In the pre-COVID-19 era, China was Europe’s fastest-growing source market for international tourism with about 5 million Chinese tourists every year.
France, Italy and Spain are among their favourite spots for holidays.
Chinese tourists also spend over 250 billion euros a year around the world.
In a sector that has been dramatically hit by the pandemic, operators are confident that recovery will progressively start once a huge vaccination programme takes place.
They are already preparing to welcome millions of passengers from the Far East.
According to Dragon Trail Interactive, a company which helps tourism organisations engage with Chinese consumers, Chinese travellers have changed their preferences and patterns over time.
“Chineses tourists want to get the most out of their trip to Europe. They don’t have very much time off, and for most people travelling long haul all the way to Europe will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip,” says Sienna Parulis-Cook, the associate director of communications at Dragon Trail Interactive.
“So they want to make sure that can see and do as much as possible.”
“One of the trends that I think is so interesting in Chinese tourism in the past five years or so has been flower tourism. We can see this in Asia as well but, for instance, in the South of France to go to lavender farms and take pictures there or visit tulips in the Netherlands”
The outbound Chinese tourism sector has seen an increasing segmentation of its market, and the birth of new niche opportunity.
In a recent tv debate, organized by Euronews and CGTN (China Global Television Network), some of the speakers underlined how today the vision of the Chinese tourist is different from the past and for this reason there should be multiple tourism offerings..
“Chinese tourists come more and more (to Europe) individually or with their families. They still come in groups, of course, but this way of visiting Europe is becoming the minority, and for this reason, we have to adapt our tourist offerings to this characteristic of Chinese tourists, like tailor-made proposals,” says Serge Degallaix, director-general of the Prospective and Innovation Foundation.
Wu Zexian, visiting professor of the Chinese Diplomacy Institute agrees: “After the first waves of Chinese tourists who mostly flooded the most famous sites, now many are getting interested by other sites which are less known, like the provinces and regions, for example.”
“And they’re also interested in places where they can relax, because some tourists not only wish to visit sites and monuments but also to rest in a natural environment, totally different from the one in China.”
Digital technology and tourism
Chinese consumers make extensive use of digital technology, and WeChat is among the most used platforms for them.
Its scope and reach are impressive: every month around 1.2 billion active users connect to it for different kind of services, from online payments to messaging and many others.
In digital terms, it’s the place to be for promoting a tourist destination.
In Italy, the city of Milan has launched a specific promotional campaign on WeChat, called ‘Yes Milano‘ (developed by the company Digital Retex).
A similar initiative is also underway for the Italian region of Tuscany.
“These advertising campaigns have allowed Chinese tourists to join the official account (of the city of Milan),” says Nicola Canzian, the managing partner of Digital Retex.
“By doing this, the tourists receive periodically, on average once a week, highly evolved and very engaging digital content that stimulates the desire to visit the city of Milan”
The first signs of recovery in the tourism market should appear gradually between next spring and summer, before a full recovery in 2023.