Football is a European 'icon' to Chinese tourists

When the Peoples Republic of China relaxed restrictions on foreign travel four years ago, European tourism chiefs rubbed their hands in anticipation of a surge in visitors that would rescue the sector from the woes of low bookings and security fears. "But while the number of Chinese visitors to Europe did indeed spiral to about a million last year," Hugh Williamson reported in the Financial Times, "the increase has also brought with it considerable challenges that are forcing European tourism chiefs to rethink the way they sell the continent to the world."

According to Monika Echtermeyer, a tourism expert at Bad Honnef University, Europe's biggest selling point for Chinese tourists is "the fact that the countries are close together, allowing visitors to travel to 12 of them in 10 days." Chinese visitors love to spend as little as possible on travel and hotels - €1,000 is a standard all-inclusive price for a 10-day trip - while saving money for shopping. Bus tours are the dominant means of travel and when Chinese do visit attractions, they want "classics", such as Paris's Eiffel tower.

Spain seems to have got this message. "We've recognised that, unlike Europeans who swarm to our beaches, Chinese visitors are attracted to our traditions - or their perceptions of them - such as bullfighting, flamenco dancing, as well as football, so these are the icons we put in our catalogues," said José Maria Callejon of the Spanish tourism authority.

See also: Football chosen to boost tourism to Britain (24 Sep) and Barcelona taps a major source of brand awareness (20 Sept)