After struggling to attract Chinese tourists following the terrorist attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the November 2015 Paris attacks, Chinese travelers are now returning to Paris—with visitor numbers starting to return to pre-attack levels. The return of Chinese visitors to Paris spells good news for tourism businesses, luxury retailers, and museums, who have become increasingly reliant on Chinese tourists ever since global Chinese tourism started taking off.
Despite being one of the foremost international destinations for Chinese tourists, France has found it difficult to attract Chinese tourists back to its many popular destinations after the string of violent attacks in the country in 2015. According to Ctrip, the Chinese online travel market, “since the terrorist attack [in Paris 2015], many tourists have looked to Eastern European [destinations] such as Hungary and the Czech Republic or Northern European countries such as Finland and Sweden.” Even though tourism in France has perhaps been hit the hardest by Chinese tourists’ security concerns, other major destinations in Western Europe such as Germany have also seen Chinese visitor numbers slide. Instead, Chinese tourists have looked to places such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Spain for authentic European experiences with a lower perceived threat of terrorism.
While Chinese concerns about security in France have contributed to a fall in arrivals since 2015, France remains one of the most quoted countries for where Chinese people wish to travel. According to a study on Chinese tourists by Hotels.com, the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles rank third and fourth on a list of Chinese tourists’ most-quoted bucket list foreign landmarks, representing half of all European landmarks on Chinese tourists’ top-10 list. Similarly, luxury shopping in France continues to have immense appeal among Chinese consumers, both because it’s the country of origin of many luxury brands, but also because it offers the cheapest luxury shopping in the world. According to Exane BNP Paribas’ research, France—tied with Italy—have the cheapest luxury shopping in the world at 22 percent off the global average prices, with China topping the list at 21 percent higher than the global average.
In 2016, Paris received 320,319 Chinese tourists, a number which more than doubles when including the Greater Paris area. The arrival numbers represented a 12.2 percent and 13.4 percent decline on 2015’s figures respectively. In 2015, Paris saw the same figures grow by 41.8 and 40.0 percent, putting the overall drop in tourism growth rate from China at over 50 percentage points between 2015 and 2016.
However, with the lasting appeal of what Paris has to offer Chinese tourists, and a relatively uneventful year in Paris as far as terrorist attacks are concerned, it seems like Paris is once again climbing the list on places where Chinese tourists want to go. According to the most recently published arrival numbers published by the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, the negative trend reversed in December 2016, with Chinese tourist arrival growth back to 2015’s levels at a 43.7 percent increase. Similarly, arrivals from Japan also took off again, growing by 65.2 percent in the same period. The negative trend began to shift in November 2016—one year after the November 2015 attacks—representing the first month of positive tourism growth in the Chinese market for the whole year.
Paris’ return to positive Chinese tourism growth after a string of devastating terrorist attacks is not only good news for local tourism stakeholders, but also for other destinations around the world that have been struggling to stay attractive for China’s security-sensitive travelers. Even though it’s clear that terrorism can have strongly negative effects on tourism, it doesn’t seem like it can deter Chinese tourists from great destinations for too long.