Italy has risen to the second most popular European destination for Chinese after Russia, having welcomed 3.1 million mainland Chinese visitors in 2018.
The number is expected to continue to grow next year, the 50th anniversary of diplomacy between the two countries, which will see greater cultural and tourism exchanges stemming from various bilateral cooperation agreements.
Italy’s ENIT (National State Tourist Board) is stepping up efforts in China. According to Maria Elena Rossi, marketing and promotion director, ENIT will next year open a tourism office in Shanghai and Guangzhou.
It has also inked an agreement with Chinese OTA giant Ctrip to tap into the market. “This was signed shortly after president Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Sicily recently. We identified the high-end segment, Generation Z and millennials as core targets,” Rossi shared, speaking to TTG Asia at ITB China in Shanghai.
Moreover, as ENIT is celebrating its 100th anniversary in November, the NTO is expecting additional sales and marketing activities such as roadshows to take place next year.
“In terms of travel trends, we are seeing a desire for Italian lifestyle, fashion, wine and cuisine as well as interest in (honeymoon trips and destination weddings),” Rossi added.
Ctrip figures indicate the top five popular cities for Chinese travellers include Milan (30 per cent), Rome (26 per cent), Florence (15 per cent), Venice (seven per cent) and Mestre (four per cent).
While the NTO courts Chinese travellers, Rossi emphasised that it continues to seek value, coming from experiential travel and longer-staying visitors, over volume growth.
Last year, Chinese travellers made five million overnight stays in Italy. Rossi estimates arrivals would grow by 10 per cent this year thanks to the increase in direct air connections. For example, Rome Airport announced three new direct flights from Chengdu, Shenzhen and Hangzhou starting late May.
So far, Rome Airport operates direct connection to 12 cities in China. It expects 20 per cent growth in Chinese passengers to 900,000 at the end of 2019. The airport has also made some changes to be Chinese-ready including signages and airport apps in Chinese, free hot water at airport restaurants and bars, its own WeChat account, as well as mobile payment through Alipay and WeChat Pay.
The Italian travel trade is also doubling down in the Chinese market.
For the first time this year, new destinations like Sicily and Piemonte joined the Italy Pavilion in ITB China. NeedItaly, project manager, Beatrice Aondio said: “We collaborate with local tourism stakeholders like tour guides and drivers to form a platform with a focus on high-end hotels and winery tours. In 2019, we hope to drive the implementation of WeChat payment in Sicily to provide convenience to Chinese visitors.”
Said Annalisa Sacco, CFO of Allegroitalia Hotels and Condo, which runs 13 luxury and four-star hotels in Italy: “We started tapping Chinese FIT and group markets three years ago. Our properties in Torino and Pisa are popular choices. Efforts has been made to ensure a pleasant stay, e.g. Chinese translation of hotel materials and recruiting Chinese chefs.”