Italy: Visa-free policy well received by tourists

Rome: With a visa-free policy now in place for visitors from some countries, niche tourist spots in China can unlock their potential for international tourism, said Cristiano Varotti, the East Asia manager for the Italian National Tourist Board, in an interview.

Beyond the top destinations frequented by international travelers such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an in Shaanxi province and Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, scenic spots along the ancient Silk Road and around the Yangtze River Delta can be highly attractive for Italian tourists, said Varotti.

In December, China introduced visa-free entry for visitors from Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain. The latest update in January added Switzerland to the list for the visa-free arrangement, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The new policy allows ordinary passport holders from the European countries to enjoy up to 15 days of visa-free travel in China.

Italian citizen Leonardo Cozzi plans to visit China in February. He highlighted the policy’s positive impact on travel decisions, especially for younger tourists.

“Young people like to leave their travel plans to the last moment. If a destination requires obtaining a visa in advance, they might choose another place,” Cozzi said.

In 2017, Cozzi started planning his trip to China two months in advance, including a three-week visa application procedure.

“It’s much more convenient now. I applied for a one-month tourist visa this time and received it in just five days,” Cozzi said. During the upcoming Spring Festival, he will visit Chongqing in Southwest China.

Varotti, of the Italian National Tourist Board, identified the areas covering Chongqing and neighboring Sichuan province as extremely promising tourism destinations, together with the western part of Central China’s Hunan province, featuring the Zhangjiajie and Fenghuang areas, as well as a mountainous route between Southwest China’s Yunnan province and the Xizang autonomous region, connecting cities such as Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Lhasa.

While cultural tourism is popular in both countries, for many Italian tourists, a trip to China is considered a “long-haul” one, as it is not just about covering distances but navigating language and culture differences. To ease this, tourists often opt for tour groups, Varotti said.

He added that the visa-free policy is a crucial step to revitalize tourism. To attract more international tourists, the sector should focus more on brand promotion, he said.

For example, hotpot is known in Italy, but people may not link the popular spicy dish to the city of Chongqing, he pointed out.

He suggested promoting business-to-business cooperation and creating more tourism products to meet international tourists’ increasingly diversified needs.

Loredana Cursano and her husband, Giuseppe Russo, who live near Milan’s Chinatown, have chosen Wenzhou, a city in East China’s Zhejiang province, as their next Chinese destination.

“Wenzhou is the hometown of many Chinese migrants in Italy. I want to see the hometown of my Chinese friends. The 15-day visa-free travel is just right for us to wholeheartedly explore a city,” Cursano said.

Her views on increasing understanding between cultures are in line with what President Xi Jinping has reiterated on several occasions — the importance of opening-up and people-to-people exchanges.

To that effect, China is making continuous efforts to promote high-standard opening-up, enhance mobility for Chinese as well as foreign nationals and encourage people-to-people exchanges.

On Jan 11, the National Immigration Administration of China implemented five more measures to simplify the process for foreign nationals visiting China, making travel more accessible for purposes such as business, education and tourism.

For Cursano, a turning point in her views about China occurred in 1994, when she visited Beijing, Shanghai and Guilin. The real China, she noted, was different from the general European perception.

Inspired by the initial trip, Cursano saw China-Italy cooperation opportunities and encouraged her daughter Clotilde, who is now 15, to study the Chinese language.

Cursano said that with her daughter’s help, the family would be able to communicate better with the locals this time.

The family aims to explore more of the countryside for an even more authentic Chinese experience. They have also considered sending Clotilde to China for further studies.

“We use our eyes to travel to a country for the first time, and we use our hearts afterward,” Cursano said.