The official opening of the High-level Meeting of the Ministers of Tourism in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia
Minister Angelkova highlighted the importance of tourism as an enabling factor for economic growth, connectivity, and regional and cultural integration. The dual function of tourism as an engine of economic growth and a facilitator of connectivity, rhymes well with the objectives of the EU-China Tourism Year (ECTY).
European Commissioner Elżbieta Bienkowska summarized these objectives: encouraging people to people connections, promoting lesser known destinations in Europe and China, and boosting bilateral investments in the tourism sector. In economic potential, increasing the number of Chinese tourists to the EU by only 10% relative to the current levels, she said, could translate into an additional one billion EUR in the EU economy.
A panel was dedicated to how to attract more Chinese visitors to Europe, and the Balkan region in particular, reflecting the unique opportunity provided by the ECTY.
H.E. Zhang Haizhou, Ambassador of China to Bulgaria, was the first to speak. He stressed the challenges that lesser known European destinations face in the attraction of Chinese tourists. He underlined the necessity of the EU and member-states to invest more in the promotion of such destinations among Chinese tourists, who might not be familiar with the tourism products and sites of interest that countries like Bulgaria have to offer. Visa facilitation, new direct flight connections and more knowledge about Chinese tourists can also help such destinations stand out in China. For instance, the Czech Republic is such a destination where tourist arrivals have surged since the inauguration of a direct flight in 2014.
H.E. Zhang Haizhou, Ambassador of China to Bulgaria, giving his insights about attracting Chinese tourists to less popular European destinations
The Internet can also play a very important role, according to the Ambassador. Since the emergence of online booking sites, sharing economy platforms, and electronic ticketing and reservations, the tourism sector has become increasingly digital. This is especially the case for the Chinese tourism market.
Quoting recent data, Martin Zahariev, Managing Director of the Bulgaria National Board of Tourism Association, explained that 57% of the Chinese traveling to Europe book their trips via the mobile application of the largest Chinese online travel agent Ctrip. The huge demand from Chinese tourists for online booking makes Ctrip the world’s second largest online booking company.
If European destinations want to get a bigger piece of the 129 million strong Chinese outbound tourism market pie, they have to invest in an active strategy. Today, Europe is only getting only a small piece, less than 10%. If Europe invests in digital tools based on the profile and behavior of potential Chinese visitors, it stands to gain a lot.
In her contribution to the roundtable, ChinaEU Director Claudia Vernotti, gave concrete examples of ways to attract more Chinese tourists to lesser known destinations, such as Sofia. She suggested using a “WeChat Mini-Program”. WeChat is by far the most popular Chinese app, which combines the functions of Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Amazon, Instagram and several other applications to become something extremely intrinsic to Chinese people’s lifestyle and traveling. This Mini-Program could provide Chinese tourists with information in both English and Chinese about the main attractions a city has to offer, as well as shopping, dining and accommodation options, in real time location and with the opportunity to book and pay tickets directly online.
ChinaEU Director Claudia Vernotti addressing the roundtable on Europe-China Tourism, together with (from left to right): Tom Jenkins, CEO of European Tourism Association (ETOA); Anna Athanasopoulou, Head of Unit of Tourism, Emerging and Creative Industries at DG GROW; Zhang Haizhou, Chinese Ambassador to Bulgaria; Martin Zahariev, Chairman of the Bulgaria National Board of Tourism; Oliver Fodor, Deputy Director General of the Department for Tourism International Relations at the Hungarian Ministry Of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Vasil Gelev, Director of the Centre for Promotion of Cooperation in Agriculture between China and CEE countries at the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; and Ivan Todorov, Chairman of Bulgarian Center for Development, Investment and Tourism in China
A second concrete suggestion that Ms. Vernotti gave was to conclude a partnership between the Chinese online travel agent Ctrip and the Bulgaria National Board of Tourism. Hungary has already entered in an agreement to increase the profile of Budapest in China. Bulgaria could benefit from such a similar arrangement.
A third avenue to investigate is cooperation with Chinese TV productions, where Bulgaria could be captured as a location for future series or movies. This way extra visibility could be given to the historic and cultural sites of Bulgaria, which can surely help entice Chinese tourists. Ivan Todorov, Chairman of the Bulgarian Center for Development, Investment and Tourism in China, brought forward the example of the Bulgarian village of Momchilovtsi. This village rose to fame in China through its yoghurt, which is said to stimulate longevity, but also due to it being the set of the Chinese version of the reality TV show “Survivor”.
Sofia this year will have two other important occasions to capitalize on, in order to achieve the objective of digitizing the tourism industry in Bulgaria and the surrounding Balkan region in the framework of the ECTY: the EU Digital Assembly in June and the 16+1 Summit in late Autumn.
Agenda of the event (活动日程)
Pictures of the event (活动照片)
Videos of the keynote speeches and different panels (主旨演讲和各分组讨论的视频 )