Chinese tourists search the real Italy


  • Chinese tourist numbers to reach 100 million in 2015 (China Tourist Agency)
  • China to account for 22% of tourism expenditure by 2020 (UNTWO)

Since the World Expo first opened its doors in Milan in May 2015, visitor numbers to the Italian city have increased by more than 600%, according to the latest data from travel agency eDreams. The impact on the city has been significant, but heightened visitor numbers have not just impacted on Milan in isolation.

On Italy’s eastern coast, in the central Le Marche region, locals have noticed a significant increase in visitor numbers over the summer months. Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs, owner of a local fractional ownership holiday home business Appassionata, comments:

“We’ve seen a big increase in tourist numbers this year. In particular Le Marche has enjoyed having visitors from America, Australia, other parts of Europe and China. The restaurants, bars and cafés have all had a bumper summer and the extended heat-wave has certainly helped. We’ve also had a lot of foreigners coming to Le Marche to get married this year – and with a setting this stunning one can easily see why!”

Dawn is referring to the rolling hills, deep blue skies and abundant flowers surrounding the medieval hilltop town of Petritoli, where the luxury townhouse, Casa Tre Archi, is located. The property boasts outdoor space at every turn, with accommodation split across three levels. Three bedrooms and three bathrooms make the fractional ownership property ideal for use as a family holiday home as well as a place to stay on a break with friends. Owners are entitled to five weeks’ exclusive use of the property per year, with prices starting from £75,000.

Many of those visiting Le Marche have also taken in Milan as part of their travels, with just 4.5 hours in the car separating the two. The World Expo there has attracted tourists from across the globe and not least from China, which has the largest pavilion at the event. The number of Chinese visitors ranks third overall, closely following those from the US and France.

With the largest number of outbound tourists of any country (the number should reach 100 million by the end of the year, according to the Chinese Tourist Agency), China is leading the world not only in visitor numbers but also in holiday spending. Chinese tourists currently spend around €75 billion annually, while the UN World Tourism Organization has projected that China will account for 22% of global tourist expenditure by 2020.

According to China National Tourism Administration data, Italy is Chinese tourists’ favourite holiday destination within Europe and the Italian government has been courting the Chinese market for some time. Prior to the expo, the Italian consulate in Shanghai committed to a 36 hour turnaround time for all visa applications for travel to Italy.

“The Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) has made the greatest effort to oversee this market,” comments Andrea Babbi, Director General of ENIT, “We have organized educational tours that involved over 70 Chinese tour operators, we met in China around 500 local tour operators, and we organized travel for 150 Chinese journalists to visit Italy.”

Italian companies are also joining the effort, by applying for China Tourism Academy certification. The ‘Chinese Welcome’ certification rates companies and services on how welcoming they are to Chinese tourists, such as the Italo NTV train company, which displays information signs in Chinese as well as Italian.

In Le Marche, the Appassionata team have just welcomed their first Chinese owner to Casa Tre Archi. Roland Marcz advised Dawn and her family team that Chinese visitors now wanted to look beyond cities like Florence and Rome in order to experience the tranquil way of life, climate, culture and cuisine of the ‘real’ Italy. Compared with the fast pace of life in Shanghai, Petritoli offers a haven of peace. Roland comments,

“What becomes clearly apparent after living in this house even for a day is that the location could not be better, with amazing views from every window that are never, even at the back of the house, short of amazing, and to include three terraces on three levels of this manor is an added bonus that brings the outdoors with its blue skies and fragrant Italian air so close to home that we feel complete and satisfied with every sense of our being!”

As Chinese tourist numbers continue to increase, those countries ahead of the curve in welcoming them are set to benefit hugely and within Europe it is Italy that has taken pole position.

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