Chinese taking a dimmer view of City of Lights
Paris is most often the first stop for China's nouveaux riches as many embark on their overseas trip of a lifetime. The city encapsulates all that Europe promises: history, culture, romance and luxury. But each step from the hotel to the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to the Louis Vuitton store is increasingly fraught, thanks to greater attention from thieves and pickpockets. It is a matter French authorities have to deal with urgently if they want their country to remain an important destination for Chinese tourists.
More than one million mainland Chinese go to France each year and the number is increasing as wealth spreads. Tourists have always been easy prey for thieves, but those from the mainland - who prefer to carry large amounts of cash, are fond of luxury items and lack overseas travel experience - are especially so. There has been a 10 per cent increase in reports of robbery and a 50 per cent rise in thefts since last year.
The problem is not worsening simply because of growing numbers of tourists; high unemployment and France's overcrowded prisons also play a part. Crime rates rise when jobless rates are high, and the lack of jail places means more criminals on the streets. Paris, like Rome and Madrid, has a reputation for pickpockets who target visitors regardless of where they come from, but the influx of mainlanders has also lured villains with greater ambitions. In March, thieves took the passports, air tickets and just under US$10,000 from a 23-member tour group, and last week travellers were robbed at the French Open tennis tournament and a hotel.
A joke going around mainland microblogs says that there are two types of Chinese tourist in Paris: those who have been robbed and those who will be. French authorities have promised a crackdown and have issued advice. Tourists have to be aware of the risks, be careful and carry credit cards rather than cash. But comforting words are not enough - the promises have to be resolutely followed up. Failure to make the streets safer has a simple consequence: Chinese will go elsewhere.