Visa delays and a lack of direct connections hinder the arrival of Asian tourists

Companies and agencies from the tourism industry have joint together to highlight the potential of the Asian tourist market and stress the obstacles for its growth. Currently, Barcelona has only two direct flights with Asia per week, a figure that is expected to largely increase. As an example of this potential, China exported almost 57 million of tourists abroad per year, but only 90,000 visit Barcelona.

CNA / Paula Mateu

February 8, 2011 03:49 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The administrative obstacles concerning visas and the lack of direct air links are still two major problems that hamper the arrival of Asian tourists in Europe but concretely in Spain. Both the Catalan Government and companies have agreed to confront these challenges and look at ways for improving this market. At the opening of the Second International Conference on Asian Tourism, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Francesc Xavier Mena stressed the ‘great potential’ that this market had and spoke of how this market represented a world of opportunities but he also said there were two main obstacles that needed to be solved.

China exports almost 57 million tourists a year. This number is constantly increasing with an annual growth of 20%. But according to Turespaña, only 100,000 of these Chinese tourists travelled to Spain in 2010. 90% of them came to Barcelona.  The 2nd International Conference on Asian Tourism in Barcelona that is taking place this Monday and Tuesday is questioning why Catalonia and Spain are not doing more to profit from this huge potential tourism market.

At the opening ceremony, the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment Francesc Xavier Mena, the Spanish Deputy Minister for Tourism and Trade Affairs, Joan Mesquida, and the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Jordi William Carnes all highlighted the slow issuance of visas and the lack of direct flights as factors that impede the arrival of tourists from Asia. The European tour operators estimate that the continent loses 500 million euros each year because the visas are such an administrative burden that they discourage travellers from Asia. Mesquida demanded more flexibility and pointed out how Spain had increased staffing in the consulates in Asian countries and had signed a contract for outsourcing the visa issuing service in some consulates.

As for flights, Barcelona has only two weekly direct connections and Madrid has three more. The figure is far away from other European states that have up to 50 direct connections with Asia. The Catalan Minister for Business and Employment Francesc Xavier Mena said that the Catalan Government was working to ensure that Barcelona would be regularly connected with “major centres of tourism, trade and investment”, and to do so, they are in talks both with local airline companies and large international airlines.

According to Liu Wuxiong, the Vice President of Chinese International Travel Service, the Spanish and Catalan advertising budget must also be increased as Spain is much less known in China compared to its neighbours like France and Italy. When asked about Catalonia, he said that it was not as well known as the city Barcelona. And Barcelona is less well known that the city’s the football team, the FC Barcelona, the Barça.

For his part, the head of operations in Spain and Andorra of the tour operator TUI Travel, Ian Livesey, stressed the need to expedite the issuance of visas, especially considering that 80% of Asian tourists booked their trip with less than six months in advance. Livesey said that in the beginning, the most important thing was to develop business tourism because, in his opinion, cities were more suited to this type of market. “Once this is consolidated”, he concluded, “we can work on holiday tourism”.