galleries_lafayette.jpgChinese tourists are cheapskates, says the Economist,
and this eagerly-coveted market is today not as attractive or
substantial as many western businesses believe. But the future, as
always, will be much brighter.

Of the 31m Chinese who travelled outside the mainland last year,
some 21m only made it as far as Hong Kong and Macau. Half of the rest
were “border tourists”, on day trips to Russia, Vietnam or Laos to
trade or gamble in casinos, which are illegal in China.

Only 5m to 6m could be properly called international tourists and
most chose Asian destinations. The minority that did make it to
destinations further afield, such as the 1m who visited Europe, have
little in common with the free-spending Japanese tourists with whom
they are often confused.

Wolfgang Georg Arlt, a German academic and author of a forthcoming book on China's outbound tourism boom, says:

Typically, a Chinese tour group will choose the cheapest hotel —
even if it is 50km outside a city — travel by bus and eat only Chinese
food. They visit only the most famous attractions and even these often
get only a cursory glance.”

Those who return for a second or third visit will often spend more.
But the number of repeat visitors is likely to be remain small for a
long time to come.

The good news, particularly for Parisian fashion stores, is that
Chinese tourists are champion shoppers — they spend more than on
average than other nations — and will put up with cheap hotels in
return for having more to spend on luxury goods.

So, top-end hotels and restaurants will have to wait to reap the
rewards from China's outbound tourism boom, while mid-scale chains and
luxury-goods retailers will have better luck.

Prof Arlt urges Europe's tourism industry to adapt its product accordingly. Some businesses have already started.

The owners of the Eifel Tower run Mandarin classes for their staff.

Galeries Lafayette — obligatory port of call for every foreign
visitor to Paris — celebrated China's “Year of the Dog” this year with
greeters fluent in Mandarin, a Sichuan restaurant and deep discounts on
its designer goods. See this Time story for more on the Chinese storming of Galeries Lafayette.

Accor, a French hotel group, has adapted some of its mid-range
hotels for Chinese tourists, offering noodles for breakfast, Chinese TV channels and Mandarin-speaking staff.

By 2010, the World Tourism Organisation expects the number of Chinese tourists to grow to 50m.

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