Chinese tourists stand in front of the Louvre Pyramid outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, this week. Picture : Reuter/Philippe Wojazer

The stars are aligning for a bumper year of Chinese tourism in Europe thanks to a growing taste for culture over shopping and fears of a cold reception in Donald Trump’s America.
“We came with our children to see the art, the culture, not to go to the mall,” a 40-year-old woman who gave her name as Li said on a visit to Paris.

In a new trend, Chinese tourists are increasingly eschewing package tours to Europe to strike out on their own trips off the beaten path, surveys suggest.

Leisure travel bookings for July and August in Europe are up more than 4% from the same period of last year after an even stronger June, which coincided with a Chinese holiday, according to data tracked by consultancy ForwardKeys.

“This year will be the year with the highest number of arrivals from China ever,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, a consultancy based in Germany.

Trump’s stand on trade relations with Beijing and illegal immigration, as well as his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries, is off-putting even though his tough talk is not directed at Chinese visitors. “Mr Trump has been helping to push Chinese tourists to go to other countries They see (him) as a crazy guy, and who knows what could happen,” Arlt said.

While Chinese bookings for Europe are up, those for the US are down more than 9% for the year to July 22 compared with the same period of 2017, ForwardKeys data showed.

Chinese tourism in Europe staged a patchy recovery last year as memories of the 2015 Islamist attacks faded.

Tourists from China are collectively the world’s biggest spenders on international tourism, spending $258 billion last year, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation. That means, with 143 million international tourist trips last year, they spent on average $1800, though Arlt said the average was probably distorted by lavish spending by a wealthy minority.

Some economists question whether the Chinese data does not disguise capital flight in the form of purchases of life insurance and property abroad. Though questions linger over how much is actually spent on tourism abroad, there is little doubt the spending is only going to keep growing. Two-thirds of Chinese expect to increase their travel budget in the next 12 months, according to an Ipsos survey of more than 3000 Chinese people in May for Hotels.com. While in the past Chinese tourists spent lavishly on luxury goods, they are increasingly focusing on staying in boutique hotels and buying local products, the survey showed. “They would rather buy a painting by a local painter than another Gucci bag,” Arlt said. - Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)