In 2015, Chinese tourists made 120 million trips abroad—a figure that has more than doubled in the last five years. And because only six percent of China’s population currently has a passport, that dizzying pace of growth is expected to continue.
Europe is their number one Western destination, thanks to its heritage and shopping opportunities. More than a tourist holiday, a trip to the Old Continent is a symbol of social achievement. It’s a trophy to bring home on a memory card—or in the form of the latest Louis Vuitton suitcase. Chinese travel agencies plan every element of the tours for a clientele made up mostly of first-time international travelers who want to visit as many countries as possible in a limited amount of time.
Last April, I joined a group on a 10-day journey to the UK, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Italy. What started as journalistic curiosity rapidly evolved into a photographic statement against the abuses of a system that promotes consumption at the expense of meaningful human experiences. As one traveler told me: “When we will be asked what we remember of Europe, we will answer: nothing.”