“Our (Italian) system continues to look at the Chinese through an obsolete lens: seeing them as potential illegal immigrants hocking counterfeit bags and sweaters on the streets of Naples, or huddled in Prato, the textile producing town near Florence that hosts Italy’s largest Chinese community” (quote from La Stampa).

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Prof. Alastair M. Morrison, President of the International Tourism Studies Association (ITSA), was the keynote speaker at the Graduation Ceremony of the Master in Tourism Management class of 2011-2012 at IULM University in Milan, Italy. The topic of the keynote presentation was, “Why the Chinese market represents an economic opportunity for Italian operators.” Prof. Morrison described the recent growth in the Chinese outbound tourism market and provided reasons why Italy should place a much higher priority on attracting tourists from China. The following are excerpts from the speech by Prof. Morrison.


The Reasons


Why does Italy need to put a higher priority on the inbound tourist market from China?


There are several reasons for Italian operators to invest more in the Chinese market and to give China a higher priority in Italy’s international tourism marketing, including the very high growth rates in GDP, personal disposable incomes and urbanization. Participation in higher education has increased and so has the curiosity about the world outside of China. More Chinese students are studying abroad; according to OECD, 18.2% of the students enrolled in member countries are from China – the largest proportion and highest absolute number of foreign students.


The lifestyle trend for greater consumption is growing very quickly. Spending on luxury products by the Chinese exceeds all other countries (McKinsey).

There is more purchasing of international product brands including luxury goods as conspicuous consumption is very evident in the expanding middle class of China and among the very wealthy. Also, Chinese Government taxes on imported luxury products are very high.


The Chinese now account for significant proportions of certain luxury brands’ worldwide sales; Louis Vuitton (27%), Gucci (28%), Prada (34%), and Burberry (25%). Buying of luxury products when traveling outside out China is growing in popularity; in a recent survey, 75% of Chinese reported buying luxury goods while abroad. There is huge worldwide interest in the purchasing of luxury products by the Chinese, both when buying in China and when traveling abroad.  Italy is strongly associated with high fashion along with France, USA and UK. Many Italian fashion brands are already well-known and highly sought after. Italy rated highest for “famous for Arts” by Chinese in a KPMG survey and was rated second highest after France for “famous for luxury design” and “famous for fashion design.”


The China outbound market grew by 167.5% from 2005 to 2012 and reached approximately 83 million tourists in 2012. However, about two-thirds of all these outbound tourists were to Hong Kong and Macau. It is forecast that there will be at least 155 million outbound tourists from China by 2020. Italy attracts a very small proportion of Chinese outbound tourists (less than 1%), but the volume is growing. A recent survey by the China Tourism Academy showed that 54% of China luxury travelers most desired overseas destination in the next year was Europe. France, Hong Kong, USA, and Italy are the first-choice shopping destinations for Chinese luxury travelers.


A survey conducted for the U.S. Travel Association indicated that 5% of the Chinese respondents were likely to visit Italy in the next two years (France was 12% and UK was 6%). The Chinese increasingly are recognizing the rich history and culture of Italy as represented by destinations such as Venice, Rome and Florence. Many Chinese consider Italy to be a romantic destination. They are becoming increasingly aware of the Italian cuisine and wines and Italian food is considered to be very healthy.


The largest Internet population in the world is in Mainland China and the Chinese are making huge use of the social media channels that are open to them. Italy needs to make more informed and extensive use of these Chinese-language Internet communication opportunities in the future.


The Challenges


What are some of the major challenges in targeting and catering to the Chinese market?


China is a very large country with a huge and very diverse population. It cannot be treated as one uniform market, but has to be segmented into smaller parts and targeted. This presents a major challenge for destination marketers. There are significant differences by regions (e.g., north vs. middle vs. south vs. west) and cities (first, second, third, and lower tiers); age groupings; foreign travel experience; tour groups vs. FIT; interests; household income levels; Internet users vs. non-users, etc.).


Another important challenge is the language and the cultural differences. Chinese prefer to speak and read Mandarin or Cantonese; not many know English very well and much fewer have mastered Italian. Chinese tourists tend to be more willing to do things in groups when traveling. Food is extremely important! Dining and drinking are major social activities for the Chinese; a way of having fun and sometimes “showing off.” Dining can be very noisy and animated.


Little things that count for Chinese travelers include having slippers and in-room tea service, round dining tables, sockets for Chinese electrical appliances, and playing cards and Chinese snacks in guest rooms. These are just a few of the things that will provide better travel experiences for them.


The behaviors of some Chinese tourists offer unique challenges to European destinations that are not familiar with this market. At times, these behaviors can be considered rude or unusual and even senior Chinese government officials have criticized their own citizens for not adapting their behaviors to foreign norms.


The Recommendations 


What does Italy need to do to get a larger share of the outbound market from China?


1)    Italy must invest more in marketing its tourism in Mainland China if it wants to achieve a larger market share. One of the most important challenges is the fierce competition from all the world’s major destinations. Competitive destinations have a greater presence in China and are spending significantly more than Italy in appealing to Chinese outbound travelers.


2)    An integrated and concerted promotional campaign across multiple partners is required. The present tourism marketing and promotions from Italy are fragmented without a concerted thrust; this is not the most effective approach to marketing in China. A partnership approach involving multiple regions and tourism companies is highly recommended.


3)       Italian fashion and automobiles have high awareness among Chinese consumers as luxury items. However all brands and products are being marketed separately and not in combinations that might be more attractive to Chinese consumers. A co-branding approach is recommended, possibly combining tourism regions and cities with fashion goods, autos, wine, and food products.


4)       Italian food and wine must be popularized within Mainland China. Italian food is enjoying greater popularity in China, especially pasta and pizza. Italian wines are not particularly popular now and lag well behind France and other countries. Staging Italian wine and food festivals in the larger cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou will be a great idea.


5)    One big problem for Chinese tourists that want to travel to Italy is the visa. It is difficult and often a frustrating experience for Chinese citizens to get visas for the Italian authorities within China. Immediate attention needs to be given to the current system of screening applicants to speed up visa approval times and to give Chinese citizens a better impression of Italy and its willingness to welcome them as tourists. Given that the Chinese today are notoriously “last-minute” planners, systems such as Visa on Arrival (VOA) are very  popular (e.g., Thailand, Maldives, and Bali).


Our (Italian) system continues to look at the Chinese through an obsolete lens: seeing them as potential illegal immigrants hocking counterfeit bags and sweaters on the streets of Naples, or huddled in Prato, the textile producing town near Florence that hosts Italy’s largest Chinese community” (quote from La Stampa).


6)    The VFR market based on Chinese living in Italy needs to be given greater marketing attention and consideration. Chinese people are very family oriented and want to visit their family and friends living abroad. A special program should be considered of working with the Chinese living in Italy to invite their family and friends to visit them. This program could be launched via the Chinese social media using Chinese micro-blogging and chat websites.


7)    Surely the holding of the 2010 and 2015 World Expos in Shanghai and Milan respectively offers a unique and huge opportunity for the two cities to cooperate. It is recommended that Italian tourism operators create a joint marketing campaign for 2014-2015 and also a “sister city” arrangement for Milan and Shanghai.


8)    The fame and recognition of Marco Polo in China must be capitalized upon. Marco Polo spent significant time in China and is well remembered especially in the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Yangzhou in the Yangtze River Delta Region (YRDR). Joint marketing of Marco Polo heritage should be initiated with these cities.


IULM May 27-2013 Morrison PPT