When our clients ask us how to influence Chinese tourists’ destination choice, we often recommend working with KOLs or Key Opinion Leaders. If they have bigger budgets, we suggest that they work with a celebrity ambassador. And sometimes we joke that, if they really want to put their destination on the map, perhaps they can persuade President Xi to come on a state visit.
This year, Greece did exactly that as the Chinese President touched down in Athens to discuss trade and investment with Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Historically, destinations boom following a successful state visit. After President Xi drank a pint of beer with David Cameron in a British pub and had a selfie taken with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City in 2015, Chinese tourism to the UK really took off. We have seen state visits as a catalyst for tourism arrivals to many other countries too, such as Fiji and New Zealand in 2014. We can assume that the positive PR surrounding this visit to Greece, and the huge support for China-Greece relations expressed by Mitsotakis, will be well received in China, catapulting Greece into the consideration set for a summer holiday.
Once the keywords start being tapped into Mafengwo and Qyer, it won’t be long before aspirational Chinese FIT travellers realise that Greece has got it all.
From the ancient history of Athens, Olympia, and Delphi, to the stunning scenery of Meteora and the Mani to the crystal waters and sundrenched, whitewashed villages of the Greek islands, you have the perfect ingredients for a Chinese tourist’s dream; a multi-centre, experiential holiday, with history, beauty, and some very shareable back drops. Not to mention some of the most famous mythological stories and delicious dishes in Europe to feast upon.
But apart from the ensuing publicity generated by a state visit, improved air transport links are also a common result of such visits, and this one seems to be no different.
The most important factor here is the opportunity presented by codesharing. Greece has a unique geographical make up with a huge number of delightful islands, secondary towns and cities, and other areas of natural beauty and historical significance. In order to bring tourists and citizens to all corners of Greece, the country has a very large network of internal flights operated by Aegean Airlines. Once these domestic flights start to link up with international flights coming direct to Athens from Beijing (and potentially other airports in China), suddenly the whole of Greece becomes accessible to the Chinese tourist. And that is what the two leaders’ Memorandum of Understanding will provide for. If all goes to plan, a codeshare agreement could be adopted between Air China and Aegean Airlines, meaning passengers from Beijing will be able to reach major Greek tourism destinations such as Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, Corfu, and Halkidiki much more easily.
The MOU will also allow for an increase in the number of flights between Greece and China. At present, there are only three direct flights per week from China into Athens, flying from Beijing on Air China, although up to 14 are permitted. Once the new agreement is implemented, airlines will be allowed to operate up to 35 flights per week. And, with the codeshares in place, there could be enough demand to justify the increases.
In the first nine months of 2018, Chinese arrivals to Greece grew by 22%, making China the fastest growing market for tourism to Greece. It is expected that similar growth will be seen once the summer figures emerge for 2019. Whilst reported numbers are still relatively small at around 200,000 per year, it is widely agreed that these figures are understated due to the large number of people entering Greece on a visa to another EU country as part of a multi-centre tour.
The most famous island is the picturesque, romantic Santorini, widely photographed and admired by honeymooners and bloggers alike, but other islands such as nearby Mykonos and Greece’s largest island, Crete, are also popular and gaining traction on the major travel platforms and within itineraries. Of course, Athens and the wonderous Acropolis, will also feature on the itinerary.
We expect to see a huge upturn in interest for Greece from China next year. Its popularity with honeymooners also provides an additional opportunity for Greece’s luxury resorts, as Chinese honeymooners are allowed to take a longer holiday, giving plenty of time to explore and stay. And the Chinese national holiday, Golden Week, in October also presents a great opportunity to extend the summer season, especially for those islands like Crete and Kos which remain sunny and warm well into mid-October.
If you are interested in finding out how China Travel Outbound can help you promote your Greek region, resort, attraction or hotel to the Chinese, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
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