Croatia and China want to expand their cooperation in the tourism sector, which will require introducing direct flights between the two countries, services tailored to Chinese tourists, and simplified visa procedures, Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli and Chinese Ambassador Zhaoming Hu said ahead of the China+16 conference in Dubrovnik.
The conference will be held on September 18-20, and will bring together about 100 participants, including tourism ministers and other officials from most of the 16 Central and Eastern European countries included in the China + 16 platform, as well as representatives of the Chinese tourist industry headed by Culture and Tourism Minister Luo Shugang.
The China +16 platform, launched in Budapest in 2011, aims to boost cooperation between 16 Central and Eastern European countries and China in tourism, energy, industry, infrastructure and transport.
The countries included in this initiative are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Speaking in an interview with state news agency Hina, Cappelli said the Dubrovnik conference would be the fourth meeting of tourism ministers, state secretaries and assistants from the countries included in the China+16 platform. Since 2018 is the China-EU tourism year, the conference will put Croatia at the centre of attention, he added.
"We expect a lot from the conference and I believe it will help in planning the future cooperation of all those involved, to whom we will present all the beauties, potential and activities of Croatian tourism, which is a great opportunity for us. We expect that the conference will bring these countries closer together through cooperation in tourism projects and in other economic sectors," Cappelli said.
The conference will also feature B2B workshops involving local and Chinese entrepreneurs. Cappelli said that the Chinese were most interested in public-private cooperation and health tourism, which is one of the fastest growing segments in Croatia, with a potential of over a billion euros in annual turnover.
In order to increase the tourist trade between the two countries it was necessary to introduce new, direct flights, especially outside the summer season, Capelli said, adding he hoped the opening of the Croatian Tourist Board's office in Shanghai would contribute to this.
With the growing interest of Chinese tourists in Croatia and additional advertising, China could become one of the most important source markets for Croatia, he said.
Over 160,000 Chinese tourists had visited Croatia in 2017, which was 60 percent more than in 2016, while in the first eight months of this year their number had increased by almost 40 percent on the year.
"The results will be even better by the end of the year because it is well known that the Chinese come to visit us in large numbers outside the summer season. They are more interested in natural wonders and cultural heritage than in the sun and the sea," he said.
The platform China +16 has over the past five years made significant achievements and has been efficiently promoting the development of relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries and between China and the EU, Chinese Ambassador to Croatia Zhaoming Hu told Hina.
He added he was confident the conference would to further boost tourism cooperation between China and all countries from the platform.
The number of Chinese tourists in Croatia is growing steadily and with all the initiatives that have already been launched we believe that their number will continue to grow, the ambassador said. He added that the Chinese government encouraged Chinese companies to take part in building tourism infrastructure in Croatia and cooperate with Croatian partners in hotel business, tourism services, environmental protection, etc. We hope that this conference too will encourage the two sides to boost cooperation in health tourism, mobile payment and help ease the visa regime, he said.
Zhaoming said the Dubrovnik conference would be attended by entrepreneurs from about a dozen of the most influential tourism companies in China with a sincere desire to establish cooperation with their Croatian colleagues. This cooperation includes the launching of direct flights between the two countries, he added.
The ambassador emphasised that the current visa regime was the main obstacle to more Chinese tourists travelling to Croatia, adding that although both countries were investing a lot of effort, the visa issuing procedure for Chinese tourists remained lengthy and too complex.
The Chinese ambassador expressed hope these problems would be resolved in the near future.