With the United Kingdom signing the ADS agreement in January 2005, all EU member states are now ADS destinations. The non-EU member states Switzerland, Iceland and Norway have also signed bilateral ADS agreements with the Chinese government in 2004.
As a result, Chinese certified travel agencies are allowed to promote and organise tourist groups (5 people and above) to all European destinations as well as Turkey. With these ADS agreements, the biggest hurdle for opening up the Chinese market has been overcome.
Europe is considered one of the favourite destinations for Chinese. It is regarded as a multi-cultural society with a long history and diverse civilisation. When travelling to Europe, Chinese want to visit at least three different countries. Tours take up to ten countries within two weeks and hardly ever visit one country. Within Europe, France, Italy and Germany are the most popular destinations.
In Europe, Germany has been receiving most of the Chinese visitors. It is pro-active in its approach to promote tourism and encourage business links. Moreover, Germany has taken the lead by signing ADS agreement bilaterally two years before the rest of the EU. They have been generous with their visa regulations and in turn gained an advantage over other European destinations.
France is also very active in promoting its destination. The cultural year of France in China supported by both governments has had a great impact. France has for years been issuing visa for tourism groups even while this was not officially agreed upon by the government. In 2008 tourism to France from China suffered a setback due to political sensitivities involving Tibet and the Olympic Torch relay through Paris. An unofficial travel boycott against France was allegedly instigated by the Beijing tourism board leading to a dramatic drop in tourism from China.
Switzerland has been successful in destination marketing despite having no direct flights, not belonging to the EU or Schengen visa agreement and the relatively late approval of ADS. The Chinese traveller has become very interested in Switzerland thanks to extensive marketing and promotion.
Italy has been reluctant to issue tourism visas in the past, but is implementing the ADS procedure now to conform to the agreement, resulting in much higher arrival figures. But as Italy has a small number of direct flights, it is at a disadvantage.
Some themes for European destinations in 2006
• London: 2008 the Year of China
• Germany: 2006 FIFA World Cup
• Austria: 250 Anniversary of Mozart
• Direct flights are a major selling point in destination marketing. Choice of tour operator in Europe and number of nights in each destination are decided by the first port of arrival.
• “Visa shopping” in the past meant agents would bargain with different consulates to find the cheapest and simplest visa application and with it the choice of first destination. With the implementation of the overall ADS procedure this should be not be the case anymore, as all the embassies and consulates are supposed to apply the same rules.
• Nevertheless, visa shopping still exists as some embassies and consulates process visas faster (e.g. larger staff capacity at their visa departments), have better facilities (such as special opening hours for ADS visa couriers), communicate in a more transparent way, are more service-oriented or are less fussy with visa processing (lower rejection rates). All contribute to the image of a certain destination and have an impact on sales.