Chinese tourists, what are they looking for?

Valley of the temples. Agrigento.

Valley of the temples. Agrigento.

While in Milan more than half of the bars are owned by Chinese, and the second most common family name is not Colombo or Ferrari or Bianchi but 胡 Hu; other regions are struggling so much to attract Chinese visitors. This is the reason why on April 17 Marco Zambuto, the mayor of Agrigento, a small town in Sicily, got the brilliant idea [warning: sarcasm could have been involved] to produce the video below. He stands in front of The Valley of the Temples, and invites Chinese tourists to literally Inundate Sicily. The video is in Italian, and comes with Chinese subtitles. At the end of the video the mayor even tried to speak some Chinese, making the whole video just more awkward and embarrassing than it already was [no sarcasm here]. The video suddenly became viral on the Internet when people started mocking his pitiful attempt. The website of China’s official news agency Xinhua decided anyway to post an interview, where he tried to explain the reasons why he want floods of Chinese tourist coming to invade the island. “First, because Chinese people now represent a big portion of international tourism flows. Secondly, both Italians and Chinese are backed by ancient civilizations, which might make Chinese tourists ‘inclined’ to appreciate Agrigento and Sicily, the true pearls of Italy” he said. “It seems to me that Chinese people today are increasingly curious and willing to discover new things,” he added.

Now, a nerdy-looking mayor that relies on subtitles to deliver a public invitation to his beautiful town might not be very convincing, but his considerations are certainly right: Chinese tourists are willing to move forward from saturated destinations like Milan, Rome or Venice. In fact recently Chinese travelers, when visiting Italy are more eager to share on Wechat or Weibo photos of less known small towns, rather than well-known monuments. Agrigento and Sicily in general could easily become on major target of independent travelers, usually from Chinese upper-middle class, and in below I will try to describe what Chinese are looking for when traveling to the West.



The mayor of Agrigento want Chinese tourists cause he knows they bring in cash, but European thieves are also aware of this. For some reasons Chinese travelers certainly prefer fragrant cash to dull credit cards, and it is not uncommon to see Chinese wandering around streets in, for example, Paris with 10k Euros of cash in their pockets. Chinese know that European cities are not as safe as Beijing or Shanghai, but reports of pickpockets and muggers targeting Chinese tourists have soared of late, tarnishing the French capital’s image as a favored destination for love-struck couples and high-end shoppers. The same concerns all major cities in Europe. France Interior and Tourism Ministers last year told Reuters that 200 police had been put on patrol on the surroundings of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower to protect tourists and steps were being taken to help foreigners prevent and report crime.

Infographic on Chinese tourists. Clic to enlarge.

Infographic on Chinese tourists

Chinese travelers are known for their strong penchant for buying European luxury goods in a brand’s home country to avoid massive tariffs on the mainland. But one of the toughest obstacles, especially for independent travelers, is visas. For this reason luxury brands and retailers have been at the vanguard of the push to ease restrictions. In the UK, companies like Harrods, Burberry, and Mulberry are members of the UK China Visa Alliance, which has been vocal about the need to lower visa restrictions for Chinese visitors. Until now, Chinese applicants for Italian visas had to apply at the consulate general assigned to the location of their household registration (户口 hukou) or temporary residence permit. The Italian Embassy announced that as of April 14, Chinese citizens might apply at the consulate closest to their place of residence, which is often different from their hukou. This means that applicants will no longer need to make an inconvenient trip to their place of residence to apply if they work in another city. The Italian consulate in Guangzhou also announced that it would begin fast-tracking visa applications, prompting China Southern Airlines to begin discussions with Italy to create direct flights from Guangzhou to Rome.

Despite the strategically good location at the center of the Mediterranean, Italy failed to establish itself as a transportation hub. In 2013 Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport in Rome only ranks 8th on the list of the busiest airports in Europe; and Malpensa Airport in Milan 27th. This is due to the shortsighted political administration and to the constantly borderline situation of Alitalia, the national airline of Italy. This means that Chinese tourists who want to visit Italian many historical relics and art pieces, they usually have to fly through other major European or Middle Eastern airport hubs.

China’s traveling luxury consumers are well known for being price-conscious and tech-savvy. One of the first things every Chinese tourist asks is a local SIM card with a good 3G Internet traffic deal, to be able to connect with friends back home and share their experiences on Wechat. Sharing experiences is one of the main social activities Chinese travelers do, and it is actually an important behavior in Chinese society in general; just think of how much Chinese love to share their meals. Travelers not only share photos on Wechat or Weibo, they also love to write essays to describe the outside world in great detail. European cities should be aware of this and local hotels should stop charging for Wi-Fi connections, and should set up more and more free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Important achievements can be done teaming up with Key Opinion Leaders or stars cause in China they have the ability to influence a lot of Chinese people with their communities and the secondary network of their fans. Chinese movie stars or singers have a strong influence on large numbers of fans. Their movements are followed and talked about by millions of Internet users. New Zealand’s tourism board invited Chinese celebrity Yao Chen to hold her high profile wedding there. California’s tourism board made model-actress Gao Yuanyuan their travel ambassador. Tourism Vancouver teamed up with Chinese-born, Vancouver-based singer Wanting Qu. Angela Baby a star from Hong Kong had the massive amounts of comments on his Weibo when it unveiled its micro blog on his stay in France.

However, it is nice to see that there still are city majors around the world who enjoy the idea of having floods of Chinese tourists. The reputation of Chinese tourists is a low peak (also among Chinese themselves) after a group of snorkelers caught and ate endangered sea creatures off the Paracel Islands, visitors to North Korea threw candy at North Korean children as if they were “feeding ducks”, swimmers took pictures with a dying dolphin, and a teenage boy from Nanjing scratched graffiti on a 3,000 year-old relic while touring Egypt with his parents.

See more analysis on Chinese outbound tourism here.

To summarize, apart from some small improving, there is so much that Europe can and need to do to attract Chinese travelers and surpass New Zealand and United States; a silly video on Youtube is none of these.

  • virtualtourfinder

    Very very interesting article

    • MG

      Thank you virtualtourfinder! Keep reading 🙂

  • Marius Cash

    I followed a newly posted linkedin post to here. Good article.

    I remember when I stood at the plaza in front of the train station in Venice after a 3-day short stay, watching the city glittering in twilight, I felt tears coming into my eyes. As a Chinese backpacker that has visited most EU countries and important cities, I was never so touched by a place without bearing any relevance to my identity.

    I strongly encourage all Chinese to go to Italy to find back what they have lost by the recent two decades of ruthlessly and outrageously pursuing what they had despised long before.

    • MG

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I think now that visa regulations are loosen up, more and more Chinese will choose to visit Europe and Italy as backpackers, these will help us upgrade our country’s overall image, and break down those cliques about Italy and other countries that group-traveling agencies helped spread around China !