CHINA/EUROPE. Chinese arrivals to EU destinations climbed by 5.1% year-on-year in 2018, and forward bookings for Chinese travel to the region for the first four months of 2019 point to continued growth.

That’s according to the latest figures from the European Travel Commission (ETC), in collaboration with leading air travel analyst ForwardKeys. 2018 was EU-China Tourism Year, an initiative designed to promote the EU as a tourism destination to the fast-growing Chinese market.

ForwardKeys said: “Chinese tourists continue to put Europe at the top of their favourite destinations despite the relative slowdown in the Chinese economy and any concerns about Brexit.”

A growing customer base: How Chinese arrivals to the EU shaped up by sub-region in 2018 (click to enlarge).

In 2018, the top three EU destinations in terms of volume of Chinese arrivals were the UK (up 2.4%), Germany (up 2.6%) and France (up 7.7%). The three leading growth destinations were Croatia (up 45.7%), Estonia (up 35.8%) and Hungary (up 25.1%).

Daily departures to the EU from China during Chinese New Year 2018 and 2019 (click to enlarge).

Forward bookings also look solid. As of 31 December 2018, bookings to the EU from mainland China are 16.7% ahead for January-April 2019, with Hong Kong and Macau ahead 35.4%.

Tier-two cities, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Xiamen are showing strong growth: up 18.1% for 2018, with bookings ahead 51.3% for January to April 2019.

In the context of Brexit, if the UK were excluded from the data, the 2018 performance of the EU would look even stronger, with arrivals in 2018 up 5.8%. Looking ahead, forward bookings to the EU are 17.7% ahead for the period January-April 2019, if the UK was excluded.

Chinese bookings for trips to the EU during the 2019 Chinese New Year season were ahead 9.2% compared to last year – well above the global average of 0.2%.

The positive near-term outlook echoes a pattern from last year. Then, Chinese travel to the EU registered above-global-average performances for the two Golden Week periods. Within the EU, Central/Eastern EU was the fastest growing region, and outperformed the EU average during each of the three busy periods (the two Golden Weeks and the summer school break).

Chinese travel to the EU and sub-regions during key holiday periods 2018 (click to enlarge).

European Travel Commission Executive Director Eduardo Santander said: “The 2018 EU-China Tourism Year initiative has been extremely successful. And we continue to see the benefits in 2019. The growth in Chinese travellers has been solid, and the near future, judging by current bookings, will see the EU continuing to increase its share of this valuable market, not just to traditional destinations, but lesser-known and emerging ones as well.”

ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager said: “Our findings confirm what a concerted effort to boost tourism can achieve. It also appears to have lasting effects, as we can see in the forward booking figures.”

Chinese departures to the EU from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau in 2018 and forward bookings to April 2019 (click to enlarge).

The European Travel Commission is an association of National Tourism Organisations. Europe is the world’s number one tourist destination region with 712 million international arrivals in 2018 and more than 50% of the market share of worldwide tourism.