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Weak euro strengthens attraction for tourists

By Tan Zongyang and Xu Jingxi (China Daily)

08:43, May 29, 2012

Wang Yalan is traveling to Europe again this year as the falling euro is prompting a rise in Chinese tourists.

"The expenses for local transportation and accommodation in European countries are high, especially when I prefer to travel by myself rather than join tour groups," said Wang, who has a budget of about 10,000 yuan ($1,580), one month's salary, to visit the Eiffel Tower in France and Antonio Gaudi's works of architecture in Spain.

Last year, the 26-year-old manager in a Beijing digital publishing organization went to Germany.

"I'm not a big fan of luxury brands. But since it's a good deal to shop with euros now, I will consider buying some luxuries in Europe," said Wang, who is anticipating a shopping spree for clothes and handbags around vintage boutiques in the two countries.

Xi Lei, a 33-year-old Beijing resident who visited Italy and Greece for 15 days with about 20,000 yuan in June last year, said he would have saved as much as 3,000 yuan in travel costs if he had arranged the same trip this year.

"If the exchange rate was this low, I would be sure to buy more goods," said Xi, who spent another 10,000 yuan in Italy for Armani handbags and Gucci wallets for friends and himself.

For Chinese travel agencies, the depreciation of the euro has come as a boost to travel in the region, which was traditionally thought an expensive route by many Chinese tourists.

Ctrip, a leading online travel agency, said in a recent news release that the euro, which is at its lowest against the yuan in a decade, will encourage more Chinese tourists to make travel plans this summer.

"Both our group tour packages and individual tourism products for a summer vacation in Europe are on the hot-selling list," the statement said. "We also expect that tourists will shop for more luxury goods as the price, already lower than purchasing at home, became cheaper due to the weak currency."

Although the prices of air tickets and hotels are lower than before, industry insiders said tourist agencies are not likely to cut the price for group tour packages as a result of the weaker euro.

"The exchange rate may reverse in a few months, so travel agencies don’t dare adjust prices immediately. But if the rate is pegged for a longer time or the euro continues to depreciate, it will be a possible result," said Bai Jiang, manager of the European-bound travel business for China Travel Service.

Zhang Wei, general manager of the outbound department at the China International Travel Service head office, said Chinese tourists could save money even if the price for a group tour package remains unchanged.

"Generally speaking, tourists will spend extra money on some items at their own expense or give tips during the trip, which might amount to about 3,000 yuan," she said.

"The lower exchange rate means they can also save about 500 yuan more than in the past."

With domestic sales in the doldrums, Europe's retail and hospitality industries are giving more favorable discounts and better services to attract Chinese tourists, said Ma Yiliang, a researcher at China Tourism Academy.

"The price of tour packages for Europe-bound travel fell about 7 percent in the first four months this year compared with the same period last year, while the number of tourists has increased by 16 percent," he said.

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