Paris Goes Extra Mile For Chinese Tourists, Motivated By Greater Competition

France Recorded 910,000 Chinese Tourist Arrivals In 2010

Relaxing visa restrictions, a strengthening yuan, and better prices and selection for luxury goods are some of the major factors pushing outbound Chinese tourism

Relaxing visa restrictions, a strengthening yuan, and better prices and selection for luxury goods are some of the major factors pushing outbound Chinese tourism

With Chinese outbound tourism recording more than 20 percent annual growth in recent years and overseas spending by Chinese tourists in 2011 expected to total around US$55 billion, major tourism destinations have been climbing over one another to not only attract more of China’s big spenders but also to cater to their every whim once they arrive. Though Paris — the long-time first overseas stop for outbound Asian tourists since the Japanese first started venturing to the city in the 1960s — has thus far been able to skate by on its natural allure, greater competition for Chinese tourists from destinations like New York, Sydney and Rome means French tourism officials are actually starting to go the extra mile. As the FT reports today, the French airport operator ADP (Aéroports de Paris) recently announced plans for a “welcome scheme” for Chinese tourists, its largest-ever such effort for a specific nationality, to make Chinese tourists arriving at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports “feel at home.”

As the FT’s beyondbrics blog notes, the ADP’s plans for welcoming Chinese tourists include outfitting airports with Chinese New Year decorations and recruiting Mandarin-speaking officials to hand out traditional red envelopes (红包) containing a message by Pierre Graff, president of the ADP. Additionally, the ADP will broadcast messages in Mandarin and Cantonese, offer free guides to visitors and special discounts on specific luxury goods, and put out Chinese-language iPhone and Android travel apps. As an ADP spokesperson said this week, the operator claims to have sent a research team to “observe Chinese behavior,” adding that staff have been trained to return credit cards to Chinese customers “using both hands instead of one.” While this is a custom seen far more often in Japan than in China, at least they’re trying. Noting the massive rise in Chinese tourist arrivals in Paris over the past five years, the spokesperson added, the decision to organize the welcome scheme was an “obvious” one.

But is it really that obvious? According to a recent report by Euromonitor International, France remains the top destination for Chinese outbound tourists, with 910,000 arrivals recorded in 2010. Along with the usual stops in Paris, Chinese tourists — particularly those traveling independently — are now venturing further afield in the country, showing up at vineyards from the Loire Valley to Champagne and Bordeaux and seeking out new travel “experiences” there. They’re doing this — and topping the charts among foreign tourists in France, dropping US$375 million, based on Euromonitor estimates — without lavish airport welcome ceremonies. What may partly be behind the ADP’s new “scheme” is increased competition from other major global destinations. Now that many wealthy Chinese tourists have taken their requisite trip to Paris or London, or taken several, they’re looking for new travel experiences.

As the Chinese news site JRJ recently reported, China’s key outbound tourist demographic — wealthy, independent city-dwellers — is no longer traveling only with the intention of shopping. Rather, JRJ wrote, “Going overseas only for entertainment and shopping is no longer the primary goal of outbound travelers, but rather is being supplanted by tourism focusing on cultural experiences and leisure.” This is opening up new opportunities for other major destinations to market their own experiential tourism offerings. From Australia (beaches, sun) to New York (real estate, education, culture) to Japan (skiing, cuisine), the increasing worldliness of Chinese outbound tourism means touting shopping venues as well as cultural or experiential offerings will fall on more receptive ears. Paris apparently realizes this, and is moving fast to stay at the front of Chinese tourists’ minds, but don’t be surprised to see other airports in popular cities following suit.


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