VENICE, Italy – Europe would like to become China’s favorite tourist destination and is prepared to take important steps to secure this objective, including helping Chinese visitors to feel more at home and making it easier for them to spend money, the European Commission said on Friday.
Both Europe and China aim to foment a greater mutual understanding and stimulate new investment opportunities by encouraging an appreciation of each other’s iconic cities, ancestral customs and traditions, EC Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told journalists at the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
“We have common objectives for the Year. We both want to improve mutual understanding between European and Chinese peoples,” the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs said.
“We both want to encourage more Europeans and Chinese to visit, discover and appreciate each other’s places, cultures, and traditions,” she added.
Bienkowska said Europe was hoping to boost the number of Chinese visitors to European Union destinations by 10 percent annually, a goal that would earn the bloc at least 1 billion euros ($1.22 billion) a year.
The commissioner said that Europe had to overcome some barriers in order to make Chinese visitors feel more comfortable and able to spend money.
One objective was to improve communication by a greater comprehension of Chinese languages, she said.
Another major step would come when the EU adapted to modern payment methods today favored by the Chinese.
Whereas credit cards are the norm in Europe, several mobile phone apps such as WeChat are used in China, she said.
Bienkowska was launching the “2018 EU-China Tourism Year,” on behalf of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who was unable to attend due to illness.
She said the EC’s aim was to hit a 10 percent increase “above the current trend and for this to be sustained year on year.”
The tourism year was agreed upon in July 2016 by EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Kequiang following the 19th EU-China Summit.
The EU was seeking to promote sustainable tourism, she said, encouraging Chinese visitors to venture to “lesser known destinations” across the continent, outside of peak vacation season.
This would lead to “win-win growth” and development within the EU, which she said was “encouraging local authorities to organize events bringing European and Chinese communities together.”
She stressed the importance of China in terms of the EU’s economy, pointing out that the Asian nation was the bloc’s prime source of imports.
About 13.6 million Chinese tourists visited EU countries last year, according to the China Tourism Academy, but member states were looking to boost the figure.
“Chinese are quickly becoming the largest group of intercontinental travelers,” a statement by the event’s organizers said.
Many of these tourists visit 3-4 countries per trip, and see Europe as a single destination, added the statement.
The EU has launched a “Joint Promotion Platform,” a tool that it hoped would promote travel to Europe within China, according to the commissioner.
Tajani’s spokesperson Carlo Corazza said on his behalf that strengthening links with China was an opportunity that could not be missed, and welcomed the idea of the Asian country and the EU getting to know each other better.
In celebration of the year of tourism between the EU and China, landmarks around the EU would be symbolically lit up in red on March 2 – in homage to the flag of China – while in a reciprocal move Chinese sites would be illuminated blue, in a nod to the EU flag, Bienkowska said.