China Tourist

Wish you were here

Chinese tourists have become big business – in China and further afield

Wish you were here

They certainly didn’t find their lodging among the myriad options listed in Lonely Planet’s Italian edition, but it was a place to stay nonethless. Milan city police were astounded recently to find a group of illegal Chinese travellers living in a windowless, subterranean “hotel” in the centre of the city, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. For E50 a night, “guests” were accessing the hotel through a manhole in the pavement above. There is no mention of spa facilities or complimentary chocolates.

The Milanese authorities will be hoping to attract a better class of tourist. Indeed, wooing Chinese visitors is a serious business.  Italy is one of a number of countries hoping free-spending Chinese will help plug the sizeable gaps in tourism revenues generated by the global financial crisis. While many nationalities are cutting down on travelling, Chinese tourists are bucking the trend. According to the National Tourism Administration, Chinese travellers will take 1.8 billion passenger trips within mainland China this year and 50 million passenger trips outside the country (the counting method classes a return journey to Australia via Hong Kong as four trips). Both figures are about 9% higher than 2008.

Australia reckons that by 2013, China will be its single largest source of tourists. Tim Harcourt, chief economist of the Australian Government’s export promotion agency Austrade, says: “As a result of rising disposable income in the coastal regions of China…many urban Chinese are now coming to Australia. And they’re cashed up too. The average expenditure by Chinese visitors is greater than their American, British or other East Asian counterparts.”

Airlines too are cutting prices, hoping that discounted fares will entice travellers further afield. British Airways offers round-trip tickets between China and Britain for $433. Qantas is offering return flights from Shanghai to Sydney (11 hours) for just Rmb3,000 ($438).

Local tourism is also on the rise. With the export-oriented economy facing an ongoing slump, local governments are hoping tourism spend will spice up regional economies. Hangzhou, a scenic city in east China, released vouchers worth $22 million to neighbouring residents to spend on tours to the city. Chengdu, the capital of the earthquake-stricken Sichuan province,is luring tourists with 20 million tourist cards which allow visitors to enjoy 11 attractions in the city for free. In the short-term, industry observers are optimistic the growing domestic market will compensate for a reduced number of foreign tourists. But the country also wants to take its travel market upscale. Sanya, the tropical beach resort in China’s Hainan Island, is now striving to become a luxury travel destination. Earlier this month, Antaeus Group, a mainland real estate company, announced plans to build China’s first seven-star resort in Sanya, with a design provided by the firm that has won plaudits internationally for the seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai. It is scheduled to open in 2011.

Though an unlikely tourist spot (smack in the middle of the country’s manufacturing and export hub in the Pearl River Delta) , Guangzhou is also trying to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. It is aiming high too – the city government recently announced plans to build the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Perhaps it hopes that a wheel bigger than the London Eye will lift local tourism to new heights.

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