EUROPE. Chinese arrivals in the European Union (EU) in the first eight months of 2018 were up +4% year-on-year, according to a study by analyst ForwardKeys.

That growth was split unevenly. Arrivals were up +9.5% in the first four months, and +2.2% in the second four months.

ForwardKeys added that Chinese bookings to the EU for the last four months of the year were currently +4.7% ahead of where they were at the same point last year. The analyst described it as a “relatively encouraging position” given that outbound bookings from China to the rest of the world are currently +3.6% ahead.

The ForwardKeys study was conducted for a European Travel Commission (ETC) report on the EU-China Tourism Year, a strategic political initiative designed to promote Europe as a destination to the rapidly-growing Chinese tourism market. The report confirmed that the initiative is delivering the tourism growth intended, ETC said. ETC is a non-profit organisation responsible for the promotion of European tourism in long-haul markets.

Source (all charts): European Travel Commission/ForwardKeys.
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ForwardKeys found that the recent growth is coming from the Hong Kong and Macao SARs and tier-2 Chinese cities. Between May and August, growth from Hong Kong and Macao was +5.1%, while arrivals growth from Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen was +13.5%.

The outlook for the remainder of the year is “similar but amplified”, the analyst noted. Bookings from the tier-2 cities are +22.6% ahead of where they were at the same point last year. Bookings from Hong Kong and Macao are +6.8% ahead and bookings from the tier-1 cities are just +1.4% ahead.

The analyst also noted that growth rates varied dramatically in different parts of the EU. Central/Eastern EU led the way. Over the second third of the year (May-August), Chinese arrivals in the region were +10.3% up on 2017 and the outlook until the end of December, based on current bookings, is +9.4% ahead.

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Top performers in the region were Estonia and Bulgaria, with increases in Chinese arrivals of +45.3% and +43.4% respectively. The outlook until the end of the year is encouraging for both destinations, ForwardKeys said, with bookings ahead +48.2% and +21.6% respectively.

By contrast, arrivals in Northern EU during the second third of the year were down -0.6% year-on-year. The “least optimistic” outlook for the last four months of the year is currently for Western EU, where Chinese bookings are +2.5% ahead of where they were at the equivalent point in 2017, ForwardKeys said.

Croatia, in Southern EU, saw +46.2% growth in Chinese arrivals between May and August. The outlook for September-December, based on current bookings, is +66.4% ahead.

ForwardKeys also noted that projected Chinese bookings to the UK for the last four months of the year are just +0.6% ahead. If the UK (which is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019) were excluded from the overall figures, Chinese travel bookings to the EU would be +5.7% ahead rather than +4.7% (the figure for the EU as a whole).

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European Travel Commission Executive Director Eduardo Santander said: “While the numbers we are reporting for the May-August period are not quite as strong as the January-April period, 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 the valuable long-haul Chinese traveller market.”

ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager commented: “One has to take one’s hat off to the officials behind the EU-China Tourism Year because it is on course to achieve its parallel objectives of increasing the EU’s share of the outbound Chinese market and of encouraging travel to less well-established destinations.”