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Keynote speech at the official launching ceremony
Venice, 19 January 2018
Dear Minister Franceschini,
Dear President Zaia,
Dear Mayor Brugnaro,
Honourable [European Parliament] President Tajani and Members,
Distinguished European and Chinese guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure and honour to see so many of you gathered in this wonderful setting.
The importance of EU-China relations and the Year of Tourism
And it is right that we meet here today.
Over the past decades, China has become the EU's biggest source of imports.
It is now its second-biggest export market and a key strategic partner.
We discuss and work together over a range of areas from transport to innovation; from trade to investment.
And we both seek peace, prosperity and sustainable development for the benefit of all.
But it is about more than that.
We are two of the oldest civilisations in the world.
And it is over seven hundred and fifty years ago since Marco Polo, his father and his uncle set off from here in Venice.
Since then, there have been greater and greater exchanges between our people.
Not just gems from China to Europe but in the other direction too.
Amber from my country, Poland.
This is why, in July 2016, Premier Li Keqiang and President Juncker decided that 2018 would be the "EU-China Tourism Year".
And today we will officially launch it.
But before doing so, allow me to say a few words about the importance of this initiative.
Our aims from the Year
Initiatives like the EU-China Tourism Year are good for both the EU and China.
We have common objectives for the Year:
We both want to improve mutual understanding between European and Chinese peoples.
We both want to encourage more Europeans and Chinese to visit, discover and appreciate each other's places, cultures, and traditions.
And we both want to stimulate new investment opportunities both in the European Union and China.
On the EU side, we have three more specific aims.
First, we want to promote sustainable tourism.
We want to attract more Chinese travellers to lesser known destinations and travelling outside high season.
This allows for win-win growth and local development in our cities and regions.
Second, we want to increase investment opportunities for our industry.
For that, we will continue working with the Chinese authorities to address remaining barriers for EU tourist companies keen to work in China.
Third, we hope that this Year will create the right conditions to advance ongoing negotiations on EU-China visa facilitation and air connectivity.
The Programme of EU activities
With this in mind, in the course of the Year, the EU will carry out a wide range of activities.
First, we will help our industry to adapt to the needs of the Chinese market by providing new intelligence through webinars and online exchange of good practices.
I invite you to go the EU China Tourism Year website to discover this material.
Second, we are creating opportunities for our tourist businesses to develop partnerships with Chinese partners.
We are organising eight Business to Business matchmaking events taking place during major travel fairs in the EU and in China.
We are proud to announce that some of these fairs have decided to make the EU their guest of honour for 2018: in Beijing in April, Macau in October and Shanghai in November.
Third, we are working to showcase Europe's unique and diverse natural and cultural heritage and contemporary culture.
So we have launched a new initiative - the 'Joint Promotion Platform' set up by the European Travel Commission.
This is a new tool to fund major marketing actions promoting 'Destination Europe' in China.
It will help develop and make Chinese audiences aware of the many routes, destinations, and experiences that Europe has to offer.
Last but not least, we are encouraging local authorities to organise events bringing European and Chinese communities together.
This is, for instance, the objective of the 'EU-China Light Bridge'.
In the EU, on 2 March, a number of landmark buildings and sites will be lit up in red, the colour of the Chinese flag.
This will join the Chinese celebration of the lantern festival.
In the same way, on Europe Day on 9 May, heritage sites in China will be lit up in the blue of the EU flag.
We want all these activities to deliver results.
We are looking for 200 new partnership agreements between EU and Chinese companies from the matchmaking events.
We are hoping for an increase of 10% of Chinese visitors above the current trend and for this to be sustained year on year.
This would mean at least €1 billion a year for the EU economy.
And we want to do this while respecting the needs of local communities and avoiding 'over tourism'.
Venetians will know what I am talking about.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are working hard to create opportunities for the EU tourism industry and EU citizens.
But the real work must come from the industry and local authorities.
They must seize these opportunities and help create even more.
The industry must come up with new and innovative approaches.
And they must encourage more responsible and sustainable tourism, respecting local places and people.
National, regional and local authorities must step up cooperation.
We need more public-private partnerships to make the best use of available resources.
I am convinced that we all will make this Year a great success!
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