As part of a partnership forged last year between the European Union (EU) and China, next year will be the 2018 EU-China Tourism Year, with the goal of increasing travel from China to Europe. The initiative is being supported by the European Commission and the European Tourism Association (ETOA), formerly the European Tour Operators Association. Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran caught up with ETOA chief Tom Jenkins to discuss what kinds of opportunities the Chinese source market presents Europe's tourism industry and whether the U.S. outbound market to Europe should feel threatened.
Q: How long have you and other European tourism entities been looking to better court the Chinese market?
A: The ETOA's relationship with China goes back 20 years. We've been very interested in the Chinese market for a long time. It's undoubtedly a growth market, but the thing to remember with China is it's starting off from a reasonably small base. You'll always have growth when you're starting with comparatively small numbers.
Q: What is it about the Chinese source market that is attractive for Europe's destinations, suppliers and inbound operators?
A: The growth is the thing that's attractive. Also, frankly, it's the unknown that's attractive. China is unknown, it's exotic. It sounds like it's the future.
Q: What is the goal of the 2018 EU-China Tourism Year initiative?
A: Europe is very much a unitary market for long-haul visitors. That's particularly the case with the Chinese. They don't see Europe as a whole series of individual countries. They see it as a single destination in the same way that Europeans see China as a single destination. And it makes perfect sense to assemble suppliers from throughout Europe with something in common and get them to sell to the Chinese. There's real connectivity. And that's what we're trying to promote.
Q: Is the European inbound tourism industry going to have to change or adapt in order to better cater to and court Chinese travelers?
A: I think the answer is yes. Every destination learns from its visitors. And we will undoubtedly learn from the Chinese. One thing that is very clear is that the Chinese more than any other origin market, with the possible exception of the Indians, are prepared to negotiate. They know how to bargain.
Q: The U.S outbound market to Europe has for the past several years been expressing its concern about the increasing capacity crunch in Europe, specifically noting increased competition from the Chinese source market. How does Europe's tourism industry plan to grow its China business without alienating its U.S. business?
A: There are capacity issues in Europe, undoubtedly. But the capacity issues in Europe are not caused by the Chinese. The Chinese represent a fraction of the volume that the Americans represent. The capacity crunch comes, No. 1, from other Europeans. Capacity management on every level is the big issue in Europe for the next 10 to 15 years. But are the Chinese crowding Americans out of Europe? No.
Q: If a European supplier has to choose between contracting with a Chinese tour group or an American one, will the contract likely go to the highest bidder?
A: It's the highest bidder; it's also the one that is more desirable and will lead to more business. There's no doubt that a new customer is unbelievably important, but the most important factor in your business are your regular customers. For Europe as a whole, the North American market is the most important, most valuable market it has really ever had. All that's happened is that everybody's got to wake up and smell the coffee. Americans are no longer the only people in the world with money. You are not omnipowerful. This is how the world evolves.