Authorities in Beijing have granted licences to three foreign companies to organize tours for outbound Chinese tourists. TUI becomes the first European tour operator, along with CITS American Express Travel Services for the US and JTB New Century International Tours for Japan.
The move is seen as key to opening up the country’s lucrative outbound market.
The license, which was awarded by the China National Tourism Authority, will allow TUI to tap into the fast-growing market for Chinese tourists into Europe.
Previously, foreign tour operators were allowed to operate inbound and domestic travel, but were barred from outbound business.
But the outbound business is expected to be the most lucrative part of the Chinese tourism market, because it is experiencing the fastest growth and generating the most profits in China compared to domestic and inbound travels.
The UNWTO estimates the Chinese to have quadrupled spending on international tourism since 2000, making them the third-largest spenders on international tourism in the world.
“Recognizing the market’s growth potential, we have invested in China and positioned the TUI brand early on. Our strategy has clearly been validated by the granting of the outbound license,” TUI AG Chief Executive Michael Frenzel said in a statement on Tuesday.
The next step for TUI would be to decide on what products to offer Chinese tourists.
European tour operators are looking to fast-growing BRIC countries for expansion and have recently focused on bringing Russian tourists to Europe’s beach resorts.
The three companies are among 14 joint ventures that filed applications for licenses after the administration announced the opening of the outbound market to foreign tour operators last September.
“We expect (the opening) will add more options for tourists and improve the tourism industry’s management,” the administration said in a news release.
According to the China Tourism Academy, mainland tourists made more than 57 million trips to foreign countries as well as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and spent $48 billion last year.
It is estimated mainland tourists will make 65 million outbound trips and spend $55 billion overseas this year.