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Tourism prepares for more Chinese visitors

By Yuan Shenggao | China Daily | Updated: 2023-04-07 08:46
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Chinese tourists take pictures in the Champs Elysees Avenue near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. [Photo/Agencies]

The French tourism industry is expected to see a strong boost as China, one of the world's largest outbound tourism markets before the pandemic, optimized its COVID-19 response and resumed outbound group tours earlier this year, industry experts said.

The European country hosted nearly 90 million international tourists in 2019, which made it the top destination in the world in terms of tourist arrivals.

In the meantime, more than 50 million tourists visited the Paris region and Chinese tourists made up the second-largest number. They generated more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in revenue, according to the Paris Ile-de-France Regional Tourism Committee.

Air connectivity between France and China has been gradually increasing after China reopened to foreign tourists last month. More passenger flights operated by airlines such as Air France and Air China have been put into service between Chinese and French cities since January. Passenger capacities are expected to be strengthened by the summer, according to the French embassy in China.

Catherine Oden, director for China of Atout France, the country's tourism development agency, said she is fairly positive about the resumption of Chinese outbound travel in 2023.

"We are truly looking forward to the return of Chinese travelers to our shores," Oden said. "Through regular encounters and meetings with key stakeholders in the travel industry, we are pleased to see the encouraging signals of the recovery in outbound tourism."

The feedback from French and Chinese professionals alike is generally optimistic and confident about 2023. The travel sector is actively updating its information and preparing itineraries and packages to answer pent-up demand, she added.

Oden said that continued exchanges between Chinese and French travel partners have led to a better understanding of current market needs in the post-pandemic era.

"Several market surveys indicate that France ranks in the top 10 of preferred travel destinations. Moreover, the recovery of the Chinese travel market during the Chinese New Year holiday since the gradual relaunch of China's outbound tourism in early 2023 has given us great hope," she said.

A recent round of exchanges with trade contacts has revealed a more pronounced diversification of demand for non-group travel and customized holidays than before the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Atout France.

Since China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism authorized travel agencies to operate group tours to France in March, Oden said that France, already a preferred long-haul destination, will be able to offer various experiences for the different genres of travelers in 2023.

She noted that air travel will also play a crucial role in the key months to come to ensure a strong and effective rebound of outbound travel.

Eager to attract more Chinese tourists to France, Atout France will launch a new training program for travel professionals to enhance their product knowledge and impart a profound understanding of France's diverse touristic offering this year. The idea is to reach out to as wide a network of Chinese professionals across China as possible.

"Chinese tourists are mainly welcomed by operators specializing in Chinese or Asian customers. Of course, due to the absence of the Chinese, they starved for three years, which is extremely long and extremely hard," said Jean-Pierre Mas, president of Les Entreprises du Voyage, an association that brings together 1,674 companies representing 85 percent of the travel agency market in France.

Before the pandemic, more than 2 million Chinese tourists visited France each year. "If this year we have a million Chinese visitors, it will be a very good result," Mas said.

Chinese art lovers are also eagerly awaited in Paris. Before the pandemic, the Louvre Museum was a favorite site of Chinese tourists in the city. They represented 8.2 percent of the museum's total visitors in 2019.

For Caroline Paul, founder of Talents Travel and a consultancy strategy specialist in tourism marketing for the Chinese, however, there will be a "before" and an "after" effect around COVID-19 in the way Chinese people travel.

"They are going to start to travel again. Their trips are going to be longer. They are going to stay longer. It will be much more individual, much more upscale travel," she said.

Paul said France's tourism professionals will need to adapt to the new ways that the Chinese travel.

Chen Jianghong, a designer, shows a creative postage stamp themed on the Year of the Rabbit at a cultural event in Paris, France. [Photo/Xinhua]

Liu Ning, president of Shanghai Jinjiang Travel Holdings, agreed. Liu said Chinese tourists today are paying more attention to the flexibility and personalized experience of trips, and that tour groups are becoming smaller.

France's central location in Europe, rich cooking and wine culture, well-known museums and fashion brands, as well as supportive policies and mature tourism facilities, will help nurture the growth and diversification of Chinese tourists' travel to the country in the coming years, Liu said.

As business surveys and media articles indicate that Chinese travelers are looking for "new destinations" in recent years, Atout France has showcased unknown facets of Paris and offbeat destinations in France to offer new perspectives to travelers.

For instance, the French agency will work with its Spanish partners to jointly celebrate the Year of Picasso this year and introduce an itinerary that will lead travelers from Spain — the country of Pablo Picasso's youth and home of some of his deepest and profound artworks — to the South of France.

Atout France said sustainable travel has also become a popular phrase in the new normal and that the agency is making efforts to include destinations and products that correspond to this aspect. Examples include green and ski destinations, cycling tours, close-to-nature products, novelty stays and eco-tours.

Dai Bin, president of Beijing-based China Tourism Academy, said China's outbound tourism is expected to see a robust recovery this year, which will inject strong impetus into the prosperity of the country's tourism industry.

Dai added that the tourism boom during the Spring Festival holiday set a good start for the full recovery of the industry.

He said that China's resumption of outbound group tours will also bolster the global tourism industry and the economic recovery of countries that depend heavily on tourism.

The Madrid-based World Tourism Organization forecasts that international arrivals will likely reach 80 percent to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, compared with 63 percent in 2022.

The International Air Transport Association headquartered in Montreal, Canada, said that global and domestic carriers have also welcomed China's move to ease COVID-19-related restrictions on international travelers, and plan to gradually expand capacity to meet increased demand.

It will generate a positive effect on the pace of the economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific region.

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