French fashion designer Thierry Gillier has outraged Chinese nationals for comments he made in an interview for the magazine Women’s Wear Daily in which he said his new upscale hotel in Paris would not be open to Chinese tourists.

“It will be a slightly private hotel, not open to everybody, with 40 rooms,” Gillier told WWD. “We are going to select guests. It won’t be open to Chinese tourists, for example. There is a lot of demand in Paris -- many people are looking for quiet hotels with a certain privacy.”

Gillier quickly apologized for his remarks, which went viral through China’s social media networks, and said they were taken out of context and meant to convey the exclusivity of the hotel in the sense that it would not cater to mass tourism.

“My remarks were doubtless clumsy... I understand they might have hurt my friends from China, France or elsewhere, and I am deeply sorry for that," Gillier said, the BBC reported.

At Gillier’s urging, his controversial comment was later changed to “busloads of tourists.”

While Gillier has no doubt offended many Chinese nationals, his statement underscored the importance of Chinese tourists to not only the French economy, but the wider European market, where they have become symbolic of mass tourism that has been a boon during the continent’s economic crisis.

France is the most popular destination for Chinese tourists with 900,000 traveling there in 2011, a number expected to increase fourfold by 2020, the Guardian reported.

Throughout Europe, 3.9 million Chinese tourists visited in 2011, a number expected to increase to 8.6 million by 2020. In 2010 alone Chinese tourists in Europe spent a total €35 billion ($45.5 billion), according to the New York Times.

As China’s economy continues its rapid expansion, averaging over 10 percent GDP growth over the past decade, China’s growing middle class is using its disposable income to travel abroad, especially to Europe, and to purchase luxury and designer European goods like Gillier’s own adig & Voltaire fashion line.

Gillier’s exclusive hotel aside, European tourism officials and companies are increasingly courting and catering to Chinese tourists.

“We are incredibly excited about the huge potential for growing the number of Chinese visitors to Europe, so much so that we have made the decision to focus on China as one of our most important markets in our new strategy,” said Petra Hedorfer, head of the European Travel Commission, during a tourism expo last December in Beijing, where a new tourism portal “” was unveiled.

“[T]oday we declare our common initiative to focus on the Chinese market promoting Travel Destination Europe and inviting the people of China to come and discover the wealth of culture and diversity that our beautiful continent has to offer.”