Scandinavia has garnered increasing interest among Chinese tourist in recent years, particularly as those tourists become more adventurous and add the Northern Lights to their bucket lists. Sweden, however, has not attracted the same level of positive reviews from China’s netizens as its neighbors have.
Sweden has worked hard to attract more Chinese travelers this year, but it hasn’t been an easy road. With the release of Visit Stockholm’s WeChat mini-program, “Explore Stockholm” (探索斯德哥尔摩), on April 1st, the nation looks to build on its previous tourism initiatives.
The great distance to travel to Sweden certainly has an effect on the number of Chinese arrivals, as does the number of direct flights to the capital Stockholm. It doesn’t help that the two countries engaged in a diplomatic row that began with China’s detention of a Chinese-Swedish citizen and book publisher, Gui Minhai, who has been held since at least 2016. Sweden then drew the official wrath of the Chinese government when the Dalai Lama visited Malmö on September 12th. Chinese outrage over the visit drew attention to a video posted a week prior. In early September, a Chinese family posted a video online of their purported mistreatment by a Stockholm hotel staff and the local police, though the video was criticized as being a fabricated outrage. That episode was then followed by Swedish television channel SVT airing a segment on a comedy show, “Svenska Nyheter” (Swedish News) that supposedly to poke fun at the situation and was deemed racist for portraying negative Chinese stereotypes in the form of advice for Chinese travelers to Sweden.
Since the string of incidents last year, Sweden has sought to reverse course and bring back what had been an increase in Chinese arrivals to the country. Europe saw a significant increase in Chinese tourists last year, and that trend is expected to continue in 2019; Sweden hopes to be included in that trend this year. Prior to the diplomatic row, the country was one of the top 10 fastest growing destinations for Chinese tourists in the first half of 2018, according to China Tourism Academy, the research arm of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. About 150,000 Chinese tourists visited Stockholm last year.
Stockholm’s new tourism WeChat mini-program is not the nation’s first initiative to attract more Chinese travelers since its diplomatic kerfuffle. At the end of last year, Wirecard partnered with Cimple Marketing, a payment service provider for Chinese customers in Scandinavia, to offer Chinese travelers to Sweden with the option to use Alipay at Venue Retail Group stores across Sweden. Additionally, the national destination marketing organization, Visit Sweden, became the first national tourism board to launch a WeChat mini-program for China Travel Academy (CTA) to train Chinese travel agents, as it hoped to encourage more travel agents to promote the country as a vacation destination.
With the addition of the Visit Stockholm mini-program, the country hopes to attract more independent tourists who wish to see the sights at their own pace. The city, however, still lags behind Scandinavian neighbor Helsinki, a city that has promoted itself as a cashless destination for Alipay users.
The mini-program offers visitors a variety of information, including shopping destinations and hotels. All promoted sights around the city include a brief description and a link to a map within the program. Its top section provides city guides that visitors can choose based on the amount of time they have in Stockholm — there’s a 24-hour and 48-hour sightseeing guides. The guide options even include an art tour through various metro stations. The sightseeing link provides useful visitor information on popular places throughout the city, including city hall, the royal palace, the old town, and of course, ABBA: The Museum.
The WeChat mini-program will be helpful for Chinese tourists passing through the Scandinavian capital, particularly as many travelers through the region visit multiple cities in a matter of days. It’s also a helpful addition to Visit Stockholm’s portfolio, as its official website is not translated into Mandarin.