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“China is very interested in Portugal, not only for its history, but also for its products”

Gonçalo Francisco

China has fully reopened its doors to the world after more than two years of the pandemic. And one of the countries in which this Asian country seems to be “interested” is Portugal, specifically the economic importance of this nation. This is said by Yong Liang, president of the Chinese Tourism Association in Portugal (ACTEP), in an interview with PLATAFORMA. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the leader believes that if all parties work in the same direction, success will be guaranteed.

PLATAFORMA: China has finally opened up to the world and now other countries are doing the same with Chinese citizens. Is this good news for the tourism market?

Yong Liang – Of course. After a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and in particular overseas group tours from China hit the restart button. According to a recent report, overseas trips from China are expected to reach 228 million per year by 2030, imagine how these numbers will help the recovery of the world economy and a tourist destination like Portugal…

Before the pandemic, there were three direct flights between Lisbon and China, it became just once…

Y.L. – Beijing capital airlines is very interested in launching a second flight per week, as what they used to have, and other European airlines like KLM and Air France will also significantly increase their flights to China in the future next. This will increase air flow capacity and allow many more Chinese tourists to visit Portugal.

Even in the face of such positive expectations, according to the latest data, China ranks only as the 27th tourist market for Portugal as a destination. What can be done to change this situation?

Y.L. – This ranking reflects the enormous potential that exists to explore in China as a tourism outbound market. China has been number 1 in the world for several years. Therefore, we believe that it would be very important for the Portuguese tourism industry to assign another, higher priority to the Chinese market in its strategic plan to promote the tourism market in 2023.

Last year, China opened the doors for Portuguese travel agencies to enter its outbound market. Is there recent positive data on this subject?

Y.L. – In October last year, we publicized this opportunity through the specialized tourism media in Portugal, as soon as this new policy was launched by the Chinese government. We believe this is a unique opportunity, and we are pleased that some travel agencies have shown interest in it. We, at ACTEP, are open to helping interested travel agencies to establish themselves in China, it is obviously a good investment for the future, but also in the short term.

Do you feel that Portuguese agencies are still afraid to invest in China or do you just consider that it is a lack of information?

Y.L. – The lack of information is certainly the main difficulty for travel agencies planning to invest in China’s foreign tourist market, and this was also one of the main reasons why ACTEP was created. To facilitate mutual understanding between the tourism and travel companies of both countries and ultimately between the two peoples. We promote Portugal in China and China in Portugal. These two years, as we all know, have been a great challenge and, although we have not stopped our efforts, we believe that good results will be achieved in 2023 and beyond. Our advantage is the fact that we know both realities – Chinese and Portuguese – we are in both countries, we are in a unique position to build bridges. Portuguese travel agencies that trust us will certainly be successful on this front as well.

A little over a year ago, ACTEP predicted one million Chinese tourists in Portugal for 2025. Do you still have faith in these numbers?

Y.L. – The pandemic, naturally, forces us to review this objective, but I believe that, if we all want it, it will be a quick recovery. Achieving this goal requires the full effort of the entire national tourism industry in Portugal, not just one association. If Portugal could review its promotional marketing strategy and put China in the right position, I believe it will be able to reach these numbers very quickly.

ACTEP has managed some Portuguese pavilions at fairs in the Asian market. Did you understand at the end of the events that the interest of the Chinese in Portugal is serious?

Y.L. – We were very honored to have been invited to build and manage the Portugal Pavilion at EXPO Horticultural Yangzhou in 2021, as well as in another important event during the 2022 China International Trade and Services Fair, which are two of the most important fairs in China . These facts show that China is very interested in Portugal, not only for its history, but also for its products – I remember that we covered the Portugal Pavilion at Expo Yangzhou with a cork board from the Amorim brand, which is exactly the same as the pavilion Portuguese at Expo Shanghai 2020, both achieved great success to enhance the image of Portugal. We also presented the best Portuguese wines from Bacalhoa and others, and the gastronomy. The reactions we received were absolutely encouraging.

ACTEP was created in 2019, before the pandemic, so the work will not have been facilitated. What is your assessment of these four years promoting Portugal in China?

Y.L. – We want Portugal to be a destination that Chinese tourists cannot miss. This is the main objective for which ACTEP has been working hard over the last few years and will continue to do so, within the scope of its strategy for incoming tourism in Portugal. But I must also say that we will also see a significant increase in foreign travelers visiting Macau and China, which is a huge, diverse and highly competitive tourist destination. Macau is certainly very well positioned between Portugal and China.

Finally, what can you say to the Chinese to make Portugal a possible tourist destination?

Y.L. – Portugal has rightly been nominated as one of the best destinations in Europe for many years. And Macau is the bridge, with 500 years of history, that connects Portugal and China. All this makes Portugal very unique and attractive for Chinese tourists, ACTEP’s job is to help the Portuguese tourist industry in general to be ready to receive the waves of Chinese tourists in the near future, just as we intend to help the industry of Macau and China in general.

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