After a series of unfortunate terrorist attacks back in 2015 which caused Chinese tourist arrivals in France to drop, France is making a comeback in the Chinese tourism market with a strong showing in 2017. However, returning to pre-2015 arrival numbers is not enough for France, which hopes to solidify its position as the world’s most-visited country with the help of the enormous Chinese tourism market.
In a meeting with a Chinese business club, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian shed light on what France is doing to improve its standing in the Chinese tourism market now when Chinese arrivals have recovered to pre-slump levels.
A key element of France’s strategy to strengthen its attractiveness in China is to address one of the perhaps toughest things to crack for a Western destination: visas. While France, as a Schengen Area member, is tied to the visa policy formulated on the European Union level, it still hopes that it can gain an upper hand in China by improving its visa application procedures.
France has little control over what visas it can issue, but what it can control is the actual visa application process carried out at French embassies, consulates, and visa application centers in China. According to the le Drian, France intends to provide expedient visa services at 15 undisclosed places “which are not concentrated solely around Beijing” in China, reducing the processing time to 48 hours. This would be a significant upgrade and give France significant advantage over European peers as most EU countries require visa applications to be submitted at least two weeks before scheduled departure.
In theory, the 48-hour visa processing time would make a trip to France a viable impulse purchase for Chinese consumers—a change that could have implications for French tourism marketing in China.
If the initiative turns out successful, expect more European destinations to follow to compete with France in this space.
With Chinese doubts about security in France being the main reason behind the post-2015 drop in Chinese arrival, it’s perhaps no surprise that security is a key aspect of France’s strategy to solidify its position as a key player in Chinese outbound tourism. According to le Drian, the target is zero incidents—and security has been significantly beefed up at popular tourist sites throughout the country.
However, Chinese concerns about security in France aren’t solely limited to terrorism. Last year, a Chinese tour group was attacked by tear gas-spraying robbers outside a hotel in a Paris suburb—an incident that was highly publicized in Chinese media. To reduce the risk of such incidents occurring again, “security at hotels popular with Chinese tourists had been reinforced.”
Lastly, France aims to provide a more diverse tourism experience for Chinese travelers, who tend to spend a significant portion of their visits to the country in Paris. In Paris, like many other popular tourist destinations around the world, overtourism remains a concern.
Not only a concern for locals, overtourism in Paris is also making trips to the city costlier and causing the city to become a less attractive destination for prospective Chinese travelers.
For Chinese tourists, costly hotels in Paris has already led to many tour groups opting for hotels in Paris’s periphery—just like the one where last year’s robbery incident happened.
Encouraging Chinese travelers to seek out other destinations across France could help reduce congestion at popular tourist sites while also ensuring that more of the Chinese tourism windfall reaches regions beyond the capital. Combine that with a more diverse tourist experience, and there’s a strong case for France’s diversification goals.