Cover Story

China calling

Updated: 2011-07-08 10:47

By David Bartram (China Daily European Weekly)

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From gap-year students looking for adventure to families seeking a cultural experience, an increasing number of Europeans are making a beeline to the country

China calling

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Shortly after celebrating his 60th birthday, Oliver Fitzpatrick decided he was finally going to do something he had dreamt about for years - visit China. So along with his wife, Patricia, he went to his local travel agency in Dublin, Ireland, and booked a once in a life time holiday to Beijing. "It had always been my dream to walk on the Great Wall of China," says Fitzpatrick. "I had always been fascinated by the Wall. I'd read about it and seen it in movies and travel programs and always thought, 'That is one place I would love to go'. So one day, we decided to just do it.

"Some of our friends were amazed when we told them we were off to China on our holidays," says his wife. Most of the couple's friends prefer their holidays a little closer to home, a week of sun in the south of Spain, for instance. "It was actually really easy to organize. Our tour operator sorted everything out. We always felt very safe and everyone we encountered was friendly."

While the Fitzpatricks might not be typical of China's foreign visitors, the retired couple from near Dublin are indicative of the growing number of Europeans - of all ages - that are now choosing to take their holidays in the Middle Kingdom.

Previously the preserve of hardened adventurers, booking a holiday to China has never been easier. While there has been much focus on the growing number of Chinese tourists visiting Europe, China has been quietly emerging as a popular destination itself for foreign visitors.

Earlier this year the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced that China has officially become the world's third most popular tourist destination, overtaking Spain and fast closing in on the United States and France.

At that time, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai told Spanish state television that he expected China to become the world's No 1 destination in the next five to seven years.

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