1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Chinese tourists slow to return to Europe

February 3, 2023

Europe's vacation destinations are hoping for the return of tourists from China following years of pandemic disruption. Expectations for this segment of the tourism market are high, despite few bookings.

Tourists taking photos at the Berlin Wall.
Germany is a tourism magnet for visitors from AsiaImage: Wolfram Steinberg/dpa/picture alliance

After almost three years of travel interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese citizens can gradually start traveling again without having to spend weeks in quarantine on their return. But so far, the tourism boom in Europe hasn't materialized.

There have been only a few "isolated bookings" from groups wanting a guided tour of the historic Neuschwanstein Castle in Mandarin, according to the Bavarian Palace Department.

Neuschwanstein has typically been a must-see sight for many Chinese tourists in Germany. Before the pandemic, about 20% of the guided tours offered were given in Mandarin.

Not easy to get a visa

For the time being, it's unlikely that there will be a major wave of travel from China, despite the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions in China, says Wolfgang Arlt, managing director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) in Hamburg. This will not change until Easter, he predicts. The hurdles are still too high. For one thing, COVID-19 is still rampant in China and infection rates are high.

Neuschwanstein Castle from a distance
There have been few bookings at Neuschwanstein Castle by tourists from China Image: Wilfried Wirth/imageBROKER/picture alliance

As a result, in the beginning of January, EU member states agreed to introduce mandatory testing for all passengers arriving on flights from China. In addition, German authorities in China currently only issue visas if the applicant has a compelling reason to travel — and tourism is not considered one of them.

Airlines, too, must first gradually ramp up their flight offerings again. Nevertheless, the entire industry is already "electrified," and getting prepared, says Arlt.

The excitement at the prospect of Chinese tourists returning to Europe is not necessarily obvious at first glance. Only Italy makes it into the top 10 most popular destinations for Chinese tourists — with just under 3.2 million vacationers from China in 2019.

Asian destinations, such as Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore are at the top of the travel bucket list for most Chinese vacationers.

Meanwhile, France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are among the top 20 most sought-after vacation spots for Chinese tourists.

A group of Chinese tourists at St. Mark's Plaza in Venice.
Italy is among the top tourist destinations for vacationers from ChinaImage: Norbert Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

Chinese tourists spend three times as much as Germans

In fact, in purely numerical terms, Chinese tourists in Europe are a marginal tourist group. In 2019, for example, there were only just under three million overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Germany out of a total of 500 million overnight stays.

The numbers are similar in Switzerland, where the statistics for 2019 show exactly 1.85 million overnight stays by Chinese tourists out of a total of 40 million.

In Spain in 2019, meanwhile, just about 700,750 out of 83 million vacationers came from China. Nevertheless, Turespaña, the official agency of the Government of Spain responsible for the marketing of the country, is also closely following the developments there. "Expectations are great," says a spokeswoman for the Spanish tourism board.

Expectations are high in part because Chinese tourists tend to be big spenders when they come to Europe. In Spain, according to Turespaña, tourists from China spend around €308 ($336) a day — that's more than twice as much as German tourists.

In Switzerland, Chinese tourists spend an average of 380 francs a day ($413, €379); almost three times as much as German travelers.

But that's not all, as Wolfgang Arlt explains. "Chinese tourists don't come to simply take a vacation, but to experience and see as much as possible in a short time," he says. This presents a great opportunity for destinations that want to reduce their seasonality and broaden their appeal.

Staff at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok welcome back Chinese tourists
Thailand welcomes the arrival of Chinese tourists after travel restrictions were lifted in ChinaImage: Sakchai Lalit/AP/picture alliance

A market with strong potential

Spain's tourism experts, for example, have been trying unsuccessfully for years to teach German tourists that there's more to do than lie on a beach all summer. "Chinese tourists are much more open to different things, in that regard." With a smart strategy, you could create the kind of tourism here that you've always wanted. At Turespaña, this strategy is called "diversification of travel motives."

If things go well, Chinese vacationers would come primarily for culture and gastronomy and not primarily for the sunny climate, like many other tourists.

At the same time, however, many tourism entities, including the German National Tourist Board, mention the "strong potential" of tourism from China — the largest tourism source market in the world.

In 2019, 170 million international trips were made from China. In 2023, an estimated 110 million trips will be made, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute's Wolfgang Arlt.

In 2030, that number is projected to increase to 228 million trips. Many of such trips will be made to Germany — and Neuschwanstein Castle is likely to be on the sightseeing bucket list.

This article was originally published in German.

Five facts about Neuschwanstein

Jonas Martiny -  Travel Online-Autor
Jonas Martiny Reporter, correspondent