No one seems to know how many Chinese tourists visit Europe each year. That’s the bold statement made by Jing Travel (a sister-title to Jing Daily, partner in an information-sharing alliance with The Moodie Davitt Report) in a recent article.

2018 marks the China-EU Tourism Year, a European Union-funded project aimed at promoting travel and cultural exchange between EU member states and China. The designated tourism year is the European Commission’s response to the growing number of Chinese travellers who visit Europe and constitute an increasingly important source of revenue across EU member states.

Jing Travel has uncovered significant disparities between different sources of Chinese traveller numbers to Europe

Just how important? Anecdotally, Chinese travellers are by far the most important group of travellers in Europe, and there’s a whole industry that aims to support businesses in catering to this group of travellers.

In reality, Europe has a long way to go to catch up with the competition and is arguably the continent that performs the worst relative to its geographic position, cultural assets, and connections to China.

How many Chinese travellers visit Europe each year?

According to one (state-funded) Chinese source, some 5.5 million Chinese travellers were projected to visit Europe in 2017. According to documents put forward by the China-EU Tourism Year, 12 million Chinese tourists visited Europe back in 2015.

Did Chinese tourist numbers in Europe drop from 12 million in 2015 to 5.5 million in 2017? According to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, tourists actually grew by +65% year-over-year in the first half of 2017. The numbers simply don’t add up.

The real story is that no one seems to know how many Chinese tourists visit Europe each year. That’s a problem. If the European Union decided to spend tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of tax-payer Euros under the impression that it is the recipient of 12 million Chinese tourists as early as in 2015, that’s an even bigger problem.

Even the humble European retailer or tour operator may have a better grasp on where the Chinese tourism market is going than big stakeholders such as the European Union and the Chinese government. A cynic may argue that the latter has good reasons to overstate the importance of its tourists, yet it’s the former which appears to overstate arrivals by the highest order of magnitude.

Political goals

The source of the wildly different arrival numbers presented for Europe rests on counting practices. In most European countries, a Chinese tourist who crosses the border from another European country (and stays for at least one night) is counted as an arrival. The very same tourist is also counted as an arrival at the country where they entered Schengen, as well as in all other European countries where they spend a night or more throughout their visit.

For travellers in tour groups who are bused between European countries, this often means that each traveller is counted as arrivals a handful of times if not more. Consequentially, a tour group of, for example, 20 Chinese travellers, may end up recorded as 100 or more ‘arrivals’ to the continent.

The result is highly confusing numbers that even the European Union doesn’t get right. Or perhaps, in this case, uses to its advantage to create a narrative that is detached from reality but furthers political goals. It doesn’t mean these figures are necessarily wrong, but they’re certainly misleading.

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*This article was originally published by JING TRAVEL, sister title to the Moodie Davitt Report’s much-respected content partner JING DAILY.