More innovation needed to promote the ‘country of culture’
For China Daily
China’s Belt and Road Initiative could drive the development of the tourism industry as long as stakeholders step up facilities, expertise and investment.
The initiative aims to revive ancient trade routes between China and the West with the creation of the landbased Silk Road Economic Belt and oceanic 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Industry stakeholders in Macao for the Global Tourism Economy Forum considered the importance of cultural tourism.
“In China, we always call ourselves a country of culture,” said Peter Wong, chairman of MK Corporation. “But conservation of our cultural relics was not done properly.”
Throughout China’s travel and tourism industry, there is a need for much more investment in facilities and people. Such investment will make it possible for China to continue to emerge as one of the most important travel and tourism markets.
“We believe that China is going to become one of the largest tourism markets in the world and it is important for the Chinese (people) to participate in this transformation,” said Wang Ping, chairman of the China Chamber of Tourism.
“The main message was for county-level officials to change the tourism environment. The initiative was very successful.”
While China has a lot of potential to develop its tourism industry, it lacks resources like top-rated facilities and enough trained professionals. It is important to “change this status quo”, Wang said.
One way to do this might be to leverage technology and find innovative approaches to drive tourism.
The Internet has emerged as a powerful driver of tourism, said Wu Zhaolan, vice-president of the Suning Universal Group.
Online bookings for travel and transportation have emerged as a powerful driver of tourism, and complement traditional tourism activities.
“With smartphones and PCs, people are used to living with the Internet and booking products online,” said Wu.
Tourism must work with the Internet. Online platforms should exist to help tourists find packages for the right price and guarantee those prices.
The ability to book a trip or a hotel is only the beginning of the tourist experience. Destinations have to provide the services needed to keep tourists coming back. Marketing and promises are all well and good, but they only work when backed by a substantive industry.
“Tourism is not really about traveling. It is about selfdiscovery,” said Johnson Jia Yunfeng, CEO of marketing consultancy D&J Global Communications.
Tourism is a way to get away from day-to-day life. The decision to make is where to go and what to see. According to Jia, marketing is important to keep the most interesting destinations constantly in the minds of travelers.
The travel and tourism industry is no different from other industries. To attract more customers, it is important to understand what they want and to provide it, he said.
“What is marketing, after all?” asked Jia, adding: “It is to differentiate your products and services and create an emotional response in the minds of your customers.”
Infrastructure is an important factor. Information can be often hard to find, particularly for tourists. Services can also be spotty, and this is key because tourists that do not receive good service are not likely to come back.
“You need to have your highend positioning. It is not just about a slogan, you need to have your products,” said Jia. “You need to have your whole industry.”
Without adequate infrastructure, products and an industry, marketing will not be useful. The impact of culture stretches into the details of the needs of the travel and tourism industry, down to the chairs for people to sit and the beds in which they sleep.
Furniture, said Ding Zuohong, a member of the standing committee of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, is at the heart of everything.
“Many of our businesses cover hotels,” said Ding, who is also the chairman of Yuexing Group, a large furniture maker. “Good taste is reflected in our furniture.”
Ji Xiaodong, vice-president and secretary general of the CCT, said: “There is a saying that one should read 10,000 books and travel 10,000 miles. Tourism is about traveling those 10,000 miles.”
Tourism is important on a “spiritual level”, Ji added.
“In this industry in China, there is a lack of qualified professionals. The threshold of entrance into the industry is not as high as, say, the finance industry,” said Ji. “There is a lot we can do to bring in more qualified professionals to the industry.”
Literature and films have a great impact on the tourism industry, particularly from a cultural level.
At the same
time, a new generation of travelers has different tastes and requirements that should be taken into account when developing a tourism industry.
Tourism does pose risks to culture and heritage, said Bai Changhong, dean and professor at the College of Tourism and Service Management at Tianjin city’s Nankai University. There are examples of tourism having a negative impact on heritage sites or even local culture.
But the opposite is also true, as more tourism makes it possible for people around the world to get greater exposure to a greater variety of cultures. The right policies make it possible to expand the tourism industry and protect local cultures, said Bai.
“We want to see whether culture can promote the economy,” he noted. “Can we consume culture? And if we consume culture, will the economy destroy culture?
“Some cultures cannot be approached but there are some cultures that allow limited consumption.”
Bai said that much can be learned from Europe, because countries there are experienced at protecting their cultural heritage.
Professional management is also needed to “leverage cultural tourism and turn cultural tourism into something useful for the preservation of culture and the development of the economy”, said Bai.
Ji of the CCT said that driving cultural tourism requires the preservation of cultural sites and facilities. Rebuilding a culture can be difficult and, perhaps, not a good idea.
“Culture must provide something that people can relate to,” said Ji. “We need to have things to represent culture.”
Ultimately, said Wang of the CCT, “we should consider all the people around the world when developing tourism products … We need to think about how to reduce products when we develop tourism products.”
The Belt and Road Initiative drives tourism development in Gansu province.