The 2018 China-EU Tourism Year is officially underway and will last throughout the year with numerous events and celebrations across the European continent. For European tourism businesses, the tourism year holds the promise of a strong showing in the Chinese tourism market, whereas Chinese tourists may be able to expect a warmer welcome than usual. While “China tourism years” can be questioned as drivers of Chinese tourism growth, it can be a good opportunity for destinations to showcase their openness to Chinese travelers and emphasize Chinese tourists’ importance. The European Union may be going one step further than many of its tourism predecessors in that regard.

The Grand Opening

While the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year has already started, the official opening of the year is scheduled to take place at the Doge’s Palace in Venice later this week. The official opening and gala dinner will be attended by officials from both China and the EU, as well as Italy, with the location portrayed as “one of the most famous landmarks in the Western Silk road [sic.].” The location makes sense for both sides, with China wanting to emphasize the importance of its “new silk road” project, the One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR), and the EU interested in emphasizing the historical links between the two regions—while avoiding the history of European imperialism in China.

Photo: Radu Razvan / Shutterstock

Just prior to the official opening, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) is also organizing the “Gala Celebrating Chinese Culture” at the Venice Opera House with support from the Italian government. Also in conjunction with the official opening of the tourism year is the “EU-China Tourism Business Summit,” held at the Casino’ di Venezia in Venice.

The Chinese flag-colored “Light Bridge”

Beyond the official opening of the tourism year, the EU will be rolling out the red carpet light bridge for China in March. Officially entitled the “EU-China Light Bridge,” the project is meant to light up as many “landmarks, historical monuments, modern buildings, skyscrapers, and in particular bridges” as possible in “red and, where possible, a few golden stars” to “evoke China” across EU member states. The light bridge will be “built” on March 2nd and will coincide with the Chinese Lantern Festival.

2018 China-EU Tourism Year organizers invite all businesses across the EU to take part of the light bridge and promise “extra visibility in China free of charge” in return for those businesses or property owners that do. In practice, the benefits involve getting listed on the official tourism year website, “increased awareness and prestige of your site and destination by being associated with ‘Destination Europe’, the most aspirational travel destination for Chinese,” and “last but not least” the chance of having audiovisual material of one’s China-lit building showcased at high level diplomatic events between China and the European Union.

The EU “foresees” that China will extend a similar gesture to the EU “on a convenient date.”

While not part of the light bridge, the Atomium landmark in Brussels will also be wrapped in Chinese and EU flags for a whole month to celebrate the tourism year in a display that will be visible from a large part of the European Union’s de-facto capital.

Business matchmaking sessions

At the world’s largest travel fair, ITB Berlin, the EU is financing B2B matchmaking sessions that involve European and Chinese tour operators. The explicit purpose of the matchmaking sessions is to foster trade and partnerships between tourism companies in European Union member states and China and is a continuation of similar matchmaking sessions that were held in China and Europe in the year leading up to the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year.

A month later, in April, the EU is also financing another round of tourism B2B matchmaking sessions at the China Outbound Travel & Tourism Market in Beijing.

Other summits and business matchmaking events will also take place on a smaller scale in different European regions throughout the year. Among these are the EU-China Summit on City Marketing in Malmö, Sweden, the EU-China High Level Conference on World Heritage in Paris, France, and the EU-China Business Matchmaking at Baltic Connecting ‘18 across the three Baltic states.

Cultural events and happenings

It doesn’t have to be all business and light bridges, so European and Chinese stakeholders have also planned a wide array of cultural events that will highlight the tourism year throughout 2018.

Many of the cultural highlights of the tourism year are centered in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, and Valetta, Malta—the two designated “European Capitals of Culture” for 2018. Events include the unveiling of art projects with collaborating Chinese artists, as well as purely local cultural highlights that are “designed to attract Chinese and other international visitors.”

Photo: EU-China Tourism Year

While fewer such events in China have been announced, at least a handful displays of European culture will take place in China throughout 2018. Among these are the European Union Film Festival in China, as well as the “marking of St. Patrick’s Day in China” which will see some Chinese landmarks lit up in green. Perhaps in response to the apparent lack of EU-focused cultural events in China, the EU has also chosen to organize a gala event in Xi’an meant to celebrate “EU culture.”

A controversial outlier as far as cultural events go for the China-EU Tourism Year is the official unveiling of a Karl Marx sculpture in Marx’s birthplace of Trier, Germany. The sculpture of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital author was made by a Chinese sculptor and was officially donated to the city of Trier by the People’s Republic of China. As it happens, 2018 isn’t only the China-EU Tourism Year, but also the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx.

To what extent all these events and happenings will have a positive effect on Chinese tourism flows to Europe remains to be seen. If nothing else, China will certainly appreciate the European Union’s grand diplomatic gesture toward China in the name of tourism.

A full list of events can be found at the China-EU Tourism Year website.