During an impressively professional show my colleague Stefan Tauchhammer and I managed to hale the delegation leader into a back room for an interview. Cao Pengcheng (曹鹏裎), Vice Chairman of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development, revealed interesting future plans for the Chinese capital.
We want Beijing to become known even better, and the new visa-free 72-hours possibility for transit passengers is a good occasion. In the near future we will be able to provide tourists with a better service and with an easier approach to Beijing. There are many other famous cities with a 72-hours policy. We can learn from them. Our new policy is meant to serve the upscale travel market. We want these additional tourists to selectively visit the best places.
Due to a rapid growth in recent years the tourism has become an important factor in the city’s economy. There are 230 million overnight stays per year, and we estimate the total revenue in the city’s tourism sector to be around 360 billion Yuan. On the other side we know that we have a very general visitor structure. We would now like to increase the number of wealthy tourists.
This sounds as if you would like to attract more individual tourists.
You understood right. But we also want to increase the numbers of congresses and trade shows. Besides that, we see a high potential in health tourism.
Health tourism in Beijing?
In Beijing we have the best doctors related to the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). We from the tourism department gathered with people from the health administrative office, and together we evaluated the existing institutions and doctors. In the near future the best of them shall be booked systematically by tourists.
How will the communication work with the doctors?
The service will be fully provided by travel agencies, from picking up the guests at the airport to taking care of them during the whole trip, with a translator included. This shall by the way not only count for health trips, but for upscale travels in general.
Even in many five-star hotels the language barrier is an obstacle. Due to the high demand there is a lack of perfectly trained personnel. Are there any initiatives to fight this problem?
People who want to work in the travel industry already now have to know a foreign language. However, we have to confess that there is still a certain potential in terms of professional competence. The city of Beijing is currently working on a college of higher education for tourism. I hope it will be opened at the end of this year. Furthermore there is an already existing institute for foreign languages, which will focus on tourism in the future.
Currently 64 hotels in Beijing are classified as five-star. Is the upper bound reached?
At the moment there are enough hotels in Beijing. Nevertheless around 80 new hotels are currently being built, many of the in the upper price range. We try to convince the hoteliers to build theme hotels in order to create a higher diversity. Themes could be TCM, for example, or a specific architecture. It would be nice if the hotel operators combined their hotels with the Chinese tradition and culture. We consider the construction of too many hotels a great danger. It leads to a high competition in prices that harms everyone. The room rates are already now lower than in other comparable cities. However, we can only give recommendations. Very often the construction of a new upscale hotel has psychological reasons. Some hotel operators want to erect themselves signature monuments.
For the tourism industry it would be better to have no visa restrictions at all. Wouldn’t you agree?
For a Chinese citizen it is more complicated to get a visa from a country of the European Union (EU) than the other way round. Of course everyone should first put his own house in order. But in fact China enables European visitors to receive their visas comparatively uncomplicated and non-bureaucratic. For Chinese who want to travel to Europe, on the other side, the whole visa process is connected with much more efforts.
I guess you would like to see that changed.
Yes. I think that the tourism industry brings advantages for everyone.
How is the visa situation in the USA compared to Europe?
It has lightened up in the recent years. However, it is even more complicated for Chinese citizens to get a visa from the USA than from an EU country. An additional advantage of the EU is the fact that you only need a visa for one EU country, but then you are allowed to visit the other member states, too.
If I only have 72 hours when I come to Beijing the next time: What shouldn’t I miss in any case?
At least once in your life you should have visited one of the restaurants serving imperial cuisine.
This interview was held on April 22, 2013, with the help of a translator in German and Chinese.
Click here for the original German transcript