More to it than spend­ing and the sights

China Daily (Canada) - - E-COMMERCE -

When I was as­signed by China Daily to study at the Univer­sity of Hawaii two decades ago, the ques­tion I most fre­quently faced in Honolulu was: Are you Ja­panese?

Asian tourists swarmed Waikiki beach and shop­ping malls in the is­land but they were mostly Ja­panese, with a sprin­kling of Kore­ans. It was rare to see Chi­nese there.

But how things have changed.

Fig­ures from the World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil show that Chi­nese trav­el­ers made 120 mil­lion over­seas trips last year, spend­ing $215 bil­lion on goods and ser­vices.

Big-spend­ing Chi­nese tourists were mostly wel­comed in their des­ti­na­tion coun­tries where they boosted the lo­cal economies but also faced some re­sent­ment.

For ex­am­ple, main­lan­ders buy­ing up milk pow­der in Hong Kong re­sulted in a short sup­ply for lo­cal fam­i­lies and forced au­thor­i­ties to re­strict sales to vis­i­tors.

Over­seas tourism of Chi­nese should be viewed not only from mar­ket or eco­nomic per­spec­tives but in the con­text of cul­tural ex­changes.

The Chi­nese, hav­ing lived with a closed-door pol­icy for a long time, are keen on know­ing more of the out­side world — and their ris­ing af­flu­ence now makes it pos­si­ble.

That ex­plains why world news is car­ried promi­nently in Chi­nese me­dia, both in print and TV, with an avid au­di­ence run­ning into hun­dreds of mil­lions.

In­ter­ac­tion be­tween Chi­nese tourists and lo­cal peo­ple is also good for Chi­nese to bet­ter un­der­stand for­eign cus­toms and cul­tures, and lays a firm foun­da­tion for friend­ships.

One ex­am­ple is the ties be­tween China and Ja­pan. Bi­lat­eral re­la­tions have plum­meted to lows in re­cent years be­cause of the Ja­panese govern­ment’s re­fusal to ad­mit his­tor­i­cal mis­takes as well as its claims of sovereignty over China’s Diaoyu Is­lands.

But that did not stop Chi­nese mak­ing 4.99 mil­lion trips to Ja­pan last year, while the flow in the other di­rec­tion was 2.5 mil­lion trips.

Tourism on such a large scale helps the two peo­ples to look at each other in more ra­tio­nal ways.

A Chi­nese say­ing goes: it is bet­ter to see once than to hear a hun­dred times. So when Chi­nese tourists see ad­vanced for­eign so­ci­eties, they are keen to learn good prac­tices such as in Ja­pan or South Korea.

I re­cently met a city mayor who had just re­turned from Ger­many. He waxed elo­quent about the ad­vanced drainage sys­tem that pro­tects its cities from flood­ing.

He said he plans to re­vamp his city’s drainage and I be­lieve mil­lions of res­i­dents in his city will ben­e­fit — a good byprod­uct of over­seas trips.

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