China's economic boom has triggered a burgeoning travel industry. But in Germany, the hospitality industry is finding out that cultural blunders are easy to make when hosting Chinese guests.
Chinese tourists like Germany's sights more than its cuisine
After travel restrictions were relaxed in 2003, around 29 million Chinese took the opportunity to travel overseas in 2004, and the figure is climbing steadily by 30 percent a year.
Chinese might still be barred from travelling independently, but groups of Chinese tourists have become a common sight across Europe -- standing in line for the Eiffel Tower, admiring the crown jewels at the Tower of London or enjoying the view at Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.
But as they find themselves playing host to increasing numbers of visitors from China, many in the German travel industry have realized they can't expect everyone in the world to enjoy beer and sausage as much as they do.
German tradition, the way tourists like it
The Black Forest is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany -- easily reached by travellers whose long-haul flight has touched down at Frankfurt Airport. A relatively short drive down one of Germany's legendary Autobahns, and they're in a picturesque, southwest corner of Baden-Württemberg famous for its cake and cuckoo clocks.
But sometimes, the hordes of tourists descending on the region put the local hospitality to the test -- especially when the visitors have less than a smattering of German and very specific cultural customs.
The potential problems, ranging from their perpetual smoking to their seemingly insatiable thirst for tea, haven't escaped the attention of the Chamber for Industry and Trade in Freiburg, which recently hosted a seminar aimed at sensitizing local hotels and restaurants to the needs of their Chinese guests.
Seminar leader Annick Guilhelm-Ho describes the course first and foremost as a get-to-know exercise.
"It's about getting acquainted with the Chinese and their customs in order to make their stay here as pleasant as possible and to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings," she said. "Hotels need to know that the Chinese prefer to take showers rather than baths, smoke a lot and would never take room numbers 4, 14 or 44, for reasons of superstition."
On the one hand, the Chinese tourists want to explore European culture, but on the other, they're not too keen to forfeit their creature comforts on their whistle-stop tour of the continent.
"It might be a cliché, but the Chinese really do drink excessive amounts of tea," pointed out Guilhelm-Ho. "They always have tea leaves and a thermos flask with them, and they need to be able to boil water whenever they want."
A kettle, therefore, is at least an important a feature of their hotel room as a lakeside view.
Having their cake -- but not eating it
Rice with everything
They also like a side order of rice with every meal, but on this count, they're open to suggestion. "Wheat is the main crop grown in northern China," said Guilhelm-Ho. "So they do also eat steamed noodles, pasta and pastry, even though Germans don't cook them they way they're used to."
Unfortunately, one regional speciality that's definitely not on the menu for Chinese tourists is the world-famous Black Forest gateau. Asians find dairy products indigestible, so they can look at this slice of German tradition, but they can't touch.
As for the cuckoo clocks -- they're also a no-no. The Chinese never give clocks as gifts, believing it suggests the end is nigh.