Chinese tourism to the French Riviera

This past few months I have worked on projects for Chinese clients based in Beijing and Weihai, and it has inspired me to take on the challenge this year (as one of my many New Years Resolutions!) to learn Mandarin Chinese.

I have always had a strong interest in Asian countries and cultures, and managed to wing my way through beginners Japanese at tertiary level many moons ago.

I’m finding it very interesting to learn about Chinese culture and customs, but mastering the language is sure to be a long process because Chinese is tonal so pronouncing the syllables in different ways conveys different meanings. Learning to hear and pronounce these tones correctly is definitely proving to be a work in progress!   Though, I am quietly pleased that I can now count basic numbers, book a hotel room, order a taxi and say thank you when I do travel to China.

The upside is that unlike French language, Chinese does not have conjugations, tenses, gender or plurals of nouns.

Chinese tourism to France and the French Riviera

This blog post is Part One of a Chinese Tourism series into my research and analysis on the impact of Chinese tourism to the French Riviera (and France on a greater scale).

(image: brecorder)

(image: brecorder)

I have referenced business statistics, but as always all general opinions are my own and I take no responsibility for business decisions made from this blog post.

With an immense population, China is a continuously growing tourism market for France and Chinese visitors are the top spenders for outbound tourism. In 2014, Chinese tourists in France spent 1 billion euros – a huge impact for France’s economy and something all French companies should be considering in their marketing plans.

There has been bad publicity for France related to muggings of Chinese tourists (notably in Paris where there are notices in Mandarin to beware of pickpockets on the Metro), however France is getting back its reputation as a destination for romance, culture and luxury.

Chinese tourism to the French Riviera : Access RIviera

Chinese tourism to the French Riviera : Access RIviera

In recognising the increasing impact of Chinese tourism in this region, the Antibes Juan les Pins tourism office situated at the Palais des Congrès now employs a destination and marketing assistant who is fluent in Chinese and Cantonese.

Reasons why more Chinese are travelling to France and French territories

A generation ago, outbound travel for Chinese was greatly limited to the politically connected or elite due to Communist restrictions.

Localised travel is still dominant within China or Asia due to absence of language barriers, affordability and geographical proximity – but this is changing as more Chinese are travelling further globally due to increased disposable income.

For France and her territories this has been enhanced by the relaxation of Chinese travel regulations, including fast-track visas for France and visa-free initiatives for Tahiti and the Reunion Islands.

Why France?

France is one of the Top 10 global outbound destinations for Chinese tourists, and one of the premier destinations for Chinese tourists in Europe.

When they visit France they gravitate towards:

Chinese tourism and France : Access Riviera

Chinese tourism and France : Access Riviera

Tying in with this, event promoters are grabbing a slice of Chinese tourism by angling themes towards Chinese interests. One local example is the annual Fête du Citron that is held in Menton – this year’s theme was ‘Les Tribulations d’un Citron en Chine’ (The ordeals of a lemon in China).

France has a big pull on Chinese tourists for luxury brand shopping – think Louis Vuitton handbags, Cartier watches etc – which has attracted Chinese tourists due to the fact that it is cheaper to buy luxury brands overseas than in China where the government imposes a 50% tariff on these items domestically.

However, high-earning young Chinese tourists (25-35 years) are turning their backs on luxury brands as they become more knowledgeable about what is available on the internet and are looking to show their individualism by mixing high street with luxury brands.

Other reasons that influence Chinese visitors to France

The town of Montargis, south of Paris, has capitalized on a strong Chinese connection by installing plaques in French and Chinese throughout the town that tell the story of Chinese students who came to the town in the 1920’s and were revolutionary against Communist rule in their homeland.

There are also Chinese tourists who visit France for commemorative reasons. During World War I, there were nearly 80,000 Chinese in labour camps in France and Belgium working on the reconstruction of war-damaged areas. Under orders to clean up the battlefields, they were involved in mine clearing and transferal of dead soldiers to the new military cemeteries.

After the war they were gradually returned to China and by 1921 only 3,000 were left in France. Most of those who remained worked on the outskirts of Paris and were the founding fathers of what was to become Paris’s first Chinatown. In total around 7,900 labourers from China and Indo-China died in France in the years of World War I – mostly from enemy fire, disease, or exhaustion – and their bodies now rest in the French military cemeteries of the armies they served during the war.

