PARIS, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- France's tourism sector has welcomed China's recent relaxation of cross-border travel restrictions, fueling expectations of a return to pre-COVID-19 tourist numbers.
In 2019, France hosted nearly 90 million international tourists, which made it the top tourist destination in the world in terms of tourist arrivals. In the same year, more than 50 million tourists visited the Paris region, and Chinese tourists made up the second-largest cluster. They generated over one billion euros (1.08 billion U.S. dollars) in tourism revenues, the Paris Ile-de-France Regional Tourism Committee said.
Air connectivity between France and China has been gradually improving since China's decision to optimize its COVID-19 response. Air France now operates two flights per week to Shanghai and one to Beijing. Three weekly direct flights have been operating to Hong Kong since Jan. 9, and a third to Shanghai will be added in February. Passenger transport capacities are expected to be strengthened by next summer, according to the French Embassy in China.
"Chinese tourists are mainly welcomed by operators specializing in Chinese or Asian customers. Of course, due to the absence of the Chinese, they remained in apnea for three years, which is extremely long, extremely hard," Jean-Pierre Mas said. He is president of Les Entreprises du Voyage, an association that brings together 1,674 companies representing 85 percent of the travel agency market in France.
"They benefited from the support of the state, but the support, there is no longer any today, and they, therefore, count on the return of the Chinese," he explained.
For the past three years, Li Xiaotong, who runs Mandarin Voyages, a France-China tourism operator based in Paris, has refocused her business on online content and city tours for Chinese people living abroad.
For her, the return of Chinese tourists is already noticeable, but for the moment, this recovery mainly concerns those Chinese living in other countries, business delegations or family reunions.
For Caroline Paul, founder of Talents Travel and a consultancy strategy specialist specializing in tourism marketing for the Chinese market, the world of travel is experiencing what is called "revenge travel," which means people having not been able to travel for a while, and therefore needing to travel at all costs to be no longer constrained.
"It's the same for the Chinese," she said, adding that "the return of Chinese tourists is going to be quite significant."
Chinese art lovers are also eagerly awaited in the museums of Paris. Before the pandemic, the Louvre Museum was a favorite site for Chinese tourists in Paris, who represented 8.2 percent of the museum's total visitors in 2019.
Before the pandemic, more than two million Chinese tourists visited France each year. "If this year we have a million Chinese, it will already be a very, very good result," Jean-Pierre Mas said.
For Caroline Paul, however, there will be a "before" and an "after" COVID-19 in the way Chinese people travel. "They're going to start to travel again. Their trips are going to be longer. They're going to stay longer. It's going to be much more individual, much more upscale travel," she said.
According to her, France's tourism professionals will need to adapt to the new ways that the Chinese travel.