BEIJING, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- "The growth of Chinese tourists visiting Spain could be described as spectacular," Dario Polo Rodriguez, tourism counselor of the Spanish Embassy in China, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
In 2018, China overtook Japan to become Spain's largest source of Asian tourists, and consolidated itself as a strategic market, according to Polo.
"Despite the delay in recognizing the potential of the Chinese market, Spain has been redoubling efforts to offer a pleasant experience to the growing number of Chinese visitors to the country," Polo said.
During the Lunar New Year holidays, many Chinese chose to travel abroad, and Spain was among the most popular destinations.
Spain was the number one destination in Europe visited by the Chinese during the Spring Festival holiday season, followed by Italy, according to a report issued by Dragon Trail, a travel marketing consultant firm.
In 2018, 649,032 Chinese tourists visited Spain, representing accumulated growth of 128 percent over three years, according to official statistics from Spain.
With an average spend per person of 2,563 euros, Chinese travelers contributed over 1.66 billion euros a year to Spain's tourist industry.
However, of over 82.6 million international tourists that Spain received in 2018, those from China only represented 0.8 percent.
"The Spanish tourism sector has come with certain delay to recognizing the importance and potential of the Chinese source market," said Polo, who stressed that the situation had changed notably in recent years.
Although it has come late to the party, Spain welcomes the opportunity that the Chinese market has provided and looks to expand participation of the Chinese in its foreign tourist industry.
"China is soon to become the world's leading tourism source market. Spain recognizes this potential and will therefore redouble its efforts to capture a more significant market share," the counselor said.
Since 2015, China has been designated a "strategic market" by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism of Spain, as increasing Chinese tourist flows bring important business opportunities to the country.
Take the air transport sector as an example: At the end of 2015 there were only two direct connections between China and Spain, operated by one single airline with seven flights per week. Currently, the number of direct flights has grown to 10, operated by seven different airlines at a weekly frequency of 41 flights.
Chinese tourists also pay visits that are much more constant throughout the year compared to those from European countries who arrive mainly in summer, according to Polo.
The high peaks for Chinese outbound tourism take place around the Chinese New Year, which usually falls in late January or early February, and the National Day holidays in October, which forms a positive complement to the low seasons in Spain, Polo noted.
At the International Tourism Fair that took place in Madrid at the end of last month, the sector showed greater interest in the Chinese market, according to Polo.
The private players of the industry have been immersed in making the necessary adaptations for the Chinese tourists to enjoy an even more pleasant stay, he said.
Starting January, the Cervantes Institute, a Spanish organization that promotes the culture of the Spanish-speaking world, launched a series of activities to present the tourist attractions of twelve Ibero-American countries, one every month.
"The purpose is to inspire more Chinese tourists to explore these less common destinations," said Zhu Fangfang with the Tourism Office of the Spanish Embassy in Beijing.
Similarly, AENA, a public-private venture that manages all airports in Spain, has updated all the information boards in the airports to include a version in Chinese since two years ago, according to Polo.
"The private sector has joined these initiatives to make the necessary adaptations to its offers that will make the Chinese tourists feel more comfortable when traveling through our country," he said.
Polo however noted that it would take some time for the Chinese market to grow mature. "But with the designation of China as a strategic market, Spain seeks to reverse this situation in the near future."
"In addition to the official strategy, the private sector will join hands with the Spanish government to place China in the rightful position among its major tourist source markets," he added.