ROME, April 11 (Xinhua) -- Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino announced on Wednesday the launch of three new direct air routes to Chengdu, Shenzhen and Hangzhou in China, bringing its direct connections with the Asian country to 12 starting from the end of May.
"The adding of three new direct routes to China in just three months is the crowning of a long journey on which our team has been working very hard," said Fausto Palombelli, chief commercial officer of Aeroporti di Roma (ADR), the company that runs the airport, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
As a direct result of the importance attached to the Chinese market, Fiumicino Airport attracted some 760,000 passengers from China last year, and the number is expected to exceed 900,000 passengers by the end of this year.
SERVICE WITH "CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS"
According to Palombelli, it is key to provide a service "with Chinese characteristics," citing the need to match the requirements of Chinese customers.
Fiumicino's journey towards China began in 2013, when the air transport sector was shifting to the emerging Far East market.
Fiumicino is one of the first airports in the world and the first European hub to be officially accredited the Welcome Chinese Certification, a recognition awarded by the Chinese Tourism Academy (CTA) that testifies to the quality of services provided to Chinese passengers. The airport earned the "Platinum" level in 2018.
"We 'dressed up' for the Chinese market," said Palombelli, referring to the airport's strongly China-oriented business policy and the hosts of services available for Chinese visitors, including Chinese-language signs and information; Personal Shopper service offered in Mandarin; and the availability of payment methods popular in China, such as WeChat Pay or Alipay.
Fiumicino is striving to expand these services, for instance by holding courses in non-verbal communication and behavior with Chinese visitors, "designing a very detailed experience for our Chinese passengers," said Palombelli.
Fiumicino's achievements in the Chinese market are also due to the support it receives from both countries' diplomatic organs. "The Italian Embassy in China, led by Ambassador Ettore Sequi with his team, has always supported us, and the Chinese Embassy in Italy with Chinese Ambassador to Italy Li Ruiyu also attended the inaugural ceremony of our 'Chinese corners'," said Palombelli, referring to the airport's two special areas dedicated to Chinese passengers who can access information in Mandarin by scanning a QR code.
NEW AIR ROUTES
Discussing the destinations served by the three new direct routes, Fiumicino Airport's CCO told Xinhua they have different features and reasons to be attractive for travelers from Italy.
Hangzhou is a very important destination for those who want to reach other important Chinese cities, such as Shanghai, Palombelli explained. "We also expect big business traffic because it is the city of Alibaba's headquarters, and it is also the capital of Zhejiang Province, where the majority of the Chinese community in Italy come from," said Palombelli.
As for Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan Province, Palombelli said "covering Chengdu allows us to cover Sichuan province. On the one hand, we expect a big number of business trips due to the presence of Italian industries in the area and its proximity to Chongqing, another important business destination. On the other hand, we also expect a big number of tourism trips given the beautiful natural landscapes of the province, which can really surprise Italian visitors."
"We talk about some 300 million people, it's like to serve a whole nation," said Palombelli, adding that China's growing middle class has a very alluring consumption potential.
For Palombelli, the new direct route to Shenzhen is the "cherry on the top," and it will attract a big number of business visitors, the city being China's most important hi-tech hub.
Asked about China's airliners, Palombelli applauded their "high quality" and "high technological standards."
The Airbus A350-900 aircraft operated by China Eastern Airlines on the Rome-Shanghai route is "incredible," said the CCO. It offers four classes, including first class, which means that it can accommodate all types of passengers, ranging from business to leisure and groups.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ROME
Thanks to Fiumicino Airport's efforts to attract more visitors from China, Rome becomes the "gateway to Italy and to the whole of Europe" for Chinese tourists, said Palombelli.
The mutual interest between China and Rome rests on their respective thousand-year-old spiritual, cultural and culinary traditions, said the CCO. "The average Chinese tourists may not have a detailed knowledge about Europe, but they surely know where Rome is."
Rome could be also an easy gateway to southern Italy, which is "the new frontier" for Chinese tourists in the Mediterranean country, reflecting Chinese visitors' emerging need for a different experience, during which they can discover an unconventional and "more rural" aspect of Italy.
Rome currently attracts more than 30 million visitors per year, and around one out of every 20 visitors is from China, a number that the city is striving to boost, according to Rome's tourism office.
Palombelli told Xinhua that Fiumicino has a "long-term vision" of building business with China.
"We still have a lot of things going on," he said.