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Between Culture, Communism and Consumerism

Chinese Tourists in Germany

by Marie Hoffmann

The Chinese have taken the market for global tourism by storm in recent years. In fact, they have been enjoying the rank of ‘the world’s greatest travellers’ ever since 2012, relegating long-term champions Germany and the USA to second and third place respectively.

Chinese tourists most frequently go to Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Many of them also like travelling to Germany, however, which creates major opportunities for individual parts of the country, the retail sector, hotels and the catering industry. In 2014 alone, Germany saw two million overnight stays being booked by Chinese tourists, an increase of almost twenty per cent over the previous year. One thing about these tourists is particularly striking: they spend more money than tourists from any other nation. They achieve this by working their way through shopping lists and lists of presents they want to buy during their trips here.

The ‘three C’s’: culture, communism, and consumerism

Going on a trip abroad is the ultimate status symbol in the eyes of many middle-class Chinese these days – they believe a journey around Europe or Germany is a direct expression of their own economic and personal success in life. What they see and feel is captured in a stream of photos taken for friends and relatives back home and shared through social media. 

Culture

Destinations that reflect a romantic and tranquil image of Germany are also very much in demand. The federal states of Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are near the top of the list in this respect. A visit to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is on practically every tourist’s itinerary, for example. UNESCO world heritage sites like the quaint towns of Bamberg and Rüdesheim on the River Rhine are also popular places that tourists want to visit.

In the ‘new’ federal states of Germany, cities and towns such as Dresden, Potsdam and Weimar act as cultural magnets thanks to the famous Semper Opera House, Sanssouci Palace and the literary heritage of Goethe and Schiller. In many cases, though, all people end up doing is taking a snapshot of the famous sight.

Communism

Compared to the sites tourists traditionally go and see, places with a communist past are rather unusual destinations that practically only Chinese tourists want to see when they come to Europe. These include the places where Deng Xiaoping once studied in France, while in Germany, Trier draws them in flocks, being the town where Karl Marx was born. Over the course of time, ‘Red’ tourism to places in Europe that have a communist history has actually grown into a business model of its own.

Consumerism

When they come to Germany, consumer-oriented tourists from China have the intention of buying high-quality goods made here. These range from jewellery, watches, handbags and suitcases to saucepans and stainless steel kitchen knives. Everything has to be original, of course, as they encounter enough fake products in China. Thanks to its airport, which offers numerous direct flights to the PRC, Frankfurt particularly benefits from Chinese tourists. Large and attractive shopping arcades in German cities and places like Metzingen in Baden-Württemberg that boast a host of outlet stores selling major brands are frequently included on their ‘to do’ lists.

The stereotypical idea of groups of Chinese tourists travelling together has also started to become rather outdated as many of them now have some experience of travelling abroad and are keen to see or do something new, well away from the masses. Their taste for travel is becoming increasingly varied, ranging from trips to see natural wonders or experience personal sports holidays in the mountains to culinary experiences centred around a particular theme – and even exhilarating car trips on Germany’s famous high-speed motorways.

  • Stiftung Mercator
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