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We'll drink to that: Italian winery owners toast visa-free travel

Hermione Kitson in Rome


Italian companies with business ties to China say the Chinese government's trial of visa-free travel will help boost exports.‌

China is already one of Italy's top-10 export markets: Before the pandemic 50,000 bottles were sent there each year. But the easing of paperwork will help to grease the wheels of global business. 

The Mazzei family has been in the winemaking trade in the heart of Tuscany's Chianti Classico region since 1435, becoming a brand synonymous with Made in Italy excellence.‌ Giovanni Mazzei, a ‌25th-generation winemaker, says that while China can be a difficult market to penetrate, it has enormous potential.‌

"We invest a lot in the market," he tells CGTN. "I used to live in Asia, in Hong Kong, and I started developing China myself. So, I think the fact that we're spending more time there really helps us to understand Chinese culture."


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‌Livio Mazzanti is the brand's China area manager. He says they're yet to return to 2019 numbers, but that China's visa-free travel initiative will improve business as it will cut paperwork and lengthy processing times.

"The Chinese government introduced a good strategy," he says, "because for us it's much easier to go to China, because we can take the next available flight."

Mazzei agrees, saying "It offers more possibilities for the two countries to know each other without having to deal with the bureaucracy of the visa. I think it's a great benefit and I think we will see big returns from this."

The trial countries 

Italy is among 11 European countries involved in the trial of visa-free travel to China. In December and January, China brought in 15 days of visa-free entry for citizens of Malaysia plus seven European countries – Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. In March, that was extended to include Austria, Belgium, Hungary and Luxembourg.

It's hoped simplifying travel to China will boost not just business but also tourism. Last year there was a surge in interest in China as a holiday destination and there are currently 35 flights a week from Rome to nine different destinations.

Authorities at Rome's Fiumicino Airport believe 2024 will be a record year for Chinese travel. Federico Scriboni, the Head of Aviation Business Development at Rome Airports, says all Chinese carriers have resumed their routes to and from Italy.

"At the beginning of 2024 in the period between January and February, we are strongly growing compared to 2019 levels, and we have an increase of 60 percent in terms of seats capacity offered between Italy and mainland China."

The one-year trial of visa-free travel to China is expected to end in November. And while those with an interest in tourism may take this window of opportunity to explore, businesses on both sides of the world will use it to strengthen ties. 

We'll drink to that: Italian winery owners toast visa-free travel

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