BRUSSELS — China is becoming one of the main source markets with huge growth potential for European tourism, said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Commission (ETC), in an interview ahead of the launch of China-EU Tourism Year on Jan 19.
The ETC counts over 30 national tourism organizations as its members and is responsible for the promotion of Europe as a tourist destination.
The European Commission collaborates closely with the ETC, which plays a leading role on marketing activities targeting China throughout 2018.
“European destinations acknowledge the high potential of the Chinese market and the importance of tailoring targeted marketing and promotion activities to attract Chinese visitors and offer them the best travel experiences,” said Santander, adding that there are numerous initiatives or actions carried by different industries in the sector and destinations.
“Governmental agencies responsible for tourism promotion have been investing efforts in the market in the last ten years, both individually and jointly. We at ETC opened an operation group in Beijing in 2010. Through ETC, the European Commission has been committing part of its tourism budget in the market, and we have seen wide support for the initiative also in the (European) Parliament,” Santander said.
The ETC and the industry have, from their observation and promotion in China, witnessed changes in the behavior of Chinese tourists.
“With the growth in independent travel, many online platforms have sprung up that provide assistance to travelers, helping them plan and organize their trips according to their unique preferences,” Santander said.
“The old stereotype of Chinese people traveling in large tour groups is being challenged by the emergence of an increasing number of independent travelers seeking unique experiences,” he said.
Europe should adapt to the changes and digitalize, he said, adding that online travel agents such as Ctrip and Alitrip (Fliggy) and have become ETC’s preferred partners for promotion.
In addition to adjusting to big changes, paying attention to details are also important, Santander said, adding that some moves cost little but provide a sense of comfort.
That includes “providing slippers and kettles in hotel rooms, offering hot water for free in restaurants and hotels, translating written information into Chinese”, he said.
China in recent years became known for leading the adoption of mobile payment methods within its own borders. As its citizens got used to pay for almost everything with their smartphones and do away with cash, Santander said Europe needs to catch up with the trend by “enabling Chinese payment solutions” such as China UnionPay, WeChat Pay and Alipay.
Chinese addiction to the internet is also acutely observed in Europe. “Wi-Fi is important for Chinese travelers. But the need to be plugged into the internet is about more than social networking,” said Santander.
He added: “Chinese travelers use it to search for popular local sites, clothing stores, and food. In shops, they compare the prices to what they can get through e-commerce platforms back home.”
As for the official tourism year, Santander expects “2018 to crown our efforts and to result in more awareness and willingness of the Chinese travelers to visit Europe”.
“This is a good moment to intensify inter-institutional dialogue between Europe and China and we are sure to see some progress in key areas such as industry preparation and connectivity,” he said.
Tourism could contribute to more than just business, he said, adding that “the more people travel, the better world we’ll have in the future”.