2018 is a special year marking the occasion of the EU-China Tourism Year (ECTY), which coincides very nicely with the European Year of Cultural Heritage. This is indeed a very exciting year for European tourism businesses, which will be given a greater chance to showcase a full range of the latest products and services to cater for the flourishing Chinese outbound travel sector.
So why the focus on China? Well, China has managed to maintain its rate of economic expansion for a while now. Its fast-growing wealth has enabled broad sections of Chinese society to travel and invest internationally. Furthermore, the rise of Chinese outbound tourism is steadfast and has been so for over a decade. It is the number one headspring market, with just over 12 million Chinese tourists visiting Europe last year alone. Figures prove that there is unwavering potential waiting to be tapped, as long as Europe continues to develop a more strategic approach, deepening and rebalancing relations with the red dragon.
The European Commission has taken the lead to organise the full EU-China Tourism Year from the EU’s side. It has mandated the European Travel Commission, of which the Malta Tourism Authority is a full member, to play a central role in cooperative marketing campaigns and activities targeting China during this special year. European tourism SMEs that are choosing to participate in Chinese market events this year should also bear in mind that Europe must be promoted holistically, as a continent since, interestingly enough, Chinese tourists first tend to select which continent to visit, not which country.
The success of doing business in China or attracting Chinese buyers and visitors to Europe heavily depends on how well connected we are. Having the right policies set in place to support optimum airline transport connectivity, as well as facilitating visa travel, are an absolute must to enhance sustainable travel and tourism experiences.
A deeper analysis of Chinese traveller digital behaviour can also help us appreciate exactly what Chinese travellers wish to experience when visiting Europe, thus making it easier to form a targeted approach when marketing our European destinations.
Luckily, with celebrations for the European Year of Cultural Heritage kicking off this year, it’s a perfect time to use culture – a powerful tool – as a way of strengthening synergies with China. There is considerable value in the development of this relationship which requires a clear definition of the EU’s common interests and how to pursue them, as well as a mutual understanding of the various shared aspects of cultural heritage between the two continents. Given the right promotion, culture can play a leading role in the flourishing of an economic symbiosis, whilst providing a fresh impetus to a bilateral partnership that has global impact.
Although Europe’s largest cities remain the main touristic attraction for Chinese group tour travellers, niche travel such as cultural and lifestyle tourism are now also trending, meaning that Chinese tourism is beginning to discover lesser-known destinations that Europe has to offer. For this reason, European destinations are preparing themselves by creating innovative market approaches towards local tourism facilities to enable them to better receive Chinese tourists. An example is the use of the Welcome Chinese Certification programme, a new type of hospitality standard which caters specifically for Chinese visitors and provides promotion and visibility for European businesses within the B2C and B2B Chinese outbound tourism markets.
As a result, the Malta Business Bureau is linking its actions with its Enterprise Europe Network Tourism and Cultural Heritage Sector Group partners to bring tourism SMEs to the forefront of EU-China cooperation platforms. Thanks to a round of pioneering EU initiatives such as the Partnerships in European Tourism, and the World Bridge Tourism, several incentives aimed at supporting EU tourism businesses and operators wishing to expand their businesses into the Chinese (and US) markets are currently on offer.
I anticipate that these incentives, particularly informative workshops to better understand market entry modes to China, partnership facilitation services for trans-European tourist products, business matchmaking alongside international promotion activities, will encourage the successful participation of European SMEs in EU-China events lined up for 2018. This is our time to ‘wow’ China!
Joe Tanti is the CEO of the Malta Business Bureau (MBB) and a member of the Tourism and Cultural Heritage Sector Group within the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). This opinion piece originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer.