Web Special

The Chinese are coming

The competition for Chinese tourists has commenced. Since 2012 the Chinese are the world champions of travel – measured against money spent whilst abroad. In the coming five years it is estimated there will be 500 million Chinese foreign trips. This offers countless opportunities for the German and European economy. What are the preferred destinations for Chinese? How and where do they spend their money? How does Germany fair in the competition for Chinese tourists? And is Germany possibly falling behind? A Tourism Special from Marie Hoffmann.

Over the last decades tourism has become one of the largest and strongest growing global economic sectors. The World Tourism Organization UNWTO has recorded more than a billion international “touristic arrivals” – which have trebled since the 1980s. 

Revenue generated from international tourism has reached more than one billion USD. China is significantly contributing to the worldwide boom of tourism. For a decade now no other tourism market has grown faster than the Chinese. 2013 was a record year: according to the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA 国家旅游局) nearly 100 million Chinese travelled abroad. In just the last four years the number of Chinese foreign trips has more than doubled. The growth potential is enormous, as although the figure of 100 million is impressive it equates only to around seven percent of China’s overall population. In light of the increasing spending power of the middle class more Chinese will set out on trips abroad. Shao Qiwei, Chair of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), estimates 500 million Chinese foreign trips for the coming five years. 

Travel world champions: Chinese spend the most money when abroad

The number of Chinese foreign trips is rapidly increasing and also Chinese spending when abroad is breaking all records. Since 2012 no other country spends as much when on foreign trips as China does. This has led to China knocking the long standing world champions of travel Germany off from top position. Chinese tourists spent 129 billion USD in 2013 when abroad according to figures from the World Tourism Organization. Should this trend with double-digit growth continue China could further extend its lead and defend its top position for some considerable time. 

Although, Chinese preferably like to travel to Asian countries Europe by no means has to hide in international comparison: four million Chinese tourists per year – this still makes Europe a more popular travel destination than the US. The Chinese particularly appreciate the landscape, culture and history. Shopping is also another important travel motive. Next to well known travel destinations like Paris or Rome, places that are slightly away from the classic tourist hotspots but offer a Communist past also attract “red tourists” from China. Montargis, Deng Xiaoping’s place of study in France, or Trier, the birth city of Karl Marx, are experiencing growing visitor figures from China.

The classic introductory journey takes Chinese tourists to France, Italy and Switzerland. A typical itinerary looks like this:

Rome (2 days) → Florence (1 day) → Venice (1 day) → Milan (1 day) → Lucerne (1 day) → Dijon (1 day) → Paris (2 days).

“Berlin Tegel, eight in the morning, grey skies. ‘Is that smog?,’ Mrs. Tian asks on the runway. She is wearing a thin jacket with cherry pattern. Her husband looks up. ‘No, only bad weather,’ I reassure both. It is the end of January and we have come from Shanghai with a Lufthansa plane. I have – like Mrs. Tian, her husband and four other couples that are part of the new Chinese middle class – booked the all-Inclusive package ‘Germany in eleven days carefree’, for 2600 Euros per person. In the brochure the organiser promises an ‘in-depth experience at four star level’. The first thing my travel group notices how small the capital’s airport, considering it is of one of the major European countries.” Excerpt from “Deutschstunde“, printed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, from Xifang Yang.

Who are the Chinese Europe tourists?

Chinese Tourists in Europe posing for a photo
Soruce: Flickr, via Remon Rijper



When one thinks of Chinese tourists, the first thing that immediately comes to mind is tourist groups. Indeed, package group tours still continue to dominate Chinese foreign tourism. Nevertheless, the market is increasingly starting to differentiate. One can hardly speak any longer of the typical Chinese tourist. Tourist destinations have to react to this and adjust their offers respectively.

Individual tourism will rapidly grow. Whilst group package tourists usually are travelling to Europe for the first time and want to visit as many countries as possible in a short space of time individual tourists have been on more trips to Europe and generally abroad. Also in relation to individual travel away from the “Chinese tourist mainstream” destinations are carefully selected. In such a case the stay in a country will be longer. Here, luxury tourism has a special role. In light of the increasingmillionaire density in China the number of super rich Chinese seeking such trips is growing. With exclusive wine tours in France or luxurious ski vacations in Switzerland European countries are attempting to target such affluent groups.

Chinese tourists in Europe – this is a growth market that TUI already dedicated an entire study to in 2012.

Continue to part two.

Continue to part three.

Header: Flickr, via alvaro

The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.