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October 8, 2016

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Chinese flock abroad and not just to shop

WHEN Ines Chou was planning her “Golden Week” National Day holiday, it was Britain’s history and heritage rather than its high street shops that lured her to the country.

Chou was among a record 6 million Chinese who travelled overseas for the holiday, which ended yesterday, and offers insights into the changing travel tastes of a key group of holidaymakers for the retail and travel sectors in top destination countries and regions.

“London has a lot of culture and free museums,” said the marketing director from Beijing, who visited the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Opera house during her trip.

Total spending this week by the Chinese tourists at home hit US$72.3 billion this year, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

The shopping hot spots of Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore have long been overseas favorites for visitors from China’s mainland, but a reduced appetite for luxury due to a slower Chinese economy has left some retailers feeling the pinch.

In Hong Kong, the number of mainland tour groups fell 20 percent from October 1-3, said Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.

While tour operators suffered, arrivals overall were up 4.8 percent from a year ago, reflecting a growing trend toward independent travel, Tung said.

Thailand had expected a 30 percent rise in Chinese visitors from last year, despite fears of the Zika virus, higher visa fees and a spate of bombings in the country’s south. However, tour operators reported a sharp drop in numbers this week following a police crackdown on Thai operators of cheap package tours.

Travel experts said a new generation of Chinese travelers was more adventurous and wanted to experience a new culture.

“The younger ones go out and are a lot more experimental,” said Amrita Banta, managing director at Agility Research and Strategy.

Morocco, with its beaches, historic bazaars and mosques, had become the new hotspot, Banta said. China Travel Academy said Morocco had seen a tripling of tourists from China since May after the North African country removed visa restrictions last year.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and Mexico’s ancient ruins were also top destinations, while 30 percent of visitors to Cambodia’s famed Angkor heritage site have come from China this year.

The plunge in sterling has only added to Britain’s appeal.

“The UK is around 10 percent better value than it was this time last year. As a result we have seen really strong growth from China,” VisitBritain Director of Marketing Robin Johnson said. “Chinese visitors are now in the top 10 most valuable inbound markets for tourism for the UK for the first time ever, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. The growth has been absolutely outstanding.”


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