Difficult restart: China's tourists are a long time coming


Europe's holiday destinations are hoping for the return of travelers from the Far East – although in terms of numbers they were only a marginal group even before the pandemic.

Are Chinese tourists coming to Europe again?

So far there hasn't been a big rush. One looks in vain for Chinese tourists in Neuschwanstein these days. Although China's citizens can gradually travel again after almost three years of corona interruption without having to be in quarantine for weeks after their return, so far there have only been “isolated bookings” from groups who want a tour of the historic building in Mandarin, says the Bavarian Palace Administration. Neuschwanstein is still at the top of the list for many Chinese vacationers in Germany. Before the pandemic, the proportion of guided tours in Mandarin was about 20 percent.

Neuschwanstein Castle is popular with many Chinese Travelers very popular

Visas are only available if there is a compelling reason to travel

For the time being, despite the easing, no major wave of travel from China is to be expected, says Wolfgang Arlt, Managing Director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) in Hamburg. He predicts that this will not change until Easter. The hurdles are still too high. On the one hand, the corona virus continues to be rampant in China with high infection rates. At the beginning of January, the EU member states therefore agreed to introduce mandatory tests for all passengers arriving from China. In addition, the German representations in China currently only issue visas if there is a compelling reason for travel. Tourist trips are expressly not included. The airlines also have to gradually increase their offer again. Nevertheless, the whole industry is already “electrified”, as Arlt says.

Why this is so is not necessarily clear at first glance, at least from a European perspective. Because only Italy makes it into the top ten of the most popular travel destinations for the Chinese – with almost 3.2 million holidaymakers in 2019. At the top of the list with Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore are exclusively Asian destinations. France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland still appear in the top 20, albeit far behind.

< p>In Thailand, people are already looking forward to Chinese tourists again, like here at the beginning of January at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok

Chinese spend three times as much as Germans

In fact, in terms of numbers, the Chinese in Europe are a tourist fringe group. In 2019, for example, there were just under three million overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Germany – the total number was almost 500 million. The picture in Switzerland is very similar. There, the statistics for 2019 show exactly 1.85 million overnight stays, with a total of almost 40 million. The situation in Spain is also comparable: in 2019, out of more than 83 million holidaymakers, just 700,748 came from China. Nevertheless, the development there is also being followed closely at Turespaña. “Expectations are huge,” says a spokeswoman for the Spanish Tourist Board.

The fact that this is so is due to the peculiarities of Chinese tourists. For example, they spend a lot of money. According to Turespaña, it is 308 euros a day in Spain – more than twice as much as German holidaymakers. In Switzerland, the daily expenses of Chinese tourists amount to an average of 380 francs – almost three times as much as that of German travelers. But that's not all, as Wolfgang Arlt explains. “Chinese tourists don't come to go on vacation, but to experience and see as much as possible in a short time,” he says. This holds a great opportunity for tourist destinations that want to reduce seasonal dependency and position themselves more broadly. For example, Spain's tourism experts have been trying unsuccessfully for years to teach the Germans that you can't just lie on the beach there in summer. “The Chinese are much more malleable.” With a clever strategy, one could create the kind of tourism that one has always wanted. At Turespaña, this phenomenon is called “diversification of travel motives”: Chinese holidaymakers come primarily because of culture and gastronomy and not, like others, primarily because of the sunny climate.

An everyday sight before the pandemic: a Chinese tour group in front of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice

The largest tourism source market in the world

At the same time, however, the “strong potential” of Chinese tourism is repeatedly mentioned Speech, such as at the German National Tourist Board. No wonder, since this is the largest tourist source market in the world: In 2019, 170 million international trips were made from China. Arlt estimates that in 2023 there would be 110 million, and in 2030 it would already be 228 million. Even if 99.8 percent of all Chinese are not interested in German history, he calculates, the remaining 0.2 percent would still be a sufficiently large target group. And so the situation in Neuschwanstein should soon level off at the pre-corona level, he suspects. The number of Chinese visitors will also increase again there, even if many of the tourists from the Far East have already been there.