Trip ad­vi­sors

Chi­nese tourists are re­shap­ing the global tourism in­dus­try and im­pact­ing the world econ­omy, not only with their money, but also with their habits - and tour op­er­a­tors are re­spond­ing

NewsChina - - COVER STORY - By Yi Ziyi

For coun­tries keen to boