I recently visited the tiny landlocked European country of Liechtenstein, which is only about twice the size of Hong Kong Island with a population of a little over 30,000, but which has risen to the top three in GDP per capita in recent years.
Liechtenstein is famous for its beautiful postage stamps, but what caught my attention during my visit was its rapid sinification.
Despite its tiny size, Liechtenstein has become a highly popular destination for mainland holidaymakers.
Just walk on the main street of the country’s capital Vaduz, and you can easily see two giant flags flying high at the center of the small downtown square: one being the national flag of Liechtenstein and the other the flag of the People’s Republic of China.
The flags themselves have become a must-see attraction for Chinese tourists.
In fact, the local population is vastly outnumbered by Chinese visitors. Everywhere you go, in shops and tourist spots, you will see signs and notices in Chinese. Even Alipay is now available in many local stores.
So why are mainland tourists so keen on visiting Liechtenstein?
First, it has a lot to do with the sales tactics of mainland travel agents.
In recent years, the “10-country European tour package” has become all the rage among mainlanders.
And one easy way for travel agencies to come up with that number is to add small countries like Liechtenstein to the itinerary, which would only take an hour or so to travel around.
Second, as one of the very few remaining principalities on the European continent, Liechtenstein is quite a novelty to mainland tourists, not least because it has preserved many of the traditions of a typical medieval European royal court.
Moreover, compared to other remaining monarchs in Europe, the royal family of Liechtenstein has a lot more of the common touch, and many of the royal facilities are open to tourists.
The local government has even launched a “royal tour package” in order to attract foreign visitors, particularly those from China.
However, if anything, the sinification of Liechtenstein is only cosmetic and with only one intention: to draw more cash-flush Chinese visitors.
Liechtensteiners are typically unconcerned about by the influx of Chinese tourists because their Asian guests just come and go very quickly, which means their everyday life is hardly affected by the booming tourism.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 3
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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