Tourism: Chinese gold

The Chinese have become the world’s most important group of outbound tourists. But ,what are Latin American entrepreneurs doing to attract them?

©iStockphoto.com/Tomwang112

They are ravenous for adventure, ready to spend, and their ranks are growing fast. The Chinese have become the world’s most important group of outbound tourists, poised to overtake all other nationalities in sheer numbers this year, said Wolfgang Arit, director and founder of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. And, Latin America could be their next port of call. Arit says opportunity is knocking. While an early wave of Chinese globetrotters saw Latin America as distant and dangerous, a new crop of younger, more seasoned travelers is emerging and searching for unique experiences. A 24-hour journey is not much of a deterrent to them; the chance to buy a Brazilian gemstone, priceless. “The numbers have been exploding,” said Arit. “China is the No. 1 source market (of international tourists) in the world. ”While many head to Hong Kong and Macau, Arit said a hefty 30 million Chinese traveled beyond these favored stomping grounds last year. Europe, Australia and the United States were top destinations, but repeat travelers are looking further afield. Like a Rolex watch, foreign travel confers prestige in China, he said. Regaling friends with stories about places they haven’t visited yet can carry extra clout.

“It’s like the Oscars,” said Arit. “If you are a film star, you want to make sure no other film star is wearing the same dress.” His message to Latin American tourism agencies marketing to China: “Don’t say, ‘It’s not expensive to come here.’ Say, ‘It is expensive, but very, very special’.”

SELLING SOUTH AMERICA

Several South American countries are already ramping up efforts to draw Chinese visitors. Since Chinese tourists tend to apply for visas to see several countries in one trip, Latin American tourism officials banded together two years ago to kick off an annual traveling road show in major Chinese cities.

Geared towards hundreds of Chinese tour operators, the road show has featured representatives from seven South American countries so far, including Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Together, they expound on their countries’ touristic top-sellers: Peru’s Machu Picchu, Patagonia’s ice fields, Chile’s vineyards.

In 2012, almost all the representatives stressed recent growth. Peru saw 2011 visits by Chinese tourists increase by 25 percent, while Brazil saw a hefty 48 percent spike.

Chinese tourists are healthy spenders, Rationed, and gift generously upon their return. Argentina noted that Chinese visitors were spending an average $8,000. Arit said some Brazilian gem stores have hired Mandarin speaking sales staff to meet demand.

Gonzalo Matamala, Chile’s Beijing-based trade commissioner acknowledged that his country probably couldn’t be much further from China, but he said inconvenience is not necessarily a drawback.

“Direct flights, there aren’t,” he acknowl-edged. “Chile is exactly on the other side of the earth.” But, he added,” We can emphasize the mystery… the fascination of seeing something new. To go to Antarctica, a football game in Argentina, that’s something exotic.”

Matagalpa said Chinese visits to Chile rose 80 percent between 2006 and 2011. Chile received about 11,000 Chinese tourists in 2012, and he expected the number to grow by at least20 percent a year. As trade between Chile and China grows, he sees increased interest among Chinese business travelers to add on a few days of sightseeing.

Given the distance and expense involved, Matamala said Chile’s appeal is best suited to China’s high-end traveler,” who has already been to the United States and Europe …”

BRAZIL, BREAKING STEREOTYPE

Arit pointed to Brazil as the country with the biggest potential to draw Chinese tourists.Marketers are doing well to swerve away from the typical promotional materials. Carnival Brochures can stay in the drawer, he said, since many Chinese men find Brazil’s sensual and scantily clad carnival dancers “too strong.”

Lots of Chinese tourists, he said, will want to compare Brazil’s Olympic Games to their own, or Brazil’s economic rise to their own emergence on the world stage.

“Brazil doesn’t have to use stereotypes. That’s good news for Brazil,” he said. Brazil can sell itself as a business partner, rather than a samba-driven party scene.

Latin American tourism promoters should address Chinese tourists’ security concerns. This might mean providing a chaperone to help them avoid pickpockets, or a health consultant to explain recommended vaccinations. The Chinese “are fascinated” with Latin America, he said, “but you don’t want to get killed.”

Ruth Morris reported from Shanghai.

 

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