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    Blending Sports With Travel, Chinese Fans Set Sights on Paris 2024

    With domestic travel platforms offering comprehensive packages, Chinese sports enthusiasts are increasingly combining their passion for athletics with travel plans to Europe for the Paris Olympics.
    Jun 07, 2024#tourism#sports

    After years of traveling across China to attend top table tennis tournaments, from the Super League to the mixed doubles World Cup, Wu Chi is preparing for her most ambitious journey yet: the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 

    Using her own savings and support from her parents to fund her maiden Europe trip, the university student from the eastern Jiangxi province has already secured tickets for the mixed doubles semi-finals and finals, and the singles finals.

    While table tennis remains her top priority, Wu is also eager to explore the continent. “If (the Olympics were) not held in Paris, I would consider attending in other cities as well. After all, it’s the pinnacle of competition,” she says, adding that she plans to visit other European countries before the Olympics begin. 

    With domestic travel platforms offering comprehensive packages to the Paris Olympics, an increasing number of Chinese sports enthusiasts are looking to combine athletics with travel. 

    In recent months, many have turned to domestic social media and travel platforms to seek not only traveling companions but also packages and offers. For instance, the 63,000-yuan ($8,700) “Riverside Package” from Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel platform, includes a premium view of the opening ceremony and opportunities to interact with Olympians.

    Wu also underscores the influential role of social media in boosting sports fandom, with more individuals appreciating and following specific sports. 

    While planning her trip to Paris, Wu struggled with coordinating travel companions, handling inflated accommodation costs, and managing logistics. “I searched for numerous posts and guides on Xiaohongshu (the lifestyle app), which helped me navigate these challenges,” she says. 

    According to, by the end of April, flight bookings to Paris had surged by 240%, and hotel reservations had increased by 180% compared to last year. The platform also highlighted that following sporting events has become a significant trend in travel across the country. 

    While there’s no comprehensive data, estimates point to a high turnout of Chinese tourists to France. According to domestic media reports, visa applications were nearly maxed out during the recent Labor Day holiday, and the Olympics, coinciding with summer vacation and the 60th anniversary of China-France diplomatic relations, are expected to further boost travel. 

    To cater to the demand, travel agencies have launched Olympic-themed packages that combine sporting events with cultural tours, attracting even more visitors. In addition, Fliggy has introduced a range of packages that cater to fans of various sports, including popular Olympic events such as diving, gymnastics, and athletics. 

    With China’s sports tourism sector expanding at an annual rate of 30-40%, Cao Yixia, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, attributes this growth to multiple factors. 

    “Sports is a popular social outlet with substantial entertainment value,” she says, adding that improvements in transportation and information accessibility have made it easier for enthusiasts to engage with sports. 

    According to her, domestic sports enthusiasts seek multi-layered and complex experiences, exploring local culture, history, and natural environments while attending games. “Sports tourism extends beyond mere competition; it’s also about cultural exchange, fostering interactions that enrich both visitors and host communities,” Cao explains.

    The trend has also helped drive domestic economic growth. 

    Last year, the Sichuan Provincial Sports Bureau in southwestern China hosted over 7,500 events, drawing 43 million participants and generating 40 billion yuan in spending. 

    In addition, the 2024 Yangzhou Half Marathon in the eastern Jiangsu province attracted 30,000 participants from 19 countries, contributing 81 million yuan to the local economy, and Guizhou’s “Village Super League” brought thousands of visitors, with nighttime spending surging by 362.5% year on year to 309 million yuan.

    To further promote and advance sports tourism, Cao underscores the need to integrate sports events with local tourism resources, encouraging visitors to stay beyond the events. Along with high event quality, she says, essential elements include public service facilities, information resource integration, and innovative marketing strategies. 

    “Enabling visitors to grasp the spirit, culture, and history of a city through sports events is essential for the sustainable development of sports tourism,” says Cao.

    Over the past few years, Wu has attended high-profile table tennis matches like the China Super League in the southwestern city of  Zunyi and the Mixed Team World Cup in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu. “Tickets were hard to come by,” she says. “But after the games, I took the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas (around Zunyi).” 

    “The ideal scenario is exploring a new city where an event is taking place, extending my stay to fully immerse in the local culture.”

    Tian Shaojun, a Ph.D. student in Shanghai, will head to Paris after an academic conference in Poland. “Regular travel feels one-way but sports tourism offers a two-way interaction, letting spectators engage with the event and the city,” he says. 

    Tian’s trip is also driven by his international relations studies, particularly on France’s philosophical, literary, and artistic heritage. Influenced by thinkers like Rousseau and Montesquieu, he’s keen to visit places linked to them. Additionally, as the birthplace of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, Tian anticipates a “truly exceptional” ambiance. 

    For Wu, Paris is just the beginning. Next, she hopes to attend the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, expecting to see her favorite table tennis stars Sun Yingsha and Wang Chuqin still competing at their peak. 

    “I can’t wait to get to Paris and immerse myself in the city,” says Wu. “But the highlight for me is to witness my favorite athletes ascend the podium.”

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: Tourists at the Paris town hall, France, April 25, 2024. Chesnot/Getty Images/VCG)