Nation's travellers seen as big spenders overseas
Chinese tourists are big spenders and with the numbers visiting Europe set to soar by nearly 70 percent over the next five years, European countries are rolling out the red carpet to make the guests feel welcome.
A total of 12.4 million Chinese tourists, mostly in guided tour groups, came to Europe in 2017, according to the European Travel Commission (ETC). And the Chinese Tourism Academy (CTA) is expecting the number to reach 20.8 million by 2022.
"A few years ago, the Chinese came to Europe solely to do some shopping. Now, they're increasingly keen to get know the culture and the countryside," CTA President Dai Bin told AFP, speaking in Venice at the launch of the year of tourism between the EU and China.
"They want to have personal experiences and visit areas where they don't see other Chinese people," said Eduardo Santander, ETC's executive director, adding that Chinese visitors to Europe "like the cuisine, the music, the blue skies."
China is the world's biggest market for foreign tourism. With 129 million Chinese holidaymakers travelling abroad, they account for one-fifth of the total number of tourists globally. And they spend more than double the amount that US tourists spend - $261 billion in 2016 compared with $123 billion.
Chinese language television stations and good Wi-Fi in hotel rooms are becoming a requirement while payment methods favored by the Chinese, such as UnionPay, the only credit card issuer in China, and WeChat payment functions or Alipay are a must.
CTA chief Dai said Europe should reduce the red tape for its Chinese visitors. "We hope Europe will make is easier for Chinese people to get a visa," he said.
"In a number of eastern European countries, for example, it's easy. But it's very difficult in others. And when Chinese tourists visit Europe, they want to visit several countries, not just one," Dai said.
In return, China would become "more flexible when granting visas, allowing Europeans to stay in Beijing or Shanghai for 144 hours - or six days - without a visa," he promised.
According to ETC data, France is seen as the No.1 destination in Europe for Chinese tourists, with 61 percent of visitors hoping to go there, followed by Germany with 37 percent and Italy with 28 percent.
But that picture has started to change in recent years, and travel to eastern Europe is booming, not least because of the easier allocation of visas and the increased availability of cheap flights. The string of terrorist attacks in France and Germany in recent years is also a factor.
In 2016, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Serbia, for example, rose by 173 percent, and numbers were up by nearly 90 percent in Montenegro.
Popular for their perceived deep pockets, Chinese visitors haven't always enjoyed a reputation for knowledge of local customs. But that's an image that China is itself keen to remedy, with "some tourist agencies offering lessons to customers before they go to Europe," said CTA chief Dai.