Italy welcomes new Chinese tourists

China Plus Published: 2017-12-31 13:19:51
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By Alessia Iselle

Lin Yutang, Chinese writer, translator, linguist and inventor said: "No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."

Chinese tourists might have become a major force — Chinese tourist arrivals to Europe rose 65 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2017, based on transaction data from Ctrip and Huayuan International Travel, two major travel agencies in China.

A tourist takes a selfie in St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.[Photo: AP/Luca Bruno]

A tourist takes a selfie in St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.[Photo: AP/Luca Bruno]

A report on the trends of Chinese tourists in Europe in the first half of 2017, jointly issued by the China Tourism Academy, Ctrip and Huayuan International Travel, said that Europe is the third most popular destination for Chinese tourists, after Southeast Asia and East Asia.

The top 10 destination countries for Chinese travelers were Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and the Czech Republic, according to the report.

Italy is an unmissable travel destination for all that this country can offer, much loved by both Chinese and travelers from the rest of the world. Italy is the country with the largest number of UNESCO sites (50). The majority of Chinese tourists arrive to Italy willing to admire the artistic landscapes and the cultural heritage art cities have to offer.  

But what is the portrait of the typical Chinese tourist that goes to Italy and how have they changed through the years? We asked Giancarlo Dall'Ara, president of Chinese Friendly Italy. Their website is a major source of important information and their work aims to help hotels and tour operators in Italy to be more attractive to Chinese travelers. 

"Chinese tourists arriving to Italy are now younger and more social than before. They come from big cities and have many interests and passions. They choose our country after they have done researches and they know what they are looking for. They travel with friends and families, and not as part of big groups anymore. They have been abroad already. They are different from what we were used to see in the past." 

Of course this is just a partial photography as Italy will still be getting tour groups in the future but this is yet another example on how fast things can change in China. Chinese tourists have a new profile: well-traveled, young and social, looking for an environmentally friendly and culturally rich holiday.  

The 2 millions Chinese travelers arriving to Italy in 2018 are not just going for shopping and guided tours. They are looking for "experiences". They want to live like the locals: tasting the wines and the local products typically found in smaller cities and secluded villages. 

Amalfi, Verona, Ferrara, the Liguria Region, Sicily are some of the new destinations Chinese tour operators are becoming aware of. Mr. Dall'Ara told me: "We find a new geography of Chinese Tourism in Italy: alongside the usual destinations like Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan many tour operators are offering tours of smaller cities and new regions like Tuscany or Sardinia. It is especially online that these travelers look for information and package tours, both individual and group ones".

Chinese tourism has been booming over the past few years and numbers are increasing at a fast pace year after year: from 83 million outbound trips in 2012 to over 140 million holiday trips abroad in 2017- an amazing business opportunity and a way to get to know each other.

What can a country like Italy do to attract more of these visitors?

Italy has always been loved by Chinese people: long history, art cities, good food and last, but not least, luxury shopping, have been attracting people from all over China. Over the past few years the appeal of the country has been confirmed.

But what can be done to attract more first comers and old ones to come back? Mister Dall'Ara has plenty of ideas: "It is now a matter of moving from a stable position, which cannot be taken for granted forever, to a network strategy that has a vision and a direction, and to more incisive and structured activities to replace the logic of episodic and extemporaneous promotion". Italy should be more "Chinese", planning long term marketing strategies in order to attract more people and make sure they will fulfill their dreams when traveling to the "Bel Paese". 

2018 will be EU-China Tourism Year and its specific goals will be: promote lesser known destinations, improve travel and tourism experiences, provide opportunities to increase economic cooperation and create an incentive to make quick progress on EU-CHINA visa facilitation and air connectivity. Hopefully it is an opportunity for Italy to succeed in becoming China's favorite travel destination, leading the way for other European countries in becoming China-friendly. 

(Alessia Iselle is a Sinologist and Chinese-English-Italian Interpreter based in Italy)

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