The renewed romance of France


Chinese travel to the European country is recovering, following a slump attributed to terrorist attacks in recent years. Xu Lin reports.

Zhang Jiahe explained that the Chinese character fu means good fortune to several curious French onlookers as she calligraphically rendered the word on a red paper square.

The 13-year-old also tied traditional Chinese knots, which are also auspicious symbols in her home culture, at a stall in a flea market near the Saint Julian Cathedral in Le Mans city.

A French vendor let the Chinese teenager use the table for the impromptu activity when she visited the country with her parents. The hawker also used the calligraphy brush to write “Le Mans welcomes you” in French.

“The flea market was my favorite stop during the trip,” Zhang says.

“I saw a lot of goods, and met interesting people. Many passers-by were interested in Chinese culture and chatted with us.”

The family has visited France several times.

Zhang’s mother, Zhang Yonghong, posts updates about their travels on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. She has over 650,000 followers on the platform.

“Group tours offer only cursory glances,” says the mother, who works for a Beijing-based company that focuses on outdoor activities for teenagers.

“You see several cities but in a limited time. I prefer to visit one or two places per trip. You can enjoy in-depth experiences and live like a local. I like to meet locals and learn about their lives.”

She and her husband consider their daughter’s preferences when they travel. The girl enjoys skiing in winter and water sports in the summer.

“Life is fast-paced in big cities like Beijing,” Zhang Yonghong says.

“The three of us enjoy outdoor activities during holidays, where we can escape from the pressure and get exercise.”

Zhang’s family is among 2.2 million Chinese who visited France last year. That’s compared with 1.8 million in 2016 and 2 million in 2015-a year-on-year drop attributed largely to the terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016.

Chinese are drawn to the country’s romantic reputation, artistic legacy, celebrated gastronomy-including wonderful wine-and luxury shopping.

French authorities have been beefing up security. They’ve increased police patrols and installed more surveillance cameras. They’ve also recruited volunteers, especially during the holidays.

France has also been working to court Chinese visitors.

It opened nine new visa-application centers in such Chinese cities as Nanjing and Chongqing in 2016, bringing the total up to 15.

The application procedure has been simplified, and group-tour participants can get visas within 48 hours.

A growing number of French tourism bureaus are opening accounts on the popular Chinese social-media platform, WeChat. This enables Chinese to buy tickets for attractions before they start their trips.

In some shopping malls, such as Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in Paris, Chinese customers can make purchases using UnionPay, WeChat Pay or Alipay.

Chinese visitors diversified last year, says Catherine Oden, director of Atout France (the France Tourism Development Agency) in Greater China.

There were more independent and family travelers.

Atout France and its partners have been promoting tours with such themes as honeymoons, cultural heritage, outdoor activities and shopping to attract these demographics.

It has also introduced new themes, such as kids’ activities, art and road trips.

French author Frederic Lepage, who’s knowledgeable about China, recently published the book, Bonjour China. It’s a guide customized for Chinese with travel tips covering such areas as scenic spots, museums, Michelin-starred restaurants and shopping.

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin writes in the book’s translated preface: “The original content will arouse Chinese tourists’ interest in visiting France … It’s rare that readers can feel the author’s love for both France and China between the lines, and it will make French learn again about their country in an open-minded way.”

Early in the book, Lepage compares the two countries’ histories on a timeline, marking major historical events in the same periods. For instance, it shows how the Avignon Papacy that started in 1309 overlapped with China’s Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

He goes on to introduce French dining etiquette, customs and festivals.

Lepage advises those who hope to tap Paris’ romantic appeal to attend a ballet performance at the Palais Garnier opera house, sip coffee at Cafe de Flore-a haunt of existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and writer Simone de Beauvoir-and enjoy panoramic views of the city from a hot-air balloon launched in Andre Citroen Park.

“I like to relate the two countries’ cultures and histories in the book, with stories you may not hear from a tour guide,” Lepage says, through a translator.

For instance, he writes about how Napoleon Bonaparte befriended Chinese laborers when the British exiled him on the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic between 1815 and 1821.

“France is a place where you can enjoy happy memories,” Lepage says.

“You need to integrate into the history of France and cultivate your inner emotions. Besides Paris, you can explore other beautiful destinations, such as Ruen, Lyon and Marseille.”

As the French tourism recovery continues, it seems a growing number of Chinese are poised to do exactly that.

(source from Chinadaily)

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