The Chinese have become the world's most important group of outbound tourists. But, what are Latin American entrepreneurs doing to attract them?
They are ravenous for adventure, ready to spend, and their ranks are growing fast. The Chinese have become the world's most important group of outbound tourists, poised to overtake all other nationalities in sheer numbers this year, said Wolfgang Arit, director and founder of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. And, Latin America could be their next port of call.
Arit says opportunity is knocking. While an early wave of Chinese globetrotters saw Latin America as distant and dangerous, a new crop of younger, more seasoned travelers is emerging and searching for unique experiences. A 24-hour journey is not much of a deterrent to them; the chance to buy a Brazilian gemstone, priceless.
"The numbers have been exploding," said Arit. "China is the No. 1 source market (of international tourists) in the world." While many head to Hong Kong and Macau, Arit said a hefty 30 million Chinese traveled beyond these favored stomping grounds last year. Europe, Australia and the United States were top destinations, but repeat travelers are looking further afield.
Like a Rolex watch, foreign travel confers prestige in China, he said. Regaling friends with stories about places they haven't visited yet can carry extra clout.
"It's like the Oscars," said Arit. "If you are a film star, you want to make sure no other film star is wearing the same dress." His message to Latin American tourism agencies marketing to China: "Don't say, 'It's not expensive to come here.' Say, 'It is expensive, but very; very special'."
SELLING SOUTH AMERICA
Several South American countries are already ramping up efforts to draw Chinese visitors. Since Chinese tourists tend to apply for visas to see several countries in one trip, Latin American tourism officials banded together two years ago to kick off an annual traveling roadshow in major Chinese cities.
Geared towards hundreds of Chinese tour operators, the roadshow has featured representatives from seven South American countries so far, including Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Together, they expound on their countries' touristic top-sellers: Peru's Machu Picchu, Patagonia's ice fields, Chile's vineyards.
In 2012, almost all the representatives stressed recent growth. Peru saw 2011 visits by Chinese tourists increase by 25 percent, while Brazil...