PARIS - The biggest-ever tour group to visit France, 6,400 mainly Chinese visitors invited by their company boss, received a VIP welcome on Saturday in the southern resort town of Nice.
In the morning, the luxury department store Galeries Lafayette closed its doors to all other shoppers so that the visitors could browse the aisles, and queue at the till, in relative peace.
Later, the group, 5,400 of whom arrived in France from China on Tuesday aboard 84 commercial planes, filled up the Palais Nikaia to watch the Moulin Rouge cabaret show.
They are all employees of the Chinese conglomerate Tiens, which is celebrating its 20th birthday.
Christian Mantel, head of the French tourism development agency Atout France said the authorities were pulling out all the stops to accommodate the wishes of the group, who are paying 13 million euro (S$19.3 million) for the May 5-13 visit."And that's without counting the shopping," added Mantel.
With an average of 1,500 euro in purchases, Chinese tourists are among the world's biggest holiday spenders.
The Tiens directors have relaxed in the most luxurious hotel rooms. Less elevated employees have been treated to three- or four-star accommodation.
In the capital Paris, the group had the famous Louvre museum to themselves for a private visit on May 6 before heading south to Nice."We have mobilised public services as well as tourism professionals, hotels, restaurants, shops and designer brands," said Mantel."So far everything has gone smoothly, the feedback has been extremely positive." The whole adventure began back in December when Atout France got wind that the Tiens boss group Li Jinyuan wanted to celebrate in style the 20th birthday of his company which operates in tourism, trade and cosmetics among other sectors.
Mantel said French authorities worked hard to narrow down his destination short-list, which had originally also included London and Rome.
Along with the Chinese visitors, there were also Russians and Kenyans in the Tiens tour group.
While in Nice, the group entered the Guinness World Records book after forming the longest ever "human phrase," positioning themselves in groups that read "Tiens' dream is Nice in the Cote d'Azur" in letters visible from the air.
Tiens chief executive officer Li Jinyuan even took part in a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Standing in an American jeep, he smiled and saluted towards his massed co-workers in the crowd.
While the group have been getting the VIP treatment, the Tiens top dogs have gone one better with the VVIP treatment lavished on them.
On Wednesday, they met up with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Fabius, who hopes France will welcome 100 million tourists this year, is well aware that "the reservoir for tourists is mainly in the Far East, particularly in China," a member of his team said.