They come and go, and bring untold wealth

The Chinese aren’t coming, they’re already here. According to data from the World Bank and China Watch, outbound international tourism – people travelling abroad for reasons other than “a remunerated activity in the country visited” – among Chinese nationals nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014.

More specifically, from over 57 million tourists to roughly 109 million. This is even more impressive given that in 2000 just 10 million Chinese outbound tourists were registered. The latest annual survey of China Confidential, a Financial Times research service, indicates that these numbers are the result of a combination of factors: a mushrooming middle class, more economical flights and fewer visa restrictions.

The Boston Consulting Group’s 2013 report “Winning the Next Billion asian Travelers– starting with China” predicts that “by 2030, 49% of all passenger traffic globally will be within the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region or between APAC and the rest of the world (and) more than 50% of the growth in global traffic will come from the APAC area”. 

For now, the majority of Chinese tourists vacation close to home. The top five destinations of 2015 have to date been Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Macau. However, the favourite long-haul holiday spot this year is France and the sixth most popular destination overall. In 2014, France welcomed 2.2 million Chinese tourists last year, a significant increase over 1.7 million in 2013. Rounding out the 2015 top 10 destinations so far are, in order of visitor numbers, Singapore, Germany, the US and UK.

France was also the most-chosen ‘dream international destination’ by 31.6% of people surveyed by China Confidential. Italy was a far second with just under 21% and five other European countries were among the top 10.

Not surprisingly, the opening day of this year’s International Tourismus-Boerse (ITB) in Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair, hosted a workshop on Chinese outbound tourism, focusing on the ‘second wave’ of outbound tourists and their destination and spending patterns.

For Chinese tourists are not only the most numerous worldwide, they are also the planet’s most prolific spenders. Last year they shelled out nearly €150 billion (roughly €2,900 per person) on their vacations and by 2019 174 million of them are projected to spend €240billion. Naturally, everyone is clamouring for a piece of this exponentially growing pie. To put it into broader perspective, €240 billion is just a few billion shy of Finland’s current GDP and greater than either Ireland’s or Greece’s economies.

The US travel industry began ramping up its catering strategies some time ago: hotels are teaching their employees basic greetings in Mandarin and outfitting coffee carafes to make tea, and a Marriott in New York has even assigned names to its presidential suites on the 44th and 45th floors because the Chinese consider the number 4 to be unlucky.

But it is the retail industries, especially in the economically strapped European economies, that should really be immersing themselves in the nuances of Chinese culture. In 2014, shopping accounted for nearly 58% of the €150 billion that Chinese tourists spent, more than triple what they paid for accommodation (17.82%) and ten times transportation (10.88%). Interestingly, they were relatively frugal when it came to food (5.84%), attraction tickets (3.72%) and entertainment (3.72%). 

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