During his keynote at the recent ITB China conference in Shanghai, Eduardo Santander, Executive Director and CEO of the European Travel Commission (ETC), acknowledged the ongoing challenges Europe is facing in regards to attracting Chinese tourists. According to Santander, connectivity is one issue, with a lack of flights from China to smaller European destinations, as well as a general lack of flights from second-tier and even third-tier cities in China to Europe.
More pressing, however, may be the issue of diversity in destinations. While this is certainly an asset that makes Europe as a whole a more attractive destination, it also results in marketing challenges. It is for these reasons that ETC is hoping for modest growth of an additional 300,000 Chinese tourists a year through the year 2020, instead of massive double-digit growth on 10 million plus Chinese tourists Europe attracted last year.
That is why the EU -China Tourism Year (ECTY) is a major opportunity for growth in Europe. This initiative by the European Commission working closely with the European Travel Commission will improve travel and tourist experiences, promote lesser-known destinations, provide opportunities to increase economic cooperation and create an incentive to make quick progress on EU-China visa facilitation and air connectivity.
The ECTY website is designed as a toolkit to provide knowledge and share information; it is specifically designed to help EU tourism businesses, authorities and all other stakeholders establish successful commercial and cultural exchanges with diverse partners in China. With the Chinese market only representing 2% of total international arrivals in the EU, an initiative such as the ECTY is essential to help boost these numbers and such tools as its Ready for China resource with, for instance, its market reports, practical tips on doing business with China, promotional materials and legal information will help every segment of the travel industry to attract and welcome Chinese travelers.
ETC is hoping for growth of an additional 300,000 Chinese tourists a year
Of course, the upcoming removal of the so-called “one route, one airline” policy will likely make it easier for Chinese airlines to open up new routes to European destinations.
On May 16, it was announced that ETC will be partnering with UnionPay International, Tencent, Ctrip, Tuniu, Fliggy, Qyer, and Tongcheng. Ctrip attempts to attract a broader array of consumers and is still very much tied to traditional group travel products. Alibaba-owned Fliggy, on the other hand, is more geared to FITs and millennials. Qyer started out as a BBS in a college dorm to exchange travel information and now also earns commissions from bookings and targets FITs and millennials as well. Tuniu and Tongcheng are also major travel booking sites.
UnionPay International, China’s biggest credit and debit card provider, has its own mobile payments platform and is also trying to extend its dominance in the sector of credit and debit transactions abroad. It’s hard to deny that UnionPay has been successful in promoting retailer adoption of its platform around the world. However, it’s also struggling to compete with the rise of mobile payments in China, which have largely eclipsed traditional debit and credit cards in terms of usage among consumers. Tech giant Tencent has one of the most popular mobile payments platforms, WeChat Pay. Although, for the ETC, partnering with Tencent is likely more important in terms of improving the viability of its marketing efforts on Tencent’s WeChat, the most popular messaging and social media platform in China.
From the partnerships pursued this year, it’s clear that ETC is taking the “challenge” of destination diversity seriously by partnering with a large number of Chinese companies. With the wide variety of European destinations and their offerings, reaching out to the most Chinese travel demographics possible through a wide range of big Chinese travel and tech companies is a pragmatic move. FITs, group travelers, millennials etc. all have different preferences in terms of booking sites, payment platforms, and preferred social media outreach. Europe’s size and diversity necessitate a similar marketing outreach in China and ECTY has the tools to make that so. To reach that goal it is essential to train European companies throughout the continent to give the best welcome to the Chinese traveler by understanding what he or she needs and wants and working with as many Chinese partners as possible. To achieve this the European Commission and the European Travel Commission have created this collaborative promotion platform (ECTY).