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Western travel destinations aim for Chinese tourists

While last year's drop in western outbound travel could be worrisome, many tourism professionals are developing new marketing skills to attract more Chinese tourists.

At the China Outbound Tourism Marketing Seminar on Thursday, an event held during the world's largest tourism fair ITB in Berlin, travel professionals were provided with new insights on how to attract the Chinese market.

"In 2009 China was up 4 percent in both travel and spending while the rest of the world is down 4 to 6 percent", said Professor Wolfgang Georg Arlt, founder of COTRI research Institute.

Getting over last year's economic slump isn't going to be easy, especially for the travel industry.

Professor Geoffrey Lipman, assistant-secretary general of the World Tourism Organization, told Xinhua: "Chinese outbound tourism is not going to be a cure for the weakened global tourism."

"It's the whole economy that's weak," he said. "If the global economy rights itself over the next few years, tourism will come back."

This year's ITB fair is putting a lot of emphasis on how to adapt to the post-crisis era.

Jens Thraenhart, founder of China Travel Trends website, sees social media as the most important tool in capturing new market share.

"There are 390 million online Chinese Internet users, more than in the United States and there are 42 million bloggers, which is more than Europe and the United States together," Thraenhart said at the marketing event.

Thraenhart said that offering travel services only on English Web sites was not sufficient enough to attract Chinese travelers.

"People are going to have to tap into the Chinese social media landscape, like RenRen," Thraenhart said. RenRen is one of the leading social networking Web sites in China.

Dominique Hertzer, an entrepreneur who studied Chinese and is building her tourism business in Germany, told Xinhua that "after attending this seminar, I have a new business model.'

"I realize now that social media is the most important communication tool in the Chinese market," she said.

Djibril Baba Taboure, who runs a business travel service company in Mali, Africa, said the lecture proved hopeful for his present business model.

"We are getting a lot of business people from China coming to Africa," Taboure said. "And I hope Chinese tourists will come after that."

Lipman said that China "is one of those places that once you begin to understand it, you cannot get it out of your head."

"By 2020, China will be the largest inbound and outbound tourism market in the world," he said.