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December 9, 2022

Promoting China-EU Tourism Cooperation In a Strategic Partnership

by  He Yafei

President Xi Jinping wisely sums up the world we live in today as experiencing the greatest transformation in the last hundred years. This is the new era of unprecedented changes and epochal readjustments in global governance and world order which offers global tourism enormous opportunities as well as huge challenges. It is often said that it is the best of times and the worst of times.

On the one hand, people’s aspiration for a ever better life is driving a growing demand for tourism both domestic and international, making tourism an integral part of global economic growth and a hallmark of a good and decent life, with global tourism constituting over 10% of world GDP of roughly 700 billion dollars. Mountain tourism alone takes up 20% of the entire tourism industry.

Take China for example, its annual outbound tourists amount to 1.3 billion in 2017 and increase by 10 million each year with spending by person/day topping the world.

On the other, the rising protectionism and populism alongside anti-globalization is fanning the flames of xenophobia and clashes of civilizations, giving rise to greater uncertainty and instability, which hinders the healthy development of global tourism.

Lao Zi, one of the ancient philosophers of China once described epochal transition in history as “the past has not gone away while the future is already with us”. Such complexity necessitates collective soul searching and creative thinking on new perspectives and new ideas about global tourism.

It has multiple positive implications to explore and expand China-EU tourism cooperation in the context of European Infrastructure Reconstruction and “Belt & Road Initiative”.

  1. Promoting China-EU tourism cooperation is of great significance to enhancing China-EU trade and investment so as to overcome temporary difficulties of economic cycles. European Integration Project especially infrastructure building and China’s “Belt & Road Initiative” are both great ideas of building a new economy aimed at making “a bigger cake” through increased connectivity in infrastructure and trade. Tourism, as defined in new economy, is trans-industrial and transnational economic form which covers commodity as well as service trade and involves unique cultural experiences. It dovetails with the developmental strategies of both China and European countries and therefore should be part and parcel of a growing China-EU strategic partnership.
  2. Promoting China-EU tourism cooperation is of great help to improving global governance including tourism governance in a more just and fairer direction. The world is witnessing a historical transformation from “governance by West” to “co-governance by both East and West”. In that sense, new ideas and concepts of global tourism must strive to satisfying new demands of people from all walks of life by contributing to economic growth, cultural exchanges and poverty reduction, to be in line with the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). China and some European nations have already blended tourism in their national developmental strategies.
  3. Promoting China-EU tourism cooperation will go a long way to encourage exchanges between and among different cultures and civilizations and to foster a strategic partnership between China and EU with shared future. In the final analysis, the refugee crisis, immigration problem, terrorism threat and other challenges European countries face nowadays are mostly born of cultural differences, traditional bias and economic disparity. There is probably no better way to assuage and reduce such bias and differences than increasing people-to-people exchanges through tourism. Better appreciation of other people’s culture and tradition will broaden vision and tolerance across board, bring greater social cohesion in tackling global challenges mentioned above.

Given the huge potential benefits in expanding China-EU tourism cooperation in the context of a growing strategic economic partnership between the two, there are a few suggestions to translate it into reality:

  1. It is important to put China-EU tourism cooperation in the perspective of European Integration and “Belt & Road Initiative”. As cities play a key role in connecting the supply chain in global tourism, it is a good idea to create “Belt & Road City Tourism Alliance” linking most pivotal cities from China to Europe as well as those in-between. It will provide an essential platform to pool tourism resources of these cities together in different combinations to benefit both tourists and service-providers.
  2. China-EU tourism cooperation needs to focus on supply-side reforms by providing new services and new tourism commodities. There are at least two indispensable elements to be tapped for that purpose, new technology such as AI and big data and the unique role of culture. It could be considered for instance to set up tourism-based multi-cultural facilities in tourist destinations in China and European countries which will offer both tourism attraction and cultural experiences.
  3. China-EU tourism cooperation should explore a new model in tourism, i.e. “Tourism+”. What does it mean? Essentially the thinking goes like this: to use tourism as a framework or basic structure and add such elements as sports, health, culture, education to the equation to create new model of tourism, for example,“Tourism+Sports”, “Tourism+Health”, “Tourism+culture” etc, in order to enrich and enlarge the scope and contents of tourism to meet the growing demands of different age groups and people with a particular interest in tourism.
  4. The newly established International Mountain Tourism Alliance (IMTA) has many Chinese and European members which serves as a perfect example for China-EU tourism cooperation. I serve as the current Secretary-General of the NGO. IMTA has developed some ideas including “mountain tourism + Sports Event”, Dialogue among Major Mountains”. The Alps in Europe, Himalaya in China and Nepal, Rocky Mountain in the United States are only a few examples. IMTA’s Dialogue among major mountains will start its first forum early 2019 with Himalaya as its theme.
  5. Last but not the least, China and EU should join hands to develop tourism in other parts of the world, namely “China+EU+Third Party”, as China and European countries not only have large numbers of outbound tourists, but also huge resources of tourism to attract people from other countries. Another important thing goes for China-EU tourism cooperation is the fact the both China and EU maintain very good relations with almost all other countries. Both are most favorable tourist destination. For instance, Macau Special Administrative Region can form a Portuguese-speaking country/region tourism alliance to promote China-EU tourism cooperation.

The world is moving ahead to be a better one and I believe firmly that China-EU tourism cooperation will make a great contribution to that lofty goal.

*The author is the Secretary General of International Mountain Tourism Alliance, former Vice Foreign Minister of China, former Vice Minister of Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council.

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