Global Biz

France opens its arms wide to Chinese visitors

By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-05 07:24
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PARIS - The 45-year-old Wang Xin could only spend three days in Paris during her arranged European tour this time. But she took one special day off from her tight schedule.

But not for the usual reasons - not for visiting the Cathedral Notre Dame, not for seeing the artwork at the Louvre, nor for the Chateau of Versailles.

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Instead, Wang, an upwardly mobile housewife, had a less conventional goal: buying as many Louis Vuitton bags or wallets as possible - as gifts for her relatives and friends - before returning to her hometown of China's coastal Qingdao city. However, due to production limits, the luxury brand company only allows a passport holder to buy one item each day, and the maximum is two for one person every travel.

For Wang, the limit is a headache.

To find a solution, she walked along the Champs-Elysees and Avenue Montaigne on Wednesday, lined with luxury shops for clothes, watches, shoes and bags. When a Chinese person passed by, Wang could go up and plead: "Are you a tourist in Paris? Can I use your passport to buy a Louis Vuitton?"

She was refused again and again. In the late afternoon, however, one gentleman from Beijing agreed. After waiting 20 minutes outside the Montaigne shop, the man came out with a bag worth 700 euros ($980). Wang was elated. "After waiting for a long day, finally I got it," she told the man. "I am so excited that I even don't know how to thank you."

Although this year's summer holiday season is long gone and crowds in the heart of Paris have shrunken, groups of Chinese tourists can still be easily seen. In a display of hospitality for President Hu Jintao's three-day visit, France has raised Chinese and French national flags along the Champs-Elysees.

In the Louis Vuitton shops in Paris, the Chinese are among the major buyers. To help them communicate, they have employed Chinese sales representatives - and even the contact form is designed in Chinese, English and Japanese languages.

China's economy has been developing rapidly during past three decades at an annual speed of nearly 10 percent. This new wealth has driven the emergence of a new middle class, which is willing to spend money on their kids' education, real estate, cars, travel - and luxury brands.

Indeed, Chinese people are not only keen on buying Louis Vuitton just in Paris. "The brand sells well in China as well," said Howard Zhang, working as Louis Vuitton salesman in Kunming, capital of Southwest China's Yunnan province.

Zhang is now doing business with the Avenue Montaigne shop to learn from his French colleagues. He said Louis Vuitton has already opened 35 shops in China.

Overall, France has already started new strategies to provide conveniences and earn more money from Chinese tourists.

For example, some tourism boats on the Seine River have begun to broadcast introductions in Chinese recently - along with Japanese, English and French. Some tourist guides can greet Chinese tourists in simple Chinese.

In fact, some hotels are even providing kettles to boil water for Chinese travelers.

As one of the world's top tourism destinations, France estimates a better performance for key tourism businesses this year after receiving an unusually high number of foreign holidaymakers.

"We can say the summer of 2010 brought us out of the crisis following a 3 percent increase in French tourists, and 10 percent jump in the number of foreign holidaymakers," said Herve Noveli, the Tourism Secretary of State.

Chinese tourists and their buying power have grown rapidly. The French government has said that the number of Chinese tourists has jumped by 48.3 percent this year so far. But it didn't give the numbers.

According to an earlier report released by the Global Refund, Chinese tourists - having surpassed Russian tourists in 2009 - now spend more money in France than any other group of foreigners.

The report also said that Chinese tourists spent 158 million euros ($225 million) to buy duty free goods in France - a figure 47 million euros ($67 million) higher than what Russian tourists spent in 2009.

The report also pointed out that the average amount each Chinese spent was $1,524.