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Portugal more proactive in attracting Chinese investors

2014-06-25 08:32 Xinhua Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Portugal is gearing up to attract Chinese investors as an emerging Chinese middle class has swelled the number of tourists holidaying in the debt-laden country.

"The Chinese are not coming here to relax," Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of COTRI (China Outbound Tourism Research Institute), said during a conference which took place at Lisbon's Tiara Park Atlantic hotel earlier this month, adding that the tourism industry in Portugal should focus less on beach holidays for the Chinese and more on history and culture.

COTRI, country partner for Portugal's leading business consultancy Edeluc since April this year, came to offer its first "Chinese Tourist Welcome" training, where more than 30 attendees learnt the basics of Chinese etiquette and how to cater for the specific needs and expectations of a rapidly growing market.

The number of Chinese tourists staying in Portuguese hotels has risen drastically in recent times by 232 percent in just four years from over 23,000 in 2009 to over 74,000 in 2013, and China saw a total of 98.19 million outbound flights, an 18-percent increase from the previous year.

That makes it hardly surprising that countries around the world are boosting efforts to attract Chinese tourists, including debt-ridden countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece which are now realizing they must shift their focus and become more proactive.

Wolfgang told attendees about basic Chinese etiquette and pointed out both the practical but also the symbolic importance of printing menus and leaflets in Chinese and to have signs in Chinese in public spaces, like airports, to prove the fact that Chinese guests are welcomed here.

Mafalda Valerio, consultant at Edeluc, said they had recently got more engaged about attracting Chinese investors, coinciding with a greater awareness in the general public about the importance of Chinese tourists in Portugal.

"Edeluc has been aware of the potential to develop tourism here for a long time," said Mafalda Valerio. "we feel that this is the right time to invest in this area."

She also pointed out that Portugal had a very strong tourism sector and an excellent combination of exclusive offers to the Chinese travelers, from historical castles and mansions, to great landscapes, blue skies and clean air, as well as great food and wine.

"EDELUC will be working hard with COTRI to offer to local tourism sector players' information, training, certification and marketing of the different offerings in the Chinese market through our local partnerships," she added.

One of Portugal's biggest tourism agencies, which was contacted by Xinhua and wished to remain anonymous, said it was undergoing training because this was the "first step" before investing in this market and launching a campaign, and that the language and gastronomy were their two areas of focus.

Many tourism operators haven't yet started to adapt to these new potential clients, however.

Vasco Melo, director at Portugal tour operator Portugal Tours, said they haven't yet got any Chinese clients because they lack the relevant knowledge.

"We would need to have the knowledge for that," he said, adding that a good start would be to have a website in Chinese.

Influx means more than just tourism

Alystair Kung was still working for CBIEC in China's Hong Kong in early 2013, but was sent to Portugal to do research to see whether it was worthwhile to set up an agency here. "The company decided to go ahead," he said.

The agency opened up here in late 2013, and gives consulting services to potential investors in China. Alystair Kung, its associate manager, said the "main trigger" to set up the agency was a change in the golden visa policy introduced in 2012, a tactic used by several debt-ridden countries struggling to attract investment.

Through this scheme, foreigners can apply for a five-year "golden visa", by purchasing real estate worth 500,000 euros (about 680,000 U.S. dollars), though they can also qualify by creating 30 or more jobs, transferring at least 1 million euros in capital or residing in Portugal at least 30 days a year.

According to a report released on Monday by Portugal's border authority SEF, Portugal granted 476 gold vias last year, with 80 percent of applicants applying of Chinese origin. The program has driven property investments of 270 million euros and capital investment totaling 34.2 million euros.

Kung said that prices being low in Portugal, given the debt-crisis, are also an attractive factor for visitors from China. (1 euro = 1.36 U.S. dollars)

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