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Chinese tourists' bulging wallets tempt tourism nations

 

The spotlight has once again been placed on Chinese tourists as Britain has joined many other countries in launching a multi-million-pound tourism campaign to woo generous spenders from the world's fastest-expanding economy and most populous nation.

It is hoped that the marketing burst, announced by Britain's Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) recently, can help treble the number of Chinese visitors to Britain over the next three years, according to the website of the DCMS.

"Nobody should underestimate the opportunity China and its cities represent," Jeremy Hunt, Britain's culture secretary, said of the initiative, which has a budget of 8 million pounds.

To attract Chinese tourists, Britain will strengthen marketing in Chinese major cities, increase flight connections to China and look to improve the visa system.

Britain is far from the only country trying to lure Chinese tourists, who are expected to leapfrog Germans and Americans to become the biggest shoppers overseas, against the backdrop of the worst economic downturn in decades.

According to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists made a record 204,000 visits to Japan in July.

The surge was partly fueled by a series of preferential visa policies rolled out by the Japanese government since 2010, including the recent three-year tourist visa offered to affluent Chinese who visit Japan's northeastern regions.

The United States has also made bids for Chinese travelers, introducing a basket of policies including an improved visa system in the first half of the year to boost the number of non-immigrant visitors from China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012.

Although the money Chinese tourists spend is less than their Western counterparts on average, the number of travelers means their overall worth is huge and rising rapidly, said Dai Xuefeng, a tourism industry analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.

The number of overseas trips made by Chinese topped 70 million last year, up 22.42 percent from one year earlier, and the World Trade Organization has predicted the figure will surge to 100 million by the end of the decade, from less than 12.13 million in 2001.

However, Dai said the 2011 traveler figure might still be underestimated due to weaknesses in how the statistics were gathered.

Thanks to rising income levels and the appreciation of the Chinese currency, the yuan, a surge in Chinese overseas travelers has helped fill hotel beds and cash tills from Fiji to France. China has become the largest source of tourists for Thailand, the second largest for Russia, and a rising market for Australia and France.

Luxury stores in Paris, London and Milan are well staffed with Mandarin speakers while more shopping malls at major tourism destinations are taking bank cards of China UnionPay, the nation's largest bank card payment processor.

Because of high import tariffs, Chinese overseas travelers do more shopping than most. Lu Tong, a seasoned tour guide, said the problem of overweight luggage troubles almost every Chinese tour guide going on an overseas tour, as many tourists from the country go abroad with an extra shopping list of requests by their families and friends.

During the London Olympics, Chinese tourists topped a ranking of shoppers, with each spending an average of 203.05 pounds in the first week of the event alone, nearly 10 percent higher than visitors from United Arab Emirates who were in second place, according to British government statistics.

China's outbound tourism boom is a significant help to the economies of destination countries, Dai pointed out.

And tourism provides a bigger boost to local economies than other industries as it's green, sustainable and without extra transportation costs or tariffs, the analyst said.

Since travel has integrated into people's lives, the demand will be irreversible, and the driving force it provides to the world economy is also irreversible, he added.