|Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli and Chinese Tourism Minister Luo Shugang. Photo: Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Croatia|
Tourism ministers and experts from China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries attended a conference on September 18 to 20, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to discuss further co-operation in the tourism sector.
China launched the 16+ format in 2012. It seeks to improve trade and economic ties between China and 16 countries and a protocol on co-operation in tourism was signed in 2014.
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Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli said on Wednesday at the conference that the region had its eye on the important Chinese market.
“Chinese tourists account for a fifth of global tourism and last year alone 12.4 million Chinese people visited Europe, which is why Central and Eastern European counties see an enormous growth potential in China,” he said. Capelli confirmed that his country is negotiating on flights to China for next year.
In other countries of the region, the number of tourists from China is also rising.
Mason Hinsdale, editor of Jing Travel, a website specialised in global Chinese travel, said Croatia and Serbia are the two fastest-growing Balkan destinations for Chinese holidaymakers.
“Serbia along with Bosnia-Herzegovina has a visa-exempt policy for Chinese tourists, which no doubt helps,” Hunsdale told BIRN.
Serbia’s Tourism Office said the country had 90,000 Chinese tourists this year, in terms of the number of paid nights in the first seven months of this year.
This was 80 per cent more compared to the same period last year.
Bosnia and Herzegovina also recorded more tourists from China this year. In the first seven months of 2018, 27,174 of them visited the country. In the same period of 2017, that number was 16,139, Bosnia’s state agency for statistics data show.
A Bosnian agreement to waive visas for ordinary Chinese passport holders became effective in May 2018, and could enable Bosnia to profit more from Chinese tourism, officials believe.
But the numbers are far higher in Croatia, where the Croatian Tourist Board, HTZ, told BIRN that the country notched up 160,000 Chinese arrivals and 237,000 overnights in 2017.
Compared to 2016, this represented a rise of 57 per cent in arrivals and a 48 per cent rise in overnight stays.
HTZ also told BIRN that, so far this year, arrivals had grown by another 40 per cent and overnight stays by 38 per cent
Montenegro has also seen significant growth in terms of Chinese tourists. In 2017, the number of visits and overnights doubled, according to the National Tourism Organization, NTO.
However, in July it said that Montenegro still needed to customize its tourist offer to their needs, meaning more restaurants with Chinese cuisine, more tourist guides in Chinese and quality “shopping tours”.
According to Macedonia’s State Statistical Office, the number of Chinese tourists in the country has grown markedly – but from a small base.
In the first half of 2018, the number of Chinese tourists reached 6,940, which was far more than the 4,286 recorded during the same period last year.
In Bulgaria, however, Chinese tourists form only a tiny fraction of the growing tourist sector, and their number has fluctuated throughout the last few years.
Tourist ministry data for the January to July 2018 season show a total of 5.3 million people visited the country in that period but only 15,477 came from China.
Moreover, that marked a 7.1 per cent decline in the number recorded over the same period in 2017.
In a visit in December 2017 to China’s Henan province, Bulgarian Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova claimed that, in the first 10 months of 2017, 24,000 Chinese tourists had visited Bulgaria, a 45 per cent increase compared to 2016.