Europe beckons

Updated: 2011-12-02 10:52

By David Bartram (China Daily European Edition)

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Europe beckons

As Chinese tourist numbers rise, the industry is making efforts to make them more welcome

Chinese tourists are keeping the cash-registers ringing for European tourism at a time when the continent's own travelers are cutting back on their spending. Travel companies, shops and airlines are among those joining the race to cash in on the "red euro" as Chinese visitor numbers reach record highs.

Around 3 million Chinese visitor trips were made to Europe last year, but with the new opportunities come challenges for the industry not only to continue to attract Chinese tourists but also better serve their specific needs.

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"The European tourist industries still have a lot to do to adapt effectively to the new influx of Chinese tourists," says Kevin Latham, author of a report that looks at how the rise of Chinese tourism will change the European travel industry.

"We can expect the growth of Chinese tourists visiting Europe to continue, but the rate of growth really depends very much upon what the key stakeholders in the industries in Europe actually do," says Latham, a senior lecturer at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

"Europe finds itself in an increasingly competitive global tourism market. We have to remember that Chinese tourists don't have to come to Europe. In fact they can more easily go to Southeast Asia, Australia or New Zealand. There is no inevitability about this flood of Chinese tourists continuing into Europe and we need to be thinking far more seriously about attracting Chinese tourists in more substantive ways."

Latham's research, produced in conjunction with Hilton Hotels & Resorts and SOAS, should serve as a wake-up call to an industry that has been presented with a welcome opportunity during an otherwise gloomy period for the travel sector.

The UK is particularly keen to attract higher numbers of Chinese visitors. The country has traditionally struggled against other European destinations such as France, Italy and Germany, in part because of visa restrictions.

This year the UK can expect to attract around 150,000 Chinese visitors, compared to more than half a million in each of France, Italy and Germany. As the UK remains outside the borderless Schengen Area, Chinese tourists must apply for a separate visa to visit.

But despite this hindrance, the UK is working hard to actively promote the country within China via national tourism agency VisitBritain.

"Britain is recognized as a destination rich in history and heritage," says Travis Qian, manager of VisitBritain's operations on the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong. "What we need is to establish a strong tourism and destination brand which is currently lacking."

To achieve this goal, VisitBritain has launched the Great Britain 3D world tour, a 100-million-pound (116-million-euro) four-year marketing campaign that brings London's iconic landmarks to the world in virtual format. The tour spent some time in Shanghai earlier this year.

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