Lack of Chinese tourists to Europe may lead to 10b euro loss: analyst

By Chi Jingyi and Zhang Dan Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/21 20:53:40

Restaurants on the Piazza Navona in Rome remain quiet on March 5, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

From Spanish Square in Italy's Rome to Vaci Street in Hungary's Budapest, commercial activities in formerly bustling areas of Europe have little improved since reopening due to a lack of tourists, industry insiders told the Global Times.

Analysts, tourism industry insiders and travel agencies said the absence of Chinese tourists has caused huge losses for the European tourism industry, but resumption is almost impossible this year due to uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Chinese-Italian businessman who owns restaurants and bars in Florence and Venice told the Global Times that it is very hard to survive amid virus control measures in cities reliant on tourism, especially with the loss of Chinese tourists - their biggest clientele. "Customer traffic has been down to less than 15 percent compared with the same season last year," he said.

Huge losses

"Without Chinese tourists, Europe's tourism industry will suffer economic losses," Jiang Yiyi, a professor at the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism under the Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Take Spain as an example. In recent years, Chinese tourists have not ranked among the 10 most common visitors to Spain by nationality, but their expenditure has ranked first, said Jiang.

France has been the most popular destination outside of Asia for Chinese tourists in recent years, according to a report by the European Travel Commission. In 2018, 2.2 million Chinese tourists visited France and spent a total of 4 billion euros ($4.58 billion). In 2019, more than 2.4 million Chinese traveled to France.

Other popular European destinations for Chinese tourists include Italy, the UK, Spain, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece and Austria, according to the European Travel Commission.

Average expenditures range from 1,500 to 3,000 euros per trip to Europe, depending on destination, and Chinese tourists spent around 180 euros per day in France in 2019.

A third of their expenditure went to the purchase of retail goods, especially luxury items, with an annual growth of 9 percent.

The pandemic has hit the tourism industries of European countries very hard as they are left without Chinese tourists, Judy, who has been engaged in business tourism in Hungary for 16 years, told the Global Times on Monday. Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic are the most popular destinations in Central and Eastern Europe among Chinese tourists, who account for 50 percent of all tourists in those countries.

"Although Hungary opened a third of its services sector in mid-June, most duty-free shops, restaurants and small private hotels are still closed because of the lack of Asian visitors," Judy added.

Tourism is one of Europe's pillar industries, contributing 3.9 percent to the EU's GDP in 2018 and accounting for 5.1 percent of the total labor force, or 11.9 million jobs, data from the European Parliament showed.

Total economic losses from the lack of Chinese tourists in Europe could reach nearly 10 billion euros, an analyst told the Global Times.

Biggest tourist source

China has become the biggest tourism market in the world. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a total of 149.7 million Chinese traveled abroad in 2018, spending $277.3 billion and accounting for 20 percent of global international travel expenditure. 

Based on these figures, Chinese tourists were expected to make 160 million trips outside of China in 2020, according to industry analysis agency GMA in 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus.  

"About 5 million Chinese tourists visit Europe every year. But because of the Schengen visa policy, many cross-border trips are not counted by Chinese customs, making the actual number much higher," Jiang said.

Chinese tourists are a bonus for some European countries, and indispensable for others - like Serbia. 

The director of Serbia-based travel agency Be With Me told the Global Times that Chinese tourists have developed the travel industry in Serbia.

"Tourism in Serbia had not been developed after years of wars. Since 2017, after the visa-free travel policy between China and Serbia was implemented, more and more Chinese tourists have driven the overall tourism development of Serbia. In 2019, the industry saw some improvement, but was hit hard in 2020 by the pandemic, with tourist flows at less than 5 percent of last year's levels," noted the director.

The Serbian tourism industry has developed some travel resources specifically for Chinese visitors in recent years, like hot spring resorts and wine chateau tours, said the director.

Recovery in 2020 unlikely

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry insiders expressed little hope for the return of Chinese tourists to Europe this year.

"Due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many tourists are afraid to travel. The recovery of the tourism industry depends on virus prevention measures. It will be almost impossible for Chinese tourists to resume visits to Europe in 2020," Jiang noted.

Judy said that the number of Chinese tourists to Central and Eastern Europe may not return to pre-pandemic levels in the next two years, even after the pandemic is over. "Chinese people may be cautious after seeing how some European governments have handled COVID-19."   

Travel agency Be With Me also said it was afraid it would have no Chinese tourists at all this year, and that next year depends on how well the pandemic is brought under control.

Martin, the manager of a Lyon-based French travel agency targeting Chinese tourists, also said that Chinese tourists have been more and more cautious about going to France.

"It's not just a hygiene issue related to COVID-19. It was already the case during the Yellow Vest movement and strikes," Martin told the Global Times on Monday.

"Tourists will come back. France is very attractive in terms of tourism. The real question is when the Chinese will return. One thing is certain - it will be a long time before the end of the COVID-19 crisis, upon which the recovery of the economy and tourism depends," Martin noted.

Newspaper headline: European tourism suffering


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