Europe eyes Vancouver as conduit to Chinese tourists

Consulate officials in the city court potential visitors among wealthy Chinese-Canadians

LuxyEasy Travel Ltd. founder Jessica Chen: “there are now significant increases to the interest level of Chinese travellers going to Europe” | Submitted

Vancouver's Chinese population, with its high proportion of affluent consumers and travellers, has caught the attention of European markets.

And an increasing number of groups are trying to boost business and tourism ties between the two sides using B.C. as the conduit.

In the most recent example, Metro Vancouver-based upscale vacation rental firm LuxyEasy Travel Ltd. held an elaborate event in downtown Vancouver in late July, drawing members of the local affluent Chinese-Canadian community and representatives from Italy hoping to deepen links.

The event, which was the announcement of an ultra-high-end tour package where a famous Taiwanese-Italian culinary writer would lead a small group of travellers on a customized Italian itinerary focused on food and fashion, was a direct reflection of Europe’s draw for local Chinese, said LuxyEasy founder Jessica Chen.

“Due to the euro going down [relative to the Chinese yuan and U.S. dollar] since 2015 and having visa permits widely open to Chinese passport holders, there are now significant increases to the interest level of Chinese travellers going to Europe,” Chen said. “And the type of travel they do is changing; they expect a deep engagement with their destinations, they will stay longer, and they have more ideas on what they want to see, as opposed to blindly following a tour guide.”

Several European diplomatic missions in Vancouver report that Chinese citizens comprise the biggest demographic group applying for travel visas locally (Canadians and other western countries’ citizens usually do not need to apply for a visa before visiting most of Europe).

Officials at the French consulate in B.C. in turn made a concerted effort to reach out to Chinese community groups earlier this year, both during the Lunar New Year and Chinatown parade festivities and through the Alliance Française de Vancouver language school. About 80% of the school’s non-adult students are of Chinese origin, officials said.

Italy is also drawing strong interest from Vancouver’s Chinese population, one consulate official said, adding that trade officials are seeing this as a potential opportunity to introduce these more affluent travellers to additional cultural – and, possibly, business – interactions with Europe.

“We think that Vancouver could be a gateway between our country and not only Canadians, but also people from so many other countries,” said Gianluca Biscardi, cultural officer with Vancouver’s Italian consulate. “We are glad to see how Italy is appreciated by people living in Vancouver ... and the Chinese community is one of the largest communities here.”

Biscardi added that LuxyEasy’s focus on a deeper understanding of Italian cuisine and fashion fits the consulate’s efforts to promote Italy’s cultural assets beyond the everyday pizza-and-pasta-dominated popular food items, while also noting they are hoping some tourists wanting a better travel experience will take up language classes at the Italian Cultural Centre.

Chen said her company is already planning to choose its next target market for local Chinese tourists looking to go to Europe through LuxyEasy’s hyper-
upscale offerings, with Spain, the Czech Republic and the U.K. as the most likely options.

“We focus on these countries that have high demand [among wealthy Chinese travellers] currently,” she said.

But Giovanni Trigona, chef maître d’ at Vancouver’s Italian Kitchen restaurant and a member of the Association of Professional Italian Chefs, said Italy may have a leg up on other European markets competing for Chinese attention, since the two cultures share a heavy social emphasis on culinary traditions.

“I asked myself what we have in common.… What do we have in common besides Marco Polo and the Silk Road?  And I was lucky to have dinner recently with a Chinese restaurateur, and we had exquisite Cantonese cuisine,” Trigona said, noting he has been meeting increasingly with Vancouver’s Chinese community and may go to China for a culinary competition by year’s end.

“The care for the food is on another level, just like it is with Italians. We have the same passion for food.… What I want to do is to help people see that [shared passion].”