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Economic Watch: Europe's tourism embraces Chinese New Year travel boom

The tourism comeback heralds the dawn of the China-Europe Tourism revival.

BEIJING/BRUSSELS, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The tourism and hospitality sector in Europe embraces a boost in Chinese travelers during the Lunar New Year holiday after the pandemic. And the trend is projected to hike further throughout the Year of the Dragon.

An Oxford Economics brief anticipated that the number of international outbound trips taken by Chinese travelers in 2024 will roughly double relative to 2023, to nearly 80 percent of the 2019 level.

The tourism comeback heralds the dawn of the China-Europe Tourism revival.


Returning Chinese holiday-makers continue to find Europe attractive. According to an estimate by the European Travel Commission released Tuesday, European destinations can anticipate seeing further rebound from the Chinese market in 2024, predicted to reach over 60 percent of the 2019 level.

And their tastes are changing. As the life quality heads up, the younger generation in the world's second-largest economy is leveling up their holiday plans as well. A recent Reuters report noted Chinese travelers' appetite shift from shop-til-you-drop group tours to niche, flexible, and experience-based trips, for example, focusing on leisure, cuisine, or photography.

Tourism professionals are adapting and crafting tailored offers for Chinese guests.

In the Dutch village of Giethoorn, praised as "the Venice of the North," Gabriella Esselbrugge, a tourism entrepreneur, plans to innovate and improve boat and biking tours in the village and the national park, both popular activities among Chinese tourists.

More and more Chinese ski lovers are celebrating their traditional festival in ski camps and resorts in the Austrian Alps.

Yan Xu, director of SnowKing Ski Academy in Austria, said over 60 Chinese customers have registered at her academy during the Lunar New Year holiday. With her academy fully booked early on, she has also referred many Chinese customers to other ski academies.

Ivana Jelinic, president and CEO of the Italian National Tourist Board (ENIT), expressed in a recent written interview with Xinhua that the number of Chinese tourists arriving in Italy is expected to reach and surpass the record set in 2019.

She believes that Chinese tourists are crucial for various tourism destinations in Italy, adding that the benefits can extend to all economic sectors impacted by an increase in incoming flows, including not only hospitality and direct services to tourists but also the entire sector of Made in Italy, retail, luxury, food and wine.

"2023 was largely a transition year after the pandemic. We are very much looking forward to 2024, the first normal year after 2019. We expect right now around 1 million to 1.2 million overnight stays from Greater China in 2024, or around 65 percent of the 2019 levels," Daniela Chiani, director for Greater China at Switzerland Tourism, told Xinhua in a virtual interview.


With eyes on rising travel demand, airlines ramp up capacity for Europe-China routes.

A Feb. 7 blog published by OAG, a British global travel data and aviation analytics provider, showed that markets in Europe are seeing strong airline capacity growth in China, in particular Italy, Britain, and Spain. Flight capacity connecting China and Italy in January 2024 was 159 percent of the same period in 2019, with China-Britain at 130 percent, and Spain at 122 percent. Germany and the Netherlands followed in the recovery rate, respectively at 92 and 80 percent.

In an interview with Xinhua in early February, the Hainan Airlines' Berlin office said that although winter is usually a low season for traveling to Europe, the Chinese New Year holiday has stimulated an increase in the passenger rate for Hainan Airlines' HU489 Beijing to Berlin flight in February compared to January. Currently, the Beijing to Berlin direct flight operated by Hainan Airlines has resumed to pre-pandemic levels, with three flights per week during the winter-spring season.

Air China has announced that it will launch daily flights between Barcelona and Beijing starting from March 31. The company returned to the Spanish city with three weekly flights in June 2023, following a three-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marta Ortiz, a Spanish representative for Air China, said the company has noticed "a big change ... the prospects for the next few months are good."

Air cargo rates from China saw a parallel surge in the final full week ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year on Feb. 10, according to the latest figures from WorldACD Market Data, as shippers rush to get goods shipped before the holiday period, according to an Asian Aviation blog Monday.

According to data from WorldACD, an Amsterdam-based air cargo market data provider, rates for air cargo shipments from China to Europe rose by 8 percent week on week in week 5 of 2024 (Jan. 29 to Feb. 4).

The boom is shared by both sides of Eurasia. During a concert celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year in Berlin on Jan. 31, Berlin resident Carola Busch expressed her enthusiasm for China's visa-free policy in an interview with Xinhua.

"The visa-free policy in China is awesome. It's amazing to visit other countries, and it's very important that the whole world is in friendship," she said.

Busch visited China four years ago, exploring Beijing and Chengdu. She vividly recalls the scenery of Mount Emei and loves Chinese Kung Fu, describing it as a martial art that combines aesthetics and practicality.

"It would be even better if the visa-free period could be extended. One could spend a lifetime in China!" she concluded.

More Europeans like Busch are traveling to China, especially after China applied a visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from five European countries in December and expanded it to Switzerland and Ireland in January.

People are getting on board. The economy class seat occupancy rate for Hainan Airlines' HU490 Berlin to Beijing flight in February has exceeded 80 percent, for example. The airline is thus planning to increase its direct Beijing-Berlin service from three to five times per week starting from April 2024.

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Jan van Erve, the founder and CEO of Dutch Erving Entertainment and Support B.V., along with the company's creative director Michiel Florusse, is about to board a flight to China.

They are in the process of preparing for the National Ballet of China (NBC) European tour, including the Netherlands, in collaboration with Chinese business partners, he said, adding that they intentionally chose to kick off their ticket sale on Feb. 10, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Van Erve said that the visa-free policy helps business and tourism. "It's easier to book now, than you have to go through a whole process to get a visa. So I think it's very good that it's happening and I hope that it's successful to continue such a thing."

The spark of the Lunar New Year tourism revival between China and Europe is expected to flare and flame. Visa-free policies and optimistic projections signal a flourishing Year of the Dragon for the people-to-people exchange between the two sides.


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