Demographics of Chinese tourists visiting the French Riviera

Are you curious who exactly is coming from China?   There is no one profile for Chinese tourists. Two major segments are:

  •  The middle class: Who traditionally travel domestically or to nearby Asian destinations. When visiting Europe, they do so in organised tours that cover many countries in a short time (for example, 10 countries in 12 days). They stay in economy or mid-range hotels as the tour prices are tightly controlled by the tour operators.
  •  High-end tourists: Upper-middle class with high purchasing power; aged between 30-45 years. They don’t book organised tours and have a personalised or themed itinerary with less countries visited in Europe but in more depth. They often stay in 4 or 5 star hotels, and are less concerned about price as they seek a cultural experience.

The main travel period for Chinese tourists to France is between May and September, which coincides with summer holidays.

French Riviera (images: chinese-tourist.blogspot, Lonely Planet, Access Riviera)

French Riviera (images: chinese-tourist.blogspot, Lonely Planet, Access Riviera)

It is very important to understand that travelling abroad is an indication of social status, an opportunity for shopping and chance to discover new cultures.

How to attract more Chinese tourists

There are numerous outlets you can network and create connections to increase exposure for your business.

You do not need to be fluent in Chinese as there are many Chinese companies who are active on forums or business sites that have English and/or French-speaking employees or are looking for contacts across English and/or French-speaking industries.

In France, there is still a significant cultural rift in understanding Chinese culture. Unfortunately, advice is dished out by advisory groups such as the Chamber of Commerce for Tourism in Paris who advise that for visiting Chinese, a “simple smile and hello in their language will plainly please them.” Gaining trust and creating networks with the Chinese is much more complex than that.


(image: MarketingChina)

(image: MarketingChina)

5 Top Tips for French companies to succeed with Chinese tourists:

 It is crucial to understand:

  1.  The principles of Chinese purchasing behaviour
  2.  Sales and marketing tactics crucial to converting leads into sales (including using social media platforms in China to promote their business)
  3. How to respond to the Chinese customer’s perspective
  4. How to make payment easy and convenient, especially utilising mobile payment platforms (UnionPay is the most utilized Chinese method of payment – Galeries Lafayette has installed UnionPay, and on the Côte d’Azur Société Générale bank accepts UnionPay cards in their machines. There are just 7 hotels on the Côte d’Azur who have created merchant links with UnionPay so there is definitely scope for expansion    Alipay, part of the Alibaba Group launched by Jack Ma, is one of China’s largest mobile payment platforms and worth considering; there are 10 merchants using Alipay in Monaco including Monacair and Monte-Carlo SBM)
  5. China’s negotiation culture to close the sale – French businesses have a lot of work to do regarding customer service, paying attention to customers from point-of-entry to their store until they leave, after sale customer service (exchanges, refunds etc).

11 suggestions for platforms to network to get exposure for your company, or companies to follow via social media :


 If you are active on LinkedIn or Google+, have you considered joining Ushi as well? Ushi is China’s version of these 2 platforms combined. Whilst predominantly a Chinese-language site, there are English-speaking groups to join and network with.

WeChat (微信)

WeChat is a free mobile app that offers text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing.

In 4 years since inception, WeChat membership has soared from 5 million users to around 600 million users (a third of these are outside China).

If you have a luxury French offering, Jing Daily has a superb report about utilizing WeChat to promote your luxury product/service


 Weibo is China’s equivalent to both Twitter and Facebook. This massive Chinese micro-blogging site has more than 150 million active monthly users.


Weibo / France

Weibo / France

The Regional Tourism Committee of the Côte d’Azur (CRT French Riviera) has already run tourism campaigns on Weibo with 12 partners comprising games and contests to attract visitors.

Atout France has recognized Weibo is a major factor for Chinese tourism to France with media campaigns and destination advice.

Eurostar capitalized on the popularity of Weibo by targeting a social media campaign at Chinese tourists (specifically students), whereby students are invited to upload a 10-second video to Weibo about Paris. Ten finalists get professional help to turn their videos into 1-minute short films. The videos will be shown on 活动详情, and on Weibo. Users of both sites are then asked to vote, and the winner will get free tickets on Eurostar.

Propeller TV

 Predominantly focused on UK-China news, French readers can access Propeller via SKY Channel 189. They have a fortnightly ‘Business World’ segment with valuable advice, and a fun ‘Passengers’ show with content from users related to travel.


Ctrip is the largest travel agency in China (141 million users); they have signed an agreement with Priceline last year so are forecasting 15-20% growth for outbound tourism – good news for France.

