Latin America’s tourism industry has its eye on the growing number of Chinese tourists, business leaders said in recent interviews with Xinhua.
“In just eight years, experts say, we are going to see 220 million Chinese outbound travellers up from the current 135 million, and that is an opportunity we cannot pass up,” Julian Guerrero, vice president of the tourism promotion agency ProColombia, told Xinhua at Macro Business Conference.
The business forum held in the port city of Valparaiso in Chile drew industry representatives from the Pacific Alliance, a regional trade bloc that gathers Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. Colombia, like other bloc members, intends to attract Chinese tourists with plans, such as providing information in Mandarin Chinese and catering to Chinese tastes.
“We have an Internet page in Chinese and we have studies underway to better understand the behaviors of the Chinese consumers,” Guerrero said. “The interest among the Chinese in unique experiences, in culture and history, and the importance of being permanently connected via access to the Internet — we are studying all of this in order to attract the Chinese tourists,” Guerrero added.
In 2016, 135 million Chinese travelled abroad, spending 261 million U.S. dollars, according to the World Tourism Organization. The strategies have paid off, said Maria Soledad Acosta, director of tourism promotion at PromPeru.
“Last year, the Pacific Alliance saw a 20 percent increase in arrivals of Chinese tourists to the four member countries — Chile, Peru, Mexico and Colombia — and in 2017 we expect the arrivals to grow 10 percent on average,” Acosta said.
The number of Chinese tourists to Peru, home to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, grew one third last year compared with the figure of 2015.
“More than 25,000 Chinese tourists visited Peru last year, representing an increase of 33 percent,” Acosta said.
One of the key decisions the alliance made to boost tourism from China was to simplify the application procedures for visa. ProColombia’s President Felipe Jaramillo recently traveled to China, Japan and South Korea to promote his country as a vacation destination.
To that end, Guerrero said, Colombia carved out a presence for itself on WeChat, China’s instant messaging app.
“They told us we had to be on that (Internet) platform, given the importance of online social media platforms” in China, Guerrero said.
One major hurdle to attract Chinese tourists is the language barrier.
“The subject of language is a critical point. It is of supreme importance and it poses difficulty to attracting tourists,” Guerrero said, adding plans are underway to resolve the issue. “We are making plans for training in the Chinese language, and we are thinking of bringing interns from China to Colombia, so they can become Chinese guides” for visitors “from that important market,” Guerrero said.
As in many Latin American countries, tourism in Colombia has become the country’s second largest source of foreign revenue, after oil and gas, and ahead of traditional exports such as coffee, flowers and bananas, Guerrero noted.
The Pacific Alliance business forum drew more than 200 industry leaders from member countries this year, and succeeded in topping the 8-million-dollar value in tourism transactions registered in 2016, reaching 9 million dollars.