Chinese tourists want more than boring fairytales

Too much focus on Denmark as a fantasy land keeps Chinese tourists in a constant loop that limits experience and leaves them feeling unfulfilled

A recent study by the research company Gemeinschaft on Chinese tourists to Copenhagen has shown that the tourism industry ignores different preferences between individual Chinese visitors and groups them all into one homogeneous group, in which everything revolves around fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen and a mere three kilometre route between Tivoli and the Little Mermaid.

The study, which was commissioned by the tourist organisation Visit Denmark, found that the more independent tourists leave the country feeling unfulfilled and with a sense that their experience was lacking authenticity.

Chinese tourists are the fastest growing tourist demographic in the world, and numbers from Wonderful Copenhagen estimate that by 2020 the group will outnumber German tourists in terms of overnight stays.

The study was done through fieldwork and interviews with Chinese tourists. The results found that particularly in the area of cultural experience, Chinese tourists were not getting what they hoped for.  

“Copenhagen seems boring. We don’t know what to do or what to see. We have been to Tivoli and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum twice. It’s not fun for the kids anymore.”

This was how one Chinese family father described his week-long stay in the city, where the apparent lack of information about other things to do in Copenhagen shined through. The man's attitude sums up the experience the more independent Chinese tourists take away from their trip.

Timothy Long, the leading researcher for the project, explained that the overt focus on the fairytale aspect is a real catch-22.

“A lot of what attracts Chinese tourists to Denmark are fairytales and Hans Christian Andersen and the industry plays on that,” Long explained. “But what we found out is that while this is a good way to hook the tourists, it is less useful in keeping them in the country.”

According to Long there is a real need to find alternative experiences for Chinese tourists and to start giving them more space to explore the city on their own.

“There was often a disconnect between what they were shown and what they wanted to see,” he explained. “It is often the moments in between being herded around town that they enjoyed the most. Like enjoying the laid back feel of the city by sitting at cafés or enjoying a beer.”

Stuck in the fairytale loop
For most of their visit, Chinese tourists on chartered trips get loops from Tivoli on Vesterbrogade to the Little Mermaid, via Amelienborg Palace. And according to Long there is a tendency to look down on the Chinese tourists that visit the city. Many of the tour guides the researchers interviewed in fact advised against speaking to the tourists because Chinese tourists “don’t know anything”.

“People in the industry have treated them as they are kind of childish,” he said. “That you can just show them a few things and they’ll be happy. But we know there is more to Denmark and that there is more to this fairytale than just Hans Christian Andersen.”

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