Portugal welcomes more Chinese tourists, while Spain lose its appeal following terror attacks

Following the launch of Beijing Capital Airlines’ direct flight route from the Chinese capital to Lisbon in July 2017, Portugal has benefitted from a jump in demand from Chinese travellers and has seen it challenge Spain’s growth in arrival numbers.

The service – which also connects to Hangzhou and Macau – has seen more than 14,000 passengers travel to Lisbon via the new route, with almost three quarters (73%) staying in the city.

Overall, Portugal saw year-on-year arrivals increases of over 40% in the third and fourth quarters of 2017 (41.8% and 42.1% respectively), while, in comparison, Spain’s arrival growth for the second half of the year was stunted in the wake of the summer terror attacks in Barcelona; the month of August 2017 saw a -8.2% decrease in Chinese arrivals to Spain in the period immediately following the event, while growth in the fourth quarter of the year slumped to only 5%.

Consequently, Portugal’s annual total of Chinese visitors climbed to almost 257,000, representing an impressive increase of close to 370% since 2012’s figure of less than 55,000. The 2017 year-on-year increase in Chinese visitor numbers (40.3%) was slightly higher than the growth in overnight visits during the same period (36%). Spending among Chinese visitors, however, rose by 80%.

When comparing Chinese tourist data for Portugal in Q4 2017 – the first full quarter in which the direct flights were in operation – with the equivalent period in 2016, two notable developments emerge.

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First of all, in Q4 2016, 64% of Chinese visitors to Portugal (a share equivalent to over 29,500 arrivals out of 46,200) came for leisure purposes, while twelve months later 52,500 out of 65,600 Chinese visitors came to the country as leisure travellers – representing 80% of the total sum. Secondly, the increased connectivity has had a conspicuous impact on accessibility for visitors from smaller Chinese cities; in Q4 2016, Portugal saw 4,600 border crossings made by Chinese nationals residents of cities classified as third tier or below (10% of a total of 46,000), while Q4 2017 saw 13,100 travellers from third tier city or below visited the country (rising to 20% of 65,600 arrivals).

The first quarter of 2018 saw a continuation of the country’s strong arrivals growth, with 59,000 visits to the country being made by Chinese nationals, a year-on-year increase of 19.9%. Looking beyond the growth in raw numbers of Chinese, however, has been a marked increase in dispersal of Chinese visitors around the country, with the Centro (+65.0%), Alentejo (+76.7%), Algarve (+140.9%) and Azores (+40.4%) regions around the country all seeing significant growth in Chinese visitor numbers*.

The statistics in this article are drawn from COTRI Analytics data, except where noted otherwise. COTRI Analytics provides professionals around the world with quarter-by-quarter breakdowns of total numbers of arrivals, age groups, gender distribution, education level groups, residence in China according to city tier, purpose of visit, organisation of travel and accommodation distribution according to star ratings, all in terms of percentage and in terms of absolute numbers.

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