As countries across Europe compete to attract high-spending Chinese tourists, Italy gained an edge against rivals this week.
In a recent ceremony in Rome that featured the presence of China’s Ambassador to Italy Li Ruiyu, Italy was named the first country to receive a “Welcome Chinese” designation from Italian travel company Select Holding, a certification program officially recognized by China’s government-run China Tourism Academy (CTA). The designation is typically awarded to individual businesses across the world, and Italian companies individually certified include Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and train operator Italo NTV.
The certification was awarded after Italy significantly stepped up its efforts to attract Chinese tourists in recent years. “In the past two years, the ENIT – The Italian Government Tourist Board, formerly the Ente Nazionale Italiano per il Turismo (Italian National Agency) has made the greatest effort to oversee this [Chinese] market in the last year,” said Andrea Babbi, the director general of ENIT. “We have organized educational tours that involved over 70 Chinese tour operators, we met in China around 500 local tour operators, and we organized travel for 150 Chinese journalists to visit Italy.” In April, the Italian government—known for headache-inducing bureaucracy—relaxed visa restrictions for Chinese tourists by declaring that China’s citizens are now eligible to apply for a visa at their nearest consulate rather than in in the city of their hukou designation.
The “Welcome Chinese” designation is divided into three categories: bronze, silver, and gold, based on the number of amenities offered to Chinese travelers. For hotels, bronze simply requires Chinese TV channels and magazines, while gold requires services in Mandarin, Chinese breakfast, and discounts for UnionPay members. Currently, about 150 hotels have been certified and 600 are in the process of receiving certification. Businesses with the designation are connected to Chinese tour operators and receive a training newsletter with updates on Chinese tourist news.
Italy faces stiff competition from many other countries known for their luxury brands pursuing polices aimed at attracting Chinese tourists. France, which receives more annual Chinese visitors than Italy, has been heavily promoting Chinese tourism as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China this year. Meanwhile, the UK has also announced plans to reduce visa restrictions last year thanks in part to pressure from the UK China Visa Alliance, which has many luxury brands as members.