CARRERAS_cr.JPGReaders struggling to master a few words in Mandarin should spare a thought for José Carreras, the Spanish tenor, best known outside Spain as one of The Three Tenors.

Carreras, who was due to perform today in Xi'an, said he would sing “The Story of the Remote Grassland” in Mandarin, according to Xinhua.

“It is the best way to convey the real meaning of the well-known romantic Chinese folk song to the audience,” he said.

The reason he's in China, as if you hadn't guessed, is to drum up even more support for the 2008 Olympics. The Three Tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Carreras — performed in 2001 at Beijing's revered Forbidden Palace to boost its bid, ultimately successful.

Carreras' performance today is also designed to put Xi'an firmly on the tourist map, although it's already pretty well-known, not least because of the recent foreign tour by the Terracotta Army. More on Xi'an and the clay warriors here.

Speaking of China and tourists, my home town of San Sebastián in northern Spain played host to a delegation of Chinese travel agents this week.

These visits have become increasingly common as the west's convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) wake up to the untapped tourism potential of China's affluent middle classes — see earlier EngagingChina post.

China has already replaced Japan as Asia's number one outbound travel market and the World Tourism Organisation forecasts that China will become the world`s fourth-largest source of outbound tourists by 2020 with more than 100m departures each year.

A lot more stats on China's travel market, both outbound and inbound, in this article on Travel Daily News.

During their whistle-stop visit to San Sebastián — they had several other Spanish cities to visit — the Chinese travel agents offered some interesting insights in this (Spanish) story in local paper El Diario Vasco.

bretxachinos.jpgChinese tourists, unlike the hordes who descend on Spain from northern Europe, don't want to waste their hard-earned vacation time lying on beaches. Instead they want destinations that remind them of China.

That doesn't mean they want to visit Chinese restaurants or Chinese-owned bric-a-brac stores — both are ubiquitous in Spain — but rather cities with crowded streets, traditional markets(see photo), parks etc. Food is another attraction — and one of San Sebastián's claims to fame.

Chinese tourists, almost without exception, want to buy an authentic T-shirt of Barça, the famous Spanish football club. But that seems common to most visitors to Spain.

Like every nation on the planet, Spain's tourism ministry is trying to put the country on the map for Chinese tour operators, but it recognises the difficulties. As well as the high cost and the difficulties getting a visa, Chinese tourists have to squeeze their visit to Europe into, at most, ten days, as they lose one day travelling to Europe and another two flying back.

Travelling to North America is even more problematic for Chinese tourists, according to this article in Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News. Most Chinese tourists who head overseas choose Europe, Australia or other Asian countries, over the US and Canada. The few that do make it to North America, unsurprisingly, head for the big cities on the coast.

Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman Jr, recently went to China in a bid to get them to take a detour inland. He wants Chinese tourists to experience the red rocks and snow-covered mountains of Utah, which is promoted as a place to experience the wide-open spaces of the Wild West.

Its a tough sell, but fortunately the governor speaks Mandarin — he learnt it when working as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is perhaps Salt Lake City's main claim to fame. Liu Kezhi, director general of the China National Tourist Administration, told the governor:

You're not the first governor who has come to promote tourism. But you're definitely the first governor who came to China to promote your state in Mandarin Chinese.”

With so many western trade delegations and businesses competing for China's attentions, knowing even a few words of Mandarin makes an impression — and may even help you stand out. So keep taking those lessons.

Photo Credit: El Diario Vasco

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