Nadine Hani: The Chinese tourist is a source of income yet unknown to Lebanon

The strong growth of China’s economy has quadrupled its people’s spending on travel over the past 10 years. And Chinese tourists, generally, do not care about staying in luxurious hotels. They travel in organized tours and bargain to lower the price of accommodation. Yet their favorite hobby is shopping. They spend a third of their travel budget on shopping.

The reason is that in China, there’s a certain prestige to returning home from travel with bags full of luxury goods. Besides, luxury products can be found cheaper abroad. For some products, like watches, shoes, handbags and clothes, they can be 70 percent more expensive in China than in France because of high tariffs. Besides, if they buy them in their own country there’s a big chance that they might be fake.

For this reason, Chinese tourists took the top spot from the Russians in terms of highest spenders on duty-free shopping in 2010.

Dubai is the first Arab city to have recognized the importance of Chinese tourists. In 2008 Dubai was licensed to open travel offices and do promotional campaigns in China. As a result, 152,000 Chinese tourists visited Dubai in 2010. This figure is expected to double in 2011, according to a MasterCard report, which also expects Chinese tourists to spend $334 million in Dubai this year, thereby becoming the most lucrative tourists among all other nationalities for the Emirate.

Louis Vuitton store in Dubai Mall admitted that 70 percent of its sales go to Chinese shoppers. The store has even started recruiting Chinese saleswomen to cater for those customers.

If Dubai has succeeded in attracting Chinese tourists, why don’t other countries in the region follow suit? Dubai takes advantage of its location as a transit point between the East and the West and it benefits from the popularity of its air carrier Emirates Airline to increase travelers transiting in Dubai.

Regional countries like Lebanon should begin offering compelling propositions to increase the number of Chinese visitors. Lebanon could be a door for Chinese tourists seeking to visit other countries in the Middle East, such as Jordan, Syria, Turkey and even Egypt. The proposition should offer the “Middle Eastern experience” to the Chinese tourist, introducing him to our culture, food, and historical sites, so that he can have a story to tell when back home.

(This article appeared originally in Arabic in An Nahar newspaper on Thursday, July 7. Nadine Hadi, Senior Business News Presenter at Al Arabiya, can be reached at Feedback@nadinehani.com, and Twitter at: (@Nadine_bn)