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Italian tourism expecting a windfall from special showcase on Alibaba

by Marzio Bartoloni

Chinese surfers will be able to purchase their dream vacation in Italy with a click on Alibaba, the China-based giant ranking first in the e-commerce sector (443 million users). Italian hotels and tour operators will get a special showcase – an online “Italy Pavilion” – thanks to the agreement between Enit (the Italian Government Tourist Board) and Alitrip, the leading online travel portal belonging to Alibaba and currently used by over 50 million Chinese. The agreement was signed in Rome on February 9. In turn, Alitrip – tapping into its treasure-house of big data – will supply Enit with precious data that will allow it to profile customers, customize tourist packages and offer increasingly tailored services.

The “Italian National Pavilion,” as the virtual showcase is called, will seize the opportunities brought about by the growth of Chinese tourism (120 million tourists in 2015, 10 million of which picked Europe), which already ranks fourth in number of arrivals in Italy (3.3 million, up by 45% from 2014), and will be run by Enit “not in an isolated manner,” rather in synergy with the regional authorities and professionals of the sector “with whom we shall identify a program of locations worth promoting” said Fabio Lazzerini, Member of the Board of Directors for Enit, who signed the agreement with Kai Cui of Alitrip.

Italy's unique landscape, artistic heritage, quality shopping and fine food will finally be available to the Chinese public, who will be able to broaden their opportunities for travel and accommodations with special offers from Italian tour operators. The giant of e-commerce has already met several of the latter, who'll thus be joining over 100,000 professionals of the sector already offering plane tickets, packages, hotel reservation and tourist guide services on Alitrip.

“China is a country that shows great interest and passion for Italy – pointed out the Minister for Culture and Tourism Dario Franceschini – and in order to manage tourist growth we need to diversify supply, getting more attractions and destinations to the attention of the Chinese.”

Nearly 90% of arrivals from China today practically focus on just four cities: Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, with sojourns limited to two days and an average per capita expenditure of €1,128. “The Chinese see Europe as a whole, and when they come to Italy, it's likely they will have decided to visit another two or three countries in the course of the same trip,” Lazzerini of Enit continues.

Hence the challenge of not only increasing the number of tourists and their average expenditure in the near future, but offering them new destinations and itineraries.
Not least because China is soaring in tourism (and not only that). Forecasts for 2020 see it top the list of countries in number of tourists overseas. The Asian country is already a big spender in international tourism, with around $264 billion in 2015 and an estimated 14% more in 2016.