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May 11, 2015

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France rolls out carpet for huge Chinese tour group

THE biggest tour group to visit France — 6,400 mainly Chinese visitors invited by their company boss — received a VIP welcome in the southern resort town of Nice on Saturday.

Luxury department store Galeries Lafayette closed its doors to all other shoppers so the visitors could browse the aisles in relative peace.

Later, the group, 5,400 of whom arrived in France from China last Tuesday on board 84 commercial flights, filled up the Palais Nikaia to watch the Moulin Rouge cabaret show.

They are all employees of Chinese conglomerate Tiens, which is celebrating its 20th birthday.

Christian Mantel, head of the French tourism development agency Atout France, said the authorities were pulling out all the stops to accommodate the wishes of the group, which is paying 13 million euros (US$14.5 million) for the trip which ends on Wednesday.

“And that’s without counting the shopping,” added Mantel.

With an average of 1,500 euros in purchases, Chinese tourists are among the world’s biggest holiday spenders.

The Tiens directors have relaxed in the most luxurious hotel rooms. Less elevated employees have been treated to three or four-star accommodation.

In Paris, the group had the famous Louvre museum to themselves for a private visit on May 6 before heading south to Nice.

“We have mobilized public services as well as tourism professionals, hotels, restaurants, shops and designer brands,” said Mantel. “So far everything has gone smoothly, the feedback has been extremely positive.”

The whole adventure began back in December when Atout France got wind that the Tiens group boss Li Jinyuan wanted to celebrate the 20th birthday of his company in style. It operates in tourism, trade and cosmetics among other sectors.

Mantel said French authorities worked hard to narrow down his destination short-list, which had originally also included London and Rome.

Along with Chinese visitors, there were also Russians and Kenyans in the Tiens group.

While in Nice, the group entered the Guinness World Records book after forming the longest “human phrase,” positioning themselves in groups that read “Tiens’ dream is Nice in the Cote d’Azur” in letters visible from the air.

Li even took part in a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II,

Last Wednesday the group met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Fabius, who hopes France will welcome 100 million tourists this year, is well aware that “the reservoir for tourists is mainly in the Far East, particularly in China,” a spokesman said.


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