visitors from China in 2010 with 810,738 travelers, up 53 percent from the previous year, according to US customs authorities. Kathryn Burnside, director of communications at California Travel and Tourism Commission, told Xinhua that of all the visitors from China, about 60 percent came to California. She admitted that the big inflow of Chinese tourists has helped contribute to the economy in the state.

Also according to the CTA report, Chinese are not only making more overseas trips, but are also spending a lot more in foreign countries than they did in the early days when China adopted its opening-up policy in 1979. More than a quarter of Chinese outbound tourists (26.85 percent) say shopping takes up the largest share of their expenditure, the CTA said.

In 2011, Chinese travelers are expected to spend a record high of US$55 billion on their overseas trips, boosted partly by an appreciating Chinese currency, the CTA said.

Chinese tourists buy almost everything, from Rolex watches to formula milk powder. Paris and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are among the top shopping destinations for Chinese tourists.

The Champs-Elysees, Paris' high street, is a shopping paradise for independent Chinese tourists, while Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores are also quite popular among them.

Luxury stores on the Champs-Elysees have followed the example of Galeries Lafayette by employing Mandarin speakers. Even the wool product brand Eric Bompard, which is little known in China, has a Chinese-speaking sales assistant in its shop close to the Champs-Elysees.

(Xinhua. To be continued tomorrow.)

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