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The number of Chinese visitors to France jumped by more than 23 per cent last year, new figures show, in the latest sign the country is trouncing Britain in attracting the highly-prized Asian customers.
The figures released this week by the French government’s tourism arm, DGCIS, came amid claims that visa rules for Chinese people coming to Britain are “colonial” and costing the country up to £5 million per day.
France retained its pole tourism ranking in 2012 with 83 million foreign visitors bringing in a total 35.8 billion euros (£31 billion) in revenue. Britain was ranked seventh in the tourism league table, with just under 30 million foreign visitors.
Europeans made up the vast majority – some 83 per cent – of visitors to France, with Germany dethroning Britain as the top visiting country for the first time since 2006.
But the biggest percentage rise was in Chinese visitors, which rocketed by 23.3 per cent to reach 1.4 million.
The statistics were released just as Simon Thomas, chief executive of the Hippodrome Casino in London’s West End, branded the UK visa system “bureaucratic madness” .
“Chinese tourists can fill out a relatively simple form to get a Schengen visa for 26 European countries, yet have an incredibly complicated process to get a UK visa, so many of them don’t bother,” Mr Thomas said.
The UK China Visa Alliance, a lobbying group made up of retailers hoping to force change, has claimed the rules are costing Britain around £1.2 billion each year.
The French figures came a month after the Shanghai-based Hurun Report placed France first China’s 2.8 million dollar millionaires, with Britain in fifth place.
“Let’s be perfectly clear, this is a competition with London, this is a battle between cities. Our goal is that Chinese visitors come to Paris, stay for longer and spend more money,” François Navarro, spokesperson for the Ile-de-France regional tourist authority, recently said.
“Of course, we prefer that Chinese tourists come to spend their money in Galeries Lafayette and not in Harrods,” he told the Observer.
Last October, French authorities created a joint visa office in Beijing with the Germans to further fast track Chinese visitors’ travel document requests. It claims the number of visas has risen by 20 per cent since then.
The high figures for France come despite a spate of recent thefts and muggings involving Chinese nationals, the latest being an apparently racist attack on wine students near Bordeaux.
Now the police are cracking down – 200 officers have been specially recruited to protect tourists this summer while a new guide – in several languages – warns visitors about pickpockets in the metro and gangs of youths who pretend to be deaf and dumb and raising money for apparently reputable organisations.
The manual, called ‘Do You Speak Tourist?’, claims that Chinese visitors spend 40 per cent of their holiday budget shopping, mostly for luxury goods.
That compares to seven per cent for Britons.
It says the Chinese want “luxury shopping above all” and “have an idealised and romantic vision of Paris.”
“A simple smile and a bonjour in their own language will keep them more than satisfied,” it suggests.