They have been swishing down the ski slopes in Canada, swiping their bankcards at Harrods, and sauntering past the Mona Lisa in Paris. But what will it take to get the world's top-spending travelers--Chinese tourists--to board a flight to South America?
China's travel boom is redrawing the international tourism map as the country's middle class expands, consumes and clamors for new experiences. Outbound travel from Mainland China tipped over 100 million visits for the first time in 2014, and is expected to climb steeply for several years to come.
Convincing them to travel half way around the globe, though, is not easy.
"The number of Chinese tourists in Latin America is growing fast. Yet generally, it's still at the beginning stage of development," said Yang Jinsong, an international tourism professor at the China Tourism Academy in Beijing and author of a recent study that put China's outbound tourist consumption at $128.6 billion in 2013, exceeding any other country.
Chinese tourism experts said their countrymen are more likely to book a tour if they had access to Chinese food while traveling, like congee, or rice porridge for breakfast, at least as an occasional alternative to local cuisine. They appreciate easy access to hot water, to sip green tea or feast on instant noodles. And many are hooked on their mobile devices, meaning Wi-Fi is a must. Mandarin-speaking hotel staff and tour guides, meanwhile, were highly coveted.
Yang said Chinese visitors would also reward hotels and boutiques that provide UnionPay facilities. UnionPay is the only interbank network in Mainland China and many travelers' only payment method besides cash.
While a majority of Chinese tourists make short hops to the casinos of Macau and the shopping malls of Hong Kong, or bus tours to European hotspots, a growing number of Chinese--about a third of current travelers--are breaking away from organized tours and exploring more exotic locations. Experts say Latin America is a perfect match for these adventure-seekers.
Latin America accounted for less than three percent of outbound Chinese travel last year, in part because of the marathon journeys involved. Mexico alone enjoys regular, direct flights between Latin America and China, run by Aeromexico between Tijuana and Shanghai.
A quagmire of visa requirements is also getting in the way. Yao Jue, head of the Americas division of the Shanghai Youth Travel Service Company, said the company runs a popular 16-day tour to...