Mayor of Brussels Philippe Close dressed up as a giant panda attends a reception of a Chinese lantern exhibition in Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 22, 2018, to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and the EU-China Tourism Year. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
by Xinhua writer Yuan Liang
BUDAPEST, June 25 (Xinhua) -- A new direct flight between the western Chinese city of Chengdu and the Italian capital, Rome, was launched Tuesday morning at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, marking the airport's 12th direct air route to China.
The new flight operated by China's Sichuan Airlines came after the newly inaugurated Rome-Shenzhen and Rome-Hangzhou air links last month.
The flight is scheduled to depart three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), connecting Rome with the "City of Giant Pandas."
At the inauguration ceremony, Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, said these direct flights allow Chinese tourists to arrive directly in Italy without passing through other intermediate places.
"China remains the main market for us," he said, expecting that Italy could see more Chinese tourists to come.
With more direct flights between China and Europe and tailor-made services, European countries are poised to welcome more Chinese tourists in 2019 and beyond.
In a recent report, the European Travel Commission said European Union (EU) destinations registered a year-on-year increase of 5.1 percent in Chinese arrivals during the EU-China Tourism Year 2018 (ECTY 2018).
Such a tourism boom is the result of an increasingly interconnected Eurasia and the further alignment of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the development strategies of European countries.
According to data released by China's International Airport news, 30 new air routes between China and Europe opened in 2018.
That momentum continued in 2019.
On June 12, a new direct flight linking the Italian capital Rome with Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, was inaugurated at Rome's Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci airport.
Rome believes in the potential of tourist arrivals from China, said Fausto Palombelli, chief commercial officer of Aeroporti di Roma, a company that runs the airport, adding that the new direct route is part of the airport's plan to tap Chinese market.
China Eastern Airlines on June 7 opened a direct flight between Shanghai and Hungary's capital city Budapest, scheduled to run three times a week.
"China is one of the most important markets for inbound tourism for Hungary," said Deputy CEO for Marketing and Sales at the Hungarian Tourism Agency Anna Nemeth. "The direct flights between Budapest and Shanghai will not just expand the scale of the business development plans and trade but will also increase the number of visitors in China and Hungary as well."
Norway is home to a high proportion of Chinese tourists, and more and more Chinese are choosing the Nordic country as their destination.
China's Hainan Airlines on May 15 began a direct flight service between Beijing and Norway's capital city Oslo, which is the first non-stop flight service between the two countries.
Direct air links can play an important role in promoting tourism cooperation and development of both countries.
"Air China opened the Beijing-Athens direct flight route on September 30, 2017, and after one year the number of Chinese tourists through the air route visiting Greece has increased threefold," Fan Heyun, Air China chief executive officer in Athens, told Xinhua.
Several countries in Europe are improving their services to better cater to needs of Chinese travelers.
Just two months ago, Madrid's Adolfo Suarez-Barajas Airport, the aviation hub of Spain, decided to offer a "complete experience" to an ever-increasing number of Chinese tourists.
"We put up signs in Chinese so that Chinese tourists have no problems in finding the correct check-in or confirming the time of their flight," the airport's commercial director Ana Paniagua told Xinhua. The airport has also decided to employ specialized personnel to help Chinese travelers pass through the airport security checks.
Germany's capital Berlin, another top destination in Europe for Chinese tourists, is also working on providing customized services for its Chinese guests.
Christian Tanzler, spokesman of visit Berlin, the city's official promotional institution for tourism, told Xinhua that his organization has been training their partners, local hotels or other tourism operators, to better work with theirs Chinese guests.
To the convenience of Chinese travelers, Budapest's Liszt Ferenc International Airport will install Chinese signs in its terminals in the second half of 2019. The new signs will provide information about the most commonly used services such as VAT reclaim, lounges, meeting points, and bathrooms.
"The airport is now introducing new payment methods -- Alipay and Unionpay -- preferred by Chinese tourists," the Budapest Airport said in a statement.
Chinese visitors can use Wechat to scan the QR code on banners placed at the Athens International Airport to get information about where to eat or shop inside the airport before heading to the city centre.
"The Chinese market is very important to Athens International Airport. This initiative falls within the framework of all initiatives that we are doing to make our airport Chinese ready," Ioanna Papadopoulou, the airport's director of communications and marketing told Xinhua.
The successful alignment of the BRI and the development of European countries, combined with a rise in living standards among Chinese, have bolstered tourism to Europe.
As the first European country to sign a cooperation document with China on the BRI, Hungary has been a beneficiary of Chinese tourism.
"Last year about 256,000 Chinese tourists visited Hungary, an 11 percent increase year-on-year," said Cui Ke, director of China National Tourist Office in Budapest, adding that with more direct flights launched this year, tourism exchanges between the two countries are expected to grow further.
Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Commission, said that the ECTY 2018 has been a big success, and the agency is keen to continue working with our European and Chinese partners to build on these results.
"China is now the world's largest outbound market in terms of travelers and expenditure, (and) the ECTY 2018 has seen an increased appetite for European destinations, which continues to grow in 2019," Santander said.
"Certainly the tourism between China and Europe will continue to grow, both for business travel, including those based on the Belt and Road Initiative, and for leisure tourism based on the huge number of cultural and natural treasures both areas are offering," said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
(Xinhua reporters Li Jie and Ji Li in Rome, Yu Shuaishuai in Athens, Tian Ying in Berlin, Guo Qiuda in Madrid, Xu Yongchun in Paris, Wang Zichen in Brussels, Gao Lei in Zagreb, Shi Zhongyu and Nemanja Cabric in Belgrade, Zhao Danliang in Lisbon contributed to the story.)
(Video reporters: Ji Li, Li Jizhi, Lian Zhen, Yu Shuaishuai, Gao Lei, Zhang Xiuzhi, Ye Xinke, Feng Junwei, Gao Fengang, Chang Yuan, Ma Qian, Roberto Ferranti, Angelos Tsatsis, Maria Spiliopoulou, Relja Dusek, Claudio Tamisari, Alberto Paul; Video editor: Zheng Xin)