On Wednesday, 23 October, one of the most important events in the 17+1 cooperation format between China and Central and Eastern European countries (CAE) was held in Riga – the 5th High-Level China-Central Eastern European Countries Tourism Forum. The fact that the event was held in Latvia plays a key role in strengthening economic relations between Latvia and China and in promoting tourism.
The leitmotif of the 17 +1 Tourism Forum is connectivity or establishment of closer links, and therefore the Forum discussed in more detail the promotion of cooperation between the 17 +1 countries in the cultural and digital areas, as well as in the development of transport links. High-level representatives of China and CAE countries, the ministers responsible for tourism, high-level officials and tourism entrepreneurs, participated in the China-Central and Eastern European Tourism Forum (CAE). The ministerial round table, the tourism business forum, the business fair, as well as bilateral meetings of the Minister of Economics Ralfs Nemiro and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Economics Ēriks Eglītis with tourism ministers and other high-level officials of different countries were held within the framework of the Forum.
At the Forum, the countries agreed to strengthen cooperation between China and 17 Central and Eastern European countries in the field of tourism, paying special attention the use of digital opportunities, promoting interconnection and mobility, where the development of direct flights to China is a key prerequisite, promoting mutual investment in the tourism sector and creating a business-friendly environment, and promoting cooperation between the national government, national regulatory authorities, tourism organisations and agencies to create more efficient and more digital marketing channels for attraction of tourists.
The Minister of Economics Ralfs Nemiro met with the Chinese Minister for Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang. During the meeting, R.Nemiro emphasised that the 17+1 platform promotes professional cooperation between cultural institutions and the tourism sector, encourages discussions on the opening of first direct (charter) flights between China and Latvia, so that Riga can become a transport hub in the Baltics, and that tourism undertakings develop joint tourism products and thematic routes within the framework of the 17+1 platform. China is a priority distant tourism market for Latvia, so Latvia is positioning itself as a new, safe and interesting tourist destination for Chinese tourists. Latvia is also interested in promoting the development of direct flights or charter flights between Latvia and China. The number of Chinese tourists coming to Latvia has grown ten times since 2011, reaching 22.7 thousand tourists in 2018. In the Baltic States, the total number of Chinese tourists reaches more than 60,000 tourists per year.
R.Nemiro met the Greek Minister of Tourism Harry Theoharis. Latvia is interested in developing cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism, particularly in the field of special interest tourism, such as cultural, adventure and health tourism. Greece is the second most popular destination for Latvian tourists (organised in groups), in 2018 more than 37 thousand Latvian tourists travelled to Greece, while 6.8 thousand Greek tourists visited Latvia last year. The two countries agreed on further cooperation in the field of tourism, particularly promoting the development of non-seasonal tourism offers.
On the other hand, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Economics Ēriks Eglītis met with Albania Minister of Tourism and Environment Blendi Klosi and the Advisor to the Croatian Minister of Tourism Olivera Šaric to discuss the strengthening of Latvia’s cooperation in the field of tourism with these countries.
At the end of the forum, the Marco Polo Awards for the best tourist products were awarded. The purpose of the Marco Polo Award is to develop routes and products that would attract travellers from China.
The winner of the Marco Polo Prize Golden Award is the Montenegro company Fly Montenegro Travel for a specially designed offer for Chinese tourists to travel privately to the Balkan countries; the winner of the Silver Award is the Polish company CT Poland with the Eastern European concert tour; and the winner of the Bronze Prize is the Hungarian company Long Teng Hungary Kft. offering different complex tourism services interests for Chinese tourists.
The winners of the Marco Polo Prize get the opportunity to promote their products in the 17+1 national mass media for one year. Meanwhile, the gold prize winner will take part in the Chinese Tourism Trade Show in Shanghai.
The 17+1 format is the format for cooperation between China and CAE countries, which aims to promote cooperation of China with 17 European countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece. The next China-CAE 17+1 high-level tourism conference will take place in Greece, Athens in 2020.