The National Federation of Travels and Tourism (Federturismo Confindustria), a branch of Italy’s largest business association Confidustria dealing with tourism, said in a statement on Friday that it has signed an agreement with China’s largest online travel agency Ctrip to boost Sino-Italian synergies in tourism.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed at the Capitoline City Hall, under the auspices of Rome’s Councillor of Economic Development, Tourism and Labour Carlo Cafarotti.

At the ceremony, China’s Ctrip also inked similar promotional deals with Rome municipality, Tuscany and Umbria regions, Italian railway company Trenitalia, and Milan Malpensa airport’s managing society SEA, the Federturismo added.

The various MOUs are all meant to boost connectivity between Asia and Europe in the light of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to the business association.

“For Italy and Europe, the new Silk Road (BRI) represents a wide economic project able to improve connection with the Asian economic giant through the creation of infrastructures, railways and ports,” the Italian business association explained.

As China was expected to become the world’s largest outbound tourism market by 2020, Italian operators aimed at improving both the country’s overall power of attraction and the quality of services offered to Mandarin-speaking travellers, according to the group.

“The signing of this MOU with Ctrip is very relevant for us, because we wanted to serve as pioneer for all of our sectoral associations,” Federturismo Confindustria President Marina Lalli said.

“Under this framework, our goal is now to promote further specific deals or privileged channels of cooperation between the Ctrip and the single categories of firms we represent,” she added.

The Federturismo umbrella group represents 21 sectoral associations and seven national companies operating in the Italian tourism market.

Chinese tourists made a total of 1.8 million trips to Italy last year. Italy issued 15 percent more visas in China in 2018.

According to a recent report by the China Tourism Academy and the travel agency Ctrip, Italy was the second most popular European destination for Chinese tourists.