ROME, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- The city of Milan is the first Italian city to have its own promotional channel on Chinese messaging and social media platform WeChat.
The channel, YesMilano, was unveiled earlier this month in Shanghai and, according to the channel's organizers, early returns are positive.
Milan is the most popular big city in Italy for Chinese tourists in percentage terms: around nine percent of foreign visitors to Milan hail from China, compared to around five percent for Italy as a whole.
According to Luca Martinazzoli, director-general of Milan's promotional agency and mastermind of the YesMilano initiative, the goal of YesMilano is to further strengthen the city's image as a destination for Chinese travelers.
"We want to stay ahead of the curve and use different methods to appeal to potential tourists in China," Martinazzoli told Xinhua.
Martinazzoli said many Chinese visitors are drawn to the city's historic 14th-century Duomo, the largest church in Italy, or to the city's shopping districts, or to the city's two top-division soccer clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan. One of the goals of the YesMilano initiative, he said, is to convince visitors to travel beyond the main attractions.
"We'd like to convince those who come to Milan to go beyond the city's most famous draws and to explore new museums and neighborhoods," he added.
The YesMilano initiative was launched in cooperation with WeChat's parent company, the Tencent Group, and Retex, a retail marketing innovator. The channel will help tourists with their itineraries in the city, providing information on services, shops, restaurants, museums and other cultural sites, all available via an interactive map built into the WeChat ecosystem.
According to Francesco Boggio Ferraris, an international trade analyst and the director of the permanent training school for the Italy-China Foundation, Milan cannot match the strong cultural attractions of other Italian cities popular with Chinese visitors, namely Rome, Florence, and Venice, but the city has its own advantage over its Italian cousin cities.
"Rome, Florence, and Venice are beautiful cities that in many ways are geared for tourists," Boggio Ferraris told Xinhua. "Milan is not organized that way and I think that gives it a different kind of authenticity. It's a place of business and fashion and innovation. In that way, it is similar to Chinese cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou."
Though Milan is the first Italian city to establish a WeChat channel, the Milan Montenapoleone fashion district has had one for more than a year.
According to media reports, estimates are that as many as 220 million Chinese visitors will travel to Milan in the next five years -- explosive growth compared to the last five years.
Many of them will be guided by the YesMilano channel, according to Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala: "This plan is a key part of our strategic growth for the city and its businesses with a special eye toward tourists from China," Sala said in a statement.