Chinese tourists pose with Leaning tower of Pisa

Chinese tourists return to Italy

News Travel & Tourism

Chinese travellers are returning to Italy. The Italian Tourist Board (ENIT) is expecting around 2million Chinese tourists in 2023.

In 2023 – based on the projections of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute released by the European Travel Commission – expectations are Europe will see around 6 million arrivals. Of those, 2 million will be destined for Italy. The Civil Aviation Administration of China said that by the end of 2023, China’s in/out air traffic will recover 75% from pre-pandemic levels.

According to an ENIT study, drawn up on a sample of Chinese citizens residing in first-tier cities and with travel experience abroad during the two-year period 2028-2019, Italy is the most attractive destination (38%) among the main competitors in Europe; followed by Switzerland (35%) and France (31%).

Among prospective Chinese travellers, Italy has a reputation as a diverse country with many attractive features. The Chinese online portal compiled a ranking updated of the most influential brands among global tourist destinations in China, based on online performance results (searches + social media).

Italy is in seventh position overall, just behind the main Asian destinations and the second European destination after Switzerland. Considering only the “social media activity” parameter, Italy is in first position among European destinations and 4th in the overall ranking, even surpassing Thailand (a country traditionally at the top of travel choices for Chinese tourists leaving Greater China).

What are Chinese tourists looking for?

ENIT examined the new trends in Chinese tourism and the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian tourist offer. The Chinese experience Italy outdoors in contact with the mountains and nature.

Nowadays, the hit and run visit to the main cities of art is no longer sufficient to satisfy travel expectations. Young people in China look to experience authentic localities, destinations that allow for in-depth travel experiences. In other words, more of a Slow Travel experience.

Today, Chinese tourists look to destinations such as Sicily, the Cinque Terre and seaside destinations that were previously neglected.

How much do Chinese tourists know about Italy before travel?

A survey commissioned by ENIT shows interviewees have a good knowledge of the country. When it comes to Italy, food comes first (pizza and pasta), along with the most famous cities of Rome and Venice. Popular attractions include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum.

Italy is also synonymous with fashion, luxury brands, a vibrant art scene: opera, Michelangelo and also sports (football), history and culture (Renaissance) come to mind for people. In particular, the Chinese are more familiar with cuisine (3.35), fashion (3.26), architecture and museums (3.2).

However, travellers know less about Italian history and religion, economy, politics, education and technology. There is also still some confusion about European attractions identified as Italian. Respondents (100%) incorrectly identified attractions in other countries (such as the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia) as Italian. 24% of those interviewed have already been to Italy.

Almost all of those (97%) say they will return, which reflects the good reputation and quality of travel experiences in Italy. Natural scenery (64%) and architecture (64%) are the two main reasons that inspire Chinese travellers to visit Italy.

Additionally, more than half of travellers say Italian cuisine (56%) is also a top reason. The language barrier is the top concern among Chinese tourists (47%). Security concerns (43%) are the 2nd reason preventing travellers from visiting Italy.

Where do the Chinese travellers want to visit?

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the most popular attraction among Chinese travellers, with over half (54%) of respondents willing to visit. The Colosseum was chosen by almost half of the respondents (49%), while the Grand Canal (46%) and the Milan Cathedral (45%) follow in the ranking.

Read: Italy’s Other Leaning Towers

Rome is the top choice among cities with 63%, followed by Milan with 58% of respondents choosing the fashion capital of the world as the most popular city in Italy. Venice (56%) is third in the standings, with a decidedly higher percentage than Florence (35%), Pisa (22%) and Naples (13%).

Read: 15 best things to do in Florence

Shopping is the number 1 choice for Chinese tourists in terms of experiences, followed by fine wine and food tastings, then major monuments and scenery. For some travellers, fashion and sports (especially soccer) are also important reasons to visit Italy.

One result of the pandemic is less interest in group tours with strangers. The balance shifts strongly towards tailor-made trips with small groups of friends, colleagues or family (consequence of lockdowns and quality research). Group tours with strangers are still acceptable only if themed, and therefore based on a shared interest, such as sports, photography, music.

How is Italy trying to attract more Chinese visitors?

Enit has prepared the restart by positioning itself on all the main Chinese digital platforms. The study mentioned above is helpful in evaluating the changes which have occurred in the perception that Chinese tourists have of the Italy destination.

“The tourist product must be adapted taking into account that we are dealing with travellers with a lower amount of time than in other markets for each individual activity. The uniqueness of each individual experience should be underlined and a localised narrative should be constructed from the point of view of the quality of the message, as well as fostering contact with the local population, especially with those who share the same interests. In terms of product adaptation, it is also important to include educational activities for children. We must focus on quality rather than quantity, on monitoring satisfaction rather than large numbers,”  Ivana Jelinic President and CEO of Enit announced.

“We are also witnessing a change in trends such as in the seaside resort, especially in the luxury segment with high-quality resorts with experience by the sea with high-level cuisine and the presence of young people is increasing because economic availability has increased,” commented Sandro Pappalardo board member Enit.

When do most Chinese tourists visit Italy?

There are traditionally two peaks in terms of arrivals: the summer months of July and August and the Golden Week (first week of October).

The number of outbound travel from China is expected to surpass 2019 levels by 2024. In the first two months of the 2023, tourist visas issued by Italy to Chinese citizens reached 30% compared to 2019 levels. From 15th March, Italy became part of the list of authorised destinations also for groups .

The goal is to reach and exceed the levels of 2019 by 2024. In 2019, it was the year of records for outbound Chinese tourism. Then, Italy was the first destination in Europe with over 3 million arrivals and 5.4 million presences.

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