Yin Rui is happy he won't have to travel to Beijing from his home in Henan province's Xinyang city to get his Schengen visa to visit Spain this year.
That's because the Spanish embassy in Beijing recently announced it'll open 12 new visa-application centers in such second-tier cities as Jiangsu province's capital, Nanjing; Liaoning province's capital, Shenyang; and Hubei province's capital, Wuhan, which is a 45-minute, 91.5 yuan ($14) high-speed train ride from Yin's city. Otherwise, he and his wife would have to take a four and a half hour train trip to Beijing that costs nearly five times as much. He'd likely need to spend the night in the capital.
Spain is among the Schengen countries, including the Czech Republic and Greece, opening new visa centers around the country this year. Germany, for instance, will open 10. France will open nine. Previously, there were few European consulates or visa centers outside Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong's provincial capital, Guangzhou.
"It will have a positive impact on Chinese tourists, as the centers will offer convenient access for most clients," says Catherine Oden, director of Atout France (the France Tourism Development Agency) in Greater China.
"Their travel time to cities with the centers will be considerably reduced. It may also encourage more tourists to travel to France."
Nearly 400,000 Chinese visited Spain last year, a roughly 40 percent increase over 2014, the Spanish Statistics Institute reports. Their spending increased 62 percent.
"Spain is appealing to Chinese tourists because it has rich cultural heritage and a unique culture," says the Spanish embassy's tourism counselor, Dario Polo Rodriguez. Spain's tourism authority in China has expanded cooperation with Chinese partners and staged promotions in second-tier cities.
Germany has been hosting annual road shows in second-tier cities since 2014, says the director of the German National Tourist Board's Beijing office, Li Zhaohui. The country is opening new centers in such cities as Shandong province's capital, Jinan, and Zhejiang province's capital, Hangzhou. Nearly 1.4 million Chinese visited Germany last year, roughly 35 percent more than in 2014. The most popular destinations were Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart.
China's second-tier cities' outbound-tourism markets are more price-sensitive. And residents often know less about destinations, Li says. Li says young Chinese prefer independent and in-depth travel. They enjoy road trips, cycling and hiking.
The tourism board and German airline Lufthansa recently partnered to launch a Chinese-language app about road trips and shopping to help travelers determine routes and communicate with one another. As for France, Chinese visitors enjoy high-end luxury, chic boutiques and retail shopping, Oden says.
Atout France organizes themed promotions to attract a dynamic mix of Chinese, including those from second-tier cities. Last year's themes included gastronomy, shopping and culture. These will continue this year, with the addition of family travel, Oden says.
Atout France offers online training for French enterprises to better understand Chinese guests' preferences. Department stores like Galeries Lafayette offer separate welcome areas for Chinese.
"Chinese tourists are mainly interested in three things in Europe – culture and history, food and shopping," says the European Travel Commission China Operations Group's director, Frantisek Reismuller. The 32-member ETC is responsible for promoting Europe as a destination.