Mayor of Brussels Philippe Close dressed up as a giant panda attends a reception of a Chinese lantern exhibition in Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 22, 2018. The exhibition Light the Heart of Europe with gigantic Chinese lanterns was held in Brussels on Thursday to celebrate the Chinese Lunar NewYear and the year of tourism between the European Union and China. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
by Fu Yiming, Ren Liying, Zhang Man
STOCKHOLM, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- With a boost of the EU-China Tourism Year (ECTY) in 2018, Chinese tourists visiting Europe enjoyed more convenient ways of traveling, methods of payment, and much closer appreciations of European cultures.
DEEPER AND WIDER
Unlike previous patterns of quick sightseeing and shopping, Chinese tourists to Europe have been seen visiting many destinations for much longer time, and with more interests to interact with the local population, art and culture, said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of China Outbound Tourism Research Institute to Xinhua in a recent interview.
In what Arlt called the "Second Wave" of outbound tourism from China, he witnessed in the past few years, "authentic experiences", "living like a local", increased interest in regional food and drinks, the step from "taking a photo of" to "taking part in", have became buzzwords especially among the younger Chinese travelers.
"Unlike traditional group tours, more and more Chinese young people are choosing to travel in France in a free-flowing way. They pay more attention to culture and art, and want to go to other cities outside Paris. We have seen these changes," Patricia Barthelemy, Head of Promotion/Leisure Marketing at the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in the first edition of Sino-French Tourism Forum earlier this month.
This trend has also been revealed by Eva Recordier, promotion manager of Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Recordier told Xinhua that "we feel that Chinese tourists are in search of rather new things, the original activity, and want to live a little French experience in authentic places."
These changes are also being observed in the northern parts of the continent.
Flemming Bruhn, Director of VisitDenmark, told Xinhua that routes around Denmark outside the capital Copenhagen are welcomed by Chinese tourists.
"During 2018 we have introduced five signature routes of Denmark that takes you from Copenhagen and around the whole country... The routes have worked very good and we start to see the Chinese tourists coming more around to the rest of Denmark outside Copenhagen," said the director.
"More Chinese come to Denmark as part of a smaller group. They still buy it through a travel agent in China but they travel and decide more themselves. Also we see a new trend that the Chinese want to travel in Denmark for a longer time to see more than just Copenhagen. So our new signature routes are also a good way to experience and travel deeper," Bruhn added.
Chinese tourists are not only interested in deeper European tours but also wider ones.
"If we look at the arrival numbers for 2018, we can see that some Eastern and Southeastern EU countries including Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia saw substantial increases in arrival numbers, as also did the Southwest of the EU with Spain and Portugal," said Arlt.
Aside from promoting lesser-known destinations, EU-China Tourism Year 2018 is also aimed to improve travel and tourism experiences for Chinese tourists.
"European destinations and service providers have done a lot in the last years to provide services from payment systems to a choice of food to specific activity offers for Chinese," said Arlt.
The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau attaches great importance to the Chinese market, and is particularly interested in Chinese individual visitors, in full expansion, said Pierre Schapira, president of Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, adding that "the Chinese market is undoubtedly one of the most promising ones for which we have to find adapted technological solutions".
To attract this new generation of ultra-connected travelers, the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau launched in March 2018 its official account at Weibo, China's leading social media platform, and has since attracted nearly 10,000 followers. Three months later, the bureau opened its account at WeChat, another popular social media platform in China, Schapira said.
"Many things have been done to facilitate the life of the Chinese tourists in the hotels, of course, but also by the means of payment. Now Chinese tourists can pay by smartphone, through Alipay or WeChat pay, avoiding the risk of carrying cash," said Schapira.
To help facilitate Chinese tourists travelling to Europe, visa facilitation and more convenient air connectivity were also seen in some European countries.
"In 2018, more direct flights from Chinese cities (Jinan, Fuzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen) to Paris have been launched, making it easier for Chinese tourists to travel in France and Europe," said Schapira.
Denmark has also taken measures to facilitate the travels by Chinese.
"Denmark has during 2017 and 2018 opened nine new visa-centers in China and we have also introduced a new Preferential Scheme that gives easier access to visas to Denmark," said Bruhn.
FURTHER GROWTH EXPECTED
Looking ahead, European tourism industry hopes to see more advances of EU-China people-to-people exchanges on top of the achievements of the EU-China Tourism Year.
"The agreement to celebrate a Tourism Year between not just one country, but all countries of the EU. And China underlined the importance given to the European Union in China and the importance China has for all member states of the EU," said Arlt.
"During 2018, the need to work together to keep the world moving in the direction of free trade and free exchanges of persons, goods and ideas has become even clearer given the nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies becoming dominant in a number of countries. The ECTY2018 has been one element supporting the increase in cooperation between China and the EU," he added.
"Certainly the tourism between China and Europe will continue to grow, both for business travel, including those based on the Belt and Road Initiative as well as for leisure tourism based on the huge number of cultural and natural treasures both areas are offering," Arlt emphasized.
"We hope to see the trends from the last years continuing. That means that the groups will be smaller and more individual and that they want to travel more 'deep', and therefore stay longer and see more of Denmark," Bruhn said.