Art and culture as a bridge between China and Italy, between China and the West. Venice, with its priceless artistic heritage, a world showcase for the culture industry and for commerce, city of the Biennale, of the international film festival, of the Golden Lion. On the other side of the world, there is Wuzhen, the 'city on the water' that presents itself as an example of tourist development in the Asian giant and leader of a model that aims to be 'different'.
Wuzhen, which claims to have been able to combine tradition with modern comforts in the name of "eco-friendliness", hosts the Wuzhen Theatre Festival - the liveliest event of its kind on Chinese soil - as well as the annual World Internet Conference, whose speakers included Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Alibaba's founder and CEO Jack But.
Between the two cities on the water, there is tourism, especially high-end tourism - a geopolitical tool to further knowledge and the peaceful exchange of ideas between peoples. And Wuzhen, which has a population of about 57,000 inhabitants and is visited by almost seven millions tourists a year, is looking for "international talent" to develop further.
In an interview on Wuzhen's plans with Adnkronos International (AKI), Chen Yu, general manager of Cultural Wuzhen Co. Ltd. and vice president of Wuzhen Tourism Co. Ltd., recalled medieval Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo, who introduced China to Europe.
The ancient Silk Road "was a trade route but also a road of civilization and friendship", Chen told AKI.
Once, China was the Silk Road's starting point and Italy was the destination, she said.
Today, the Chinese government's 'One Belt, One Road' development strategy to strengthen connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries is a modern version of the Silk Road, Chen said.
"As a transportation hub in the Mediterranean region, Italy is also an important meeting point for 'One Belt, One Road', she underlined.
Chen is optimistic and is convinced that thanks to the diligent work of tourism professionals "ordinary people will deepen their understanding and love for the arts and culture of each other's society."
Marco Polo's expedition "had a very significant influence on Chinese culture spreading to western countries and also promoted a clearer understanding of a true Chinese society in the West" Chen stated.
"Today "benefiting from the policy of closer cultural cooperation and exchange between Italy and China, every year thousands of people visit to Italy and other European countries," Chen said
"Full of curiosity and dreams, they are eager to immerse themselves in the artistic and cultural beauty of western society."
Figures show a total of 13.6 million Chinese travelled to Europe last year, a 13.4 percent rise from 12 million who made the journey in 2016, said Chen.
And Italy "is already one of the most popular European tourist destinations for Chinese tourists," Chen underlined.
The decision to hold the opening ceremony of the '2018 EU-China Tourism Year" in Italy's famous lagoon city of Venice "seems to imply that Italy will take the lead" in expanding tourism in China and Europe, she said.
"The tourism industry in Italy and China cannot but shoulder the responsibility of playing an active role in enhancing mutual understanding and overall relations between the two countries."
The uniqueness of each Italian town and city - its history, its art attractions and architecture and its gastronomic traditions - is fascinating for the Chinese, according to Chen.
And for Italians who have visited Wuzhen, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, it was 'fatal attraction'. Not just the bridges and the little boats on the canals but also the enchanting spectacle at dusk as the city's lights come on.
Wuzhen has known how to "cleverly embed" modernity and "the most advanced technology and eco-friendly standards, Chen said.
Every year, hundreds of executives arrive and political leaders arrive in Wuzhen for the World Internet Conference, she noted. In addition, with Wuzhen Theatre Festival and a series of Chinese and Western cultural exchange activities, Wuzhen has become a "paradise" for art lovers, she stated.
The city opens its doors to the world and invites "friends from all over the world, including Italy, to join hands with our team in Wuzhen to protect and develop the beautiful Chinese villages," said Chen.
"High-end tourism is a reflection of the new consumption pattern...and is a goal in the development of the tourism industry in China," she stressed.
Chen cited a survey on trends in the sector carried out by local agencies in China, which she said showed that 45 percent of the country's high-end tourists are business executives and that their average age is 40.
Over 80 percent of these High Net Worth Individuals budget for tourism in their annual spending plans, showing the importance of travel and holiday activities for these HNWI families, Chen pointed out.
Wuzhen is working "to design more attractive products to match the needs and interests of high-end customers" by focusing on a successful brand marketing strategy success and on human resources, she said.
Wuzhen officials do not deny the delicately balanced relationship between "culture and commerce", Chen said. The goal is to "protect traditional Chinese culture" and the landscape of the Jiangnan region while maintaining "and international standard of service and a comfortable living environment", she stated.
The constant development of the Wuzhen Scenic Zone over almost two decades has turned it into a renowned tourist destination that allows the state owned Wuzhen Tourism Company to create more than 5,000 jobs annually, Chen said.
"The successful business model or business philosophy of Wuzhen is to stick to medium and long-term development goals, respect history and culture, proceed from local reality undogmatically and dare to innovate," Chen stated.
"Instead of instant success, the long-term attitude is to protect historical districts, rather than simply seeking to make some simple changes to the structure of an existing town for the purpose of tourism development," she said.
Competition in the tourism industry is "a contest between talents, Chen underlined.
"Our team needs more efforts to implement service innovation without any delay," she stated.
Wuzhen is aiming for continuous development and hopes Italy will help it in its search for "international talent" to join its team, Cheng concluded.