Their website is multi-lingual (Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Dutch, Russian included) so French Riviera hotels should get themselves listed on there to capitalise on the huge package tour market.

Qunar (Qua)

 As China’s largest online travel search site, Qunar focuses on China domestic travel product however is expanding into more international destinations. Their greatest asset is a strong partnership with Baidu, China’s largest search engine (the equivalent of Google).


Qunar / France

Qunar / France

European Federation of Chinese Tourism

Created in 2014, this is an umbrella association of Chinese tourist organizations of 16 European countries with more than 150 members. The goal is to coordinate and promote Chinese tourism in Europe, to represent the interests of Chinese tourists in Europe and to communicate with the EU and the Chinese government.

France/China Foundation  

 Created in 2012, the France China Foundation encourages the development of relationships between French and Chinese leaders, to stimulate their interest in the other country and to inspire them to set up joint projects.

China-Britain Business Council

 Superb UK-based initiative focused on British business links to China, however French-based companies can still sign up for their newsletter, follow their Twitter feed and watch their business webinars for valuable advice on doing business with China.


(logo: China Britain Business Council)

(logo: China Britain Business Council)

Chinese newspapers

 For in-depth coverage of business, tech, general and travel news in China, head to for newspapers in English and Chinese.

Thoughtful China

 Shanghai-based bilingual Chinese and English talk show about building brands and doing business in Greater China.

The downsides of this site are there is no date stamp on their English interview content, and the news/press release content is outdated but there are some very useful interview insights and excellent resource interviews regarding social media and brand importance in China.

What’s next?

Eventually, your business could branch into a website and mobile application in Chinese with rich visual images, films and testimonials from tourists. European hotels are adding Chinese food to their menus, including China Central Television (CCTV) as part of their in-room service, putting kettles and tea in rooms and partnering with UnionPay and Alipay. Chinese place value on quality products in shops that have official certificates in Mandarin, and signage in Mandarin. PR and social media promotion across Chinese social media is very important.

Sign up for my blog newsletter via, like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter for updates on ‘Part Two: Promoting 5 Key Areas for Chinese Tourism’ which will focus on French Riviera offerings in Wine Tourism, Cultural/Natural heritage, Romance, Shopping and Well being/Health.

If you would like further information regarding marketing your French Riviera company to Chinese tourists, or you are interested in participating in this guide, please contact me via

Crucial fact for China-France business negotiations

Interestingly, in my research I have found that many Chinese companies who deal with French businesses have commented that in business negotiations the Chinese company will often have a fluent French speaker present among them, but it is often a one-way initiative as the French businesses rarely have someone who speaks Chinese and always have a need for a translator.

Don’t expect fast moving negotiations as Chinese are well-known to take their time before finalising any deal, only to pick up the pace once the contract is finally signed.

If you have a company based on the French Riviera and require a Chinese translator or interpreter for documentation, business meetings etc, you can contact LC Traduction based in Monaco, or 1Word based in Nice.

Chinese investment in France

France is awakening to the huge economic benefit of creating links with China, and in turn Chinese investors and consortiums are putting their kuai/yuan behind French-based manufacturers, products, services and initiatives. Here’s a selection of Chinese investment in France:

Commerce / Retail

The French government is discussing partnerships with Alibaba which would include lowered entrance fees for French companies on Tmall (Alibaba’s e-commerce platform). Tmall’s turnover is around €25 billion euros and presents a big opportunity for many small and medium French companies to launch on the famous Tmall and access the Chinese market. Watch this space, discussions are continuing at snail’s pace…


France and Alibaba/Tmall in discussion

France and Alibaba/Tmall in discussion


In early 2014, Chinese group Dongfeng bought a 14 per cent stake in carmaker Peugeot.


 Jin Jiang, one of China’s leading tourism operators, signed a deal in 2014 with Starwood’s French subsidiary Louvre Hotels Group to buy into their French budget hotels including around 820 hotels in France under brands such as Campanile, Kyriad and Golden Tulip. This deal will really drive package tours for Chinese outbound tourism.

More recently, the French government is selling a hefty 49.9 per cent stake in the Toulouse Blagnac Airport in southwestern France to a Chinese-led consortium made up of Shandong Hi-Speed Group and Friedmann Pacific Asset Management. The winning bid (which beat off French, Australian and Spanish bids) will contribute up to €308 million, and the Chinese buyers plan to double the amount of flights at the airport by introducing more point-to-point routes within Europe and Asia.


