Europe Vies for a Bigger Slice of Growing Chinese Outbound Tourism Pie

Exclusive interview with Eduardo Santander – Executive Director of the European Travel Commission on plans to improve east-west relations

With a growing Chinese outbound tourist market, Europe is working towards building stronger tourism relations with this nation. We asked Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of the European Travel Commission, to tell us what exactly is being done to foster relations…

China is the main driving force for growth in international tourism. Outbound travel from China has grown at a double-digit pace in the last decade, reaching record numbers in 2016. However, if we place these figures into a European context, Europe currently reaches only 2% of these travellers. That’s why more effort is needed to welcome Chinese travellers in Europe, as well as to reinforce the positive perceptions that Chinese have of our destination.

Why is it important to partner with an event like ITB China now, and what do you hope will be the results of this partnership?

The Chinese outbound travel market offers destinations worldwide one of the most promising growth oppor tuni t ies in recent times. But competition is fierce. The European travel industry is aware of the need to remain competitive in China and being the official partner destination for ITB China will help us to better understand the needs of Chinese visitors and to deepen our cooperation with the Chinese authorities and the local travel and tourism industry, especially in the view of upcoming initiatives such as the World Bridge Tourism.

What is the World Bridge Tourism event all about and who will participate?

The World Bridge Tourism is a project funded by the European Union to increase the flows of visitors from China to Europe. It is jointly organized by the European Tr a v e l C o m m i s s i o n and the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) in cooperation with Welcome Chinese, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) and Kairos Future. It comprises two major B2B matchmaking events, one in China and one in Europe. The first one takes places in conjunction with ITB China in Shanghai next May. We are matching 150 European tourism suppliers from all over Europe with the corresponding number of Chinese travel product buyers. Besides its pure B2B character the event is supported by an extensive program of research and webinars aimed at increasing the understanding of the needs of Chinese visitors within the European travel community. The second event will follow a similar patter and it will take place in autumn. The World Bridge Tourism project is the curtain raiser for a major initiative that will take place next year: the 2018 EU–China Tourism Year. During that year, an unprecedented level of attention will be paid to the growing importance of China as an origin market, and the changing preferences and behaviour patterns of Chinese visitors.

What more needs to be done on a European level to better host Chinese visitors and how is the ETC helping in this respect?

The European Union and the European Travel Commission are preparing an ambitious programme of activities in the frame of the forthcoming EU-China Tourism Year, including more B2B matchmaking events and communication marketing campaigns. We are also planning a series of conferences and seminar addressed towards European travel providers about the characteristics of different demand segments of Chinese travellers, the specific structure of the Chinese tourism industry and best practices for the successful interaction with Chinese business partners. At the same time, the EU expects to progress China- EU visa facilitation during that year. In terms of market access, the EU is working with the Chinese authorities to facilitate investments i n t h e i r r e s p e c t i v e tourism sectors. Chinese companies clearly see Europe’s touristic potential and have invested heavily in past years. And China is progressively opening up to EU investments in its tourism sector as well. We are confident that this evolution will continue in the next few years. What will be your other key axes of interest at ITB Berlin this year? We are presenting the World Bridge Tourism project and the upcoming EU–China Tourism Year to the industry at the ITB Chinese Night. We also expect to build up new contacts and exchange ideas on the Chinese travel market with the broad European industry during these intense days in Berlin