On Sino-European Relations… and Building Bridges, Not Walls…

ETOA’s head of tour operator relations Nick Greenfield outlines key activities of the association in 2017

A big topic for the European tourism association this year and next year is the build-up to the 2018 EU-China tourism year. As he arrives at ITB Berlin 2017, we ask Nick Greenfield, Head of Tour Operator Relations at the association to tell us more…

In conjunction with ETC, we won the tender to host some events this year and one of these is “World Bridge Tourism” – a project supported by the European Union aiming to increase the flow of visitors from China to the EU, to be held just before ITB China. World Bridge Tourism Shanghai will be held in conjunction with ITB China on the 9th-10th May 2017. The programme combines a conference and a B2B workshop between tourismrelated EU companies (particularly SMEs) and Chinese operators. The event is suited for European SMEs in particular, who deliver product such as accommodation, attractions, destinations and the like, who can go over there and be hosted – to meet directly with travel industry professionals in China. There will be around 150 suppliers meeting face to face with a similar number of buyers or agents.

The thing about China is that we all know the potential is massive, with 100-million outbound travellers, the largest outbound market in the world. If you’re talking about longer haul into Europe, everybody in the industry expects a lot from the market and is already getting quite a lot. But promise and potential can very often be quite different from what’s actually being delivered. It’s very important, when working with a newer, emerging market like this, to ask yourself from a European perspective, “Are we staying up to date with the market and are we providing the right kinds of services here?” We can’t depend on the fact that Europe is the world’s number one tourist destination – and that everyone wants to come here. For one thing, do they? And secondly, if they do, what are they looking for when they get here. I believe the Chinese market – in the modern world with all the technology and internet access we have – is developing a lot faster and morphing a lot quicker than, say, the Japanese market or the American market did back in the 1960’s. Europe, for Chinese travellers, might seem quite exotic, but it must be underlined that our connections with these travellers are different than with those in the USA or Japan. So yes, the potential is huge, but this EU initiative, is vital. As China is such a massive market, we really need to give European SMEs the opportunity that they might not otherwise easily have, to learn more about the market and at the same time show travel professionals in China what they have to offer.

WE CAN’T DEPEND ON THE FACT THAT EUROPE IS THE WORLD’S NUMBER ONE TOURIST DESTINATION – AND THATEVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE.

One of your big bugbears over the past years has been Schengen and visa code reforms. What’s the latest with this?

There has been some movement and improvement over the past five years. But a concern at the moment is that there is a tendency to mix up issues about security and immigration with people being able to travel. There is an idea that only by putting up barriers and halting reforms that are being made to the visa process – such as the possible introduction of a longhaul visa waver project – we can have security. All the great reforms that are taking place are on ice at the moment for political reasons. Of course, it’s in our interest in Europe that we have as secure and safe a destination as possible. When these terrible incidents happen here, this can impact the millions and millions of people who travel to Europe, having great experiences, and we don’t want the people who commit these acts to win that way. Our argument would be that rather than imposing barriers or freezing all the good work that’s already been done in the Schengen area, surely intelligence is where the money should be invested. We have thus written an open letter to the President of the European Parliament asking that delays to reforms be reconsidered, and that this work, which is essential to the healthy growth of tourism across the continent, continues