Eric's Insight: CITM represents Yunnan-Shanghai effort in regional openness

Eric's Insight: CITM represents Yunnan-Shanghai effort in regional openness Actors perform at the 2023 China International Travel Mart (CITM).

The 2023 China International Travel Mart (CITM) concluded in central Yunnan’s Kunming city on November 19, and together with the previous CITM sessions that happened either in Kunming or Shanghai, the travel fair has proved to be a major platform for coordinated development and regional opening-up in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.

CITM driving regional openness

Founded in 1998 when regional openness prevailed, the CITM has grown into one of the largest and most influential tourism fairs in the Asia-Pacific region over the past two decades. As an annual event, it is held in Shanghai and Kunming alternately, except that the 1999 CITM was canceled probably because Kunming was busy with the World Horticultural Expo and the the 2021 edition was disrupted by Covid spikes.

When it comes to the Yunnan-based platforms for regional openness, or rather, for representing the idea of open regionalism, the China-South Asia expo should be taken as the comprehensive fair for the province to open up to south and southeast Asia, but the CITM is probably the most appealing professional fair for facilitating tourism investments and people-to-people exchanges among China, ASEAN, South Asia, and other regions.

International guests at the opening of the 2023 China International Travel Mart (CITM)

In its efforts to embrace regional openness, Yunnan province has been joining hands with Shanghai since late 1990s, and this marriage turned out to be fruitful. By alternately hosting the CITM, the flows of persons, businesses and capitals between Shanghai and Yunnan have quickened, bridging the regional development gaps between east China and west China.

The 1st CITM was held in ShanghaiMart in October 1998. With an exhibition area of 19,000 square meters, it was visited by 55,000. In contrast, the 1st CITM in Kunming took place in Kunming International Trade Center in November 2001. Covering 25,000 square meters, the travel fair saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from 39 countries and regions, including the US, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. At the very beginning, the CITM in Kunming was appealing to major regional players.

Cultural tourist products are on display at 2023 China International Travel Mart (CITM).

The early versions of the CITM usually lasted for four days, but starting in 2015, the travel fair has been a three-day event. The CITM is sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the provincial government of Yunnan, or the municipal government of Shanghai accordingly.

So far, 24 sessions of the CITM have been held, 12 in Shanghai and 12 in Kunming. The Shanghai CITM editions took place in the even-numbered years, while Kunming CITMs were held in the odd-numbered years, with exception of the 2022 CITM, which can be observed as the delayed 2021 version for Kunming. Overall, the CITM has contributed a lot to regional openness in the Asia-Pacific.

The 2015 China-South Asian Countries Tourism Ministerial Meeting in Kunming

New momentum for regional tourism

The CITM participation culminated in the 2010s when regional cooperation was in full swing in the Asia-Pacific. The 2015 CITM in Kunming was participated by 105 countries and regions, with India invited to be the guest of honor. Giving full play to Yunnan's proximity to South Asia, the 2015 fair featured the China-India Tourism Forum and the first China-South Asian Countries Tourism Ministerial Meeting, increasing bilateral tourism exchanges and cooperation.

With a total of 3,700 booths, the 2018 CITM in Shanghai city was attended exhibitors from 107 countries and regions worldwide, with EU invited as the guest of honor. Such an attendance is record breaking among all the 24 CITMs. Taking place at Shanghai New International Expo Center, the fair saw large exhibition areas set up by major countries in the Asia Pacific region, including the US, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia.

Sri Lankan actors stage a show at the CITM international pavilion.

Due to the headwinds of trade protectionism by certain countries and the Shanghai focus shifting onto the high-profile China International Import Expo, the CITM participation seems to be narrower in recent years. However, the CITM in Kunming has also acquired new momentum for regional development and integration, given Yunnan’s dedication to be the Chinese pivot of opening-up to south and southeast Asia and the sound operation of the golden China-Laos railway that connects Shanghai with Vientiane via Kunming.

During the 2022 CITM in Kunming, the Forum on Innovation and Development of Smart Tourism was held, together with the brand-new Forum on China-Laos Railway Helping to Build an Asian Community of Shared Future and the Forum on International Tourism Cooperation and Development under RCEP Framework. In addition, the exhibition areas of "East Asian Cultural Capital" and "Lancang-Mekong Tourist Cities Alliance" were set up to showcase regional cultural tourism.

The 2023 ASEAN-China Tourism Investment Seminar in Kunming

Thailand not only presented well-known scenic spots at the 2022 CITM, but also allowed the audience to discover many previously unknown tourist destinations. SRISAMOOT MR. ARTHAYUDH, Ambassador of Thailand to China, said the opening of China-Laos Railway has been appealing to Thai tourists. In the future, connectivity projects such as China-Thailand Railway are expected to bring the characteristic products, scenic areas and cultures of Thailand and China closer.

As for the just-concluded 2023 CITM in Kunming, it featured an exhibition area of 90,000 square meters, the ASEAN-China Tourism Investment Seminar, and the Seminar on Development of International Culture and Tourism Economic Belt along China-Laos Railway. Thet Thet Khine, Myanmar union minister for hotels and tourism, said the CITM has always been a key platform for the country to deepen cooperation with China, Yunnan in particular.

Cultural tourist products are on display at 2023 China International Travel Mart (CITM).

"China-Laos Railway has shortened the Kunming-Vientiane trip. Laos will design special products that meet the needs of different groups of tourists and make policies on investment promotion in the regions," said Saysamone Singbandith, deputy director for planning and investment at the Division of Planning and International Cooperation, Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, at the ASEAN-China tourism seminar.

Writing by Wang Shixue; Proofreading by Zu Hongbing and Wang Huan; Photos by Yunnan Daily and others