Fast visas and dim sum: Spain seeks to attract Chinese tourists

Fast visas and dim sum: Spain seeks to attract Chinese tourists

MADRID - Spanish five-star hotels are serving up white rice for breakfast as Spain offers quicker visas and seeks more direct flights from China to tap into the surging wave of Chinese tourists.

When Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy visited China in September, he announced that visa applications from the country's travellers would be processed within 48 hours.

The government is also in talks with Asian airlines to boost traffic through Madrid's underused airport by offering reduced fees and promoting Spain as a hub for travel to Latin America.

So far only one airline, Air China, offers direct flights between Spain and China seven times a week. In contrast, Italy has 28 direct weekly flights to China, France has 70 and Germany 87.

While Chinese travellers usually visit several countries during a trip to Europe, they are unlikely to include Spain if they land in another country because of its geographic location, said University of London lecturer Keven Lathan, author of a book on Chinese tourism in Europe.

"Spain's location is less central. You have to add two to three days to make it feasible. There is not much you can do about it," he said at a recent tourism fair in Madrid.

China has been the world's fastest-growing source of tourists over the past decade due to rising incomes and the easing of restrictions on foreign travel, according to the Madrid-based UN World Tourism Organisation.

Over 100 million Chinese are expected to make trips abroad this year.

Spain is the world's third-most visited country after France and the United States and has long been a favourite sunshine destination for Europeans who flock to its beaches.

But the country received just 288,000 visitors from China last year, according to tourist board Turespana.

By comparison the United States welcomed 1.8 million Chinese visitors in 2013, the last year figures are available, while France received over 1.2 million Chinese tourists that year.

"We are clearly missing the train of Chinese tourism," said Hilario Alfaro, the president of the Madrid Business Forum, a lobby group.

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