China Tourist

The Italian job

Tourism bosses in Rome have a plan to attract more Chinese visitors

The Italian job

Unlike the Macau version, this one's sinking and has no casino

The Chinese love Venice. But the Italians are ruing that it seems to be the one in Macau they like best, and not the real thing.

That was one of the conclusions drawn by Italy’s tourism authority during a state visit from China’s leader Hu Jintao this week.

The visit came with the usual high profile signing ceremony. On this occasion, Hu and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi looked on as Fiat inked a a 50/50 joint venture deal with Guangzhou Automobile Group. The JV plans to produce 140,000 cars and 220,000 engines a year from late 2011.

But the country’s tourism bosses are more concerned by the lack of Chinese visitors to Italy’s cities, lakes and beaches. Thankfully it has a solution: hot water.

Yes, according to the China Daily, the Italians have concluded that the Chinese like to drink tea in their rooms, but Italy’s hotel rooms lack flasks of boiling water. The tourism authority is now on the case, and is also lobbying to have more signs available in Chinese – and not just in hotels but around popular tourism attractions too.

It all sounds a bit desperate, but you can see why the Italians are concerned. The Chinese are the fastest growing segment in global tourism and Italy is the world’s fifth biggest destination.

But while 40.95 million tourists left China in 2007, only 800,000 arrived in Italy. It seems that many may have concluded they can get enough of a Venetian experience with the Las Vegas Sands in Macau – where they can see a faux St Mark’s Square, ride a gondola and have a punt on the tables too.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Italy is hardly registering with Chinese travellers. Those who have visited complain about old hotel rooms – some which apparently have a ‘smell’ – the language divide, the slow-paced lifestyle and the unreliable trains.

“Chinese tourists’ impression of Italy are divided,” says Zhang Rui, a marketing manager with a travel service in Rome. “Some Chinese love Italy, and are fascinated by its culture and history; others just don’t like it, thinking everything there is just not exciting.”

The Italian Government Tourist Board is opening an office in Beijing, to help to change perceptions. Its target is to lure one million Chinese visitors by 2011.

Could Marco Polo also help? Italy’s most famous traveller was born in Venice and in celebration of his journey to China 700 years ago, his native city is building a replica ‘Suzhou-style Chinese garden’. The idea was the brainchild of Umberto Vattani, president of the Italian Trade Commission, and will be permanently housed in the grounds of the Venice International University.

Surely a few Chinese will want to come to Italy to see that?

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