The Chinese are increasing their wine consumption year by year, and own around 100 châteaux in Bordeaux with roughly 80% of this wine being exported back to China where the price of a bottle is sold for 10 times the price of what you pay in France.

China now takes the title as the world’s largest red wine drinkers (Sacre Bleu! cry the French). The French shouldn’t be too concerned about Chinese buying every vineyard in Bordeaux – there are over 7500 wine producers active in the area.

(image: wineponder)

(image: wineponder)

An insight into Chinese culture and attitudes to Western travel

Understanding Chinese culture is key to expanding business operations into Chinese markets. My guest writer, has lived and worked in China, and shares his insights:

Chinese people and culture can appear at times impenetrable to an outsider however, having lived in China and worked alongside Chinese people I found they are some of the most humble and friendly people I’ve encountered in all my years of travelling.

As with all cultures, it’s important to understand how China’s history has dictated who they are as a people, but also the way we view them as outsiders.

Imagine growing up in China with closed borders during China’s infamous Communist Revolution under Chairman Mao. Followed by the rule of Deng Xiaoping who threw open the economic doors and is widely considered as the architect of socialist thinking. These polar opposite ways of living have shaped the Chinese people, and also helps explain why they are now finding their place in the world, business and in our society.

After first arriving to China, the cultural differences were plainly obvious and as with all amazing experiences in life I threw myself into them without hesitation. After all, to become friends with people we need to find out more about them!

Within the first few days I had learnt when handing out or receiving business cards and money, always do so with two hands and arguing or becoming visibly annoyed in public is a major sign of disrespect. Spitting in public was perfectly acceptable and if you are invited into someone’s house it is a sign of deep respect, just don’t come empty handed.

For me, what I found most incredible from the Chinese people who don’t appear to welcome interaction with Westerners, was what happened when I learnt a few words in Mandarin and made an effort. Suddenly I was greeted with widening smiles and a curiosity to either sell me something, practice their English, or tell me more about their country. Even in the larger cities of Beijing and Shanghai, it was easy to break down the barriers with simple greetings in Mandarin and a respect of their culture. The Chinese people are very traditional and they take friendships seriously, expecting the same in return, but this can be said for all relationships throughout the world.

I left China after a year with a deep respect for the country and people and to this day it is one of my favourite places on Planet Earth. Yes, the food can at times be questionable and the ‘herd’ mentality can take some getting used to (I imagine a population of 1.3 billion dictates this) but with a little effort and willingness to learn, I scratched below the surface of a country bursting with change.

Gan bei (meaning ‘dry the cup’)!


Iain Shiels, Freelance Writer at The Kiwi Has Landed

Iain Shiels, Freelance Writer at The Kiwi Has Landed

Iain Shiels is a Freelance Travel Writer and traveller who has explored over 90 countries   around the world. Originally from New Zealand and now based out of London, Iain travels whenever he can, documenting his adventures as he goes.


Twitter: @kiwihaslanded




To conclude, it is imperative that tourism or travel-related companies on the French Riviera adapt their business model to the Chinese market. Some considerations are:

  •  Specific products and programs aimed at the Chinese market (themed tours, cultural experiences, destination advice and maps translated into Chinese)
  • Ease and convenience of shopping (Mandarin-speaking staff, payment by UnionPay, signage in Mandarin)
  • Online presence and mobile applications in Chinese (it is crucial to understand the difference between social media networks in China compared to the rest of the Western world)
  • WiFi hotspots in major tourist areas – Chinese tourists are high users of their mobiles to access internet information
  • Promotion of your company via Chinese forums, and specialised magazines in the tourism industry


This blog post could not have been possible without source information from:

Financial Times, Jing Daily, Eurostar, Travel China Guide, Beijing Today, Remembrance Trails, European Federation of Chinese Tourism, South China Morning Post, Ctrip, Qunar (Qua), Thoughtful China, World Tourism Organistion (UNWTO)

A huge thank you to Iain Shiels from The Kiwi Has Landed for his cultural insights for this blog post.

If you have any comments, I’d love to hear from you! Email or please share this blog on social media including Facebook and Twitter, where I will keep you posted for ‘Part Two: Promoting 5 Key Areas for Chinese Tourism’ that will be coming soon!


8 thoughts on “Chinese tourism to the French Riviera

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  4. This is absolutely fascinating! Thank you for sharing.


    • Thanks for commenting Alex. It was a big research project but vital analysis for any Riviera-based company who is interested in capturing a less understood but important market. Stay tuned – Part Two is coming soon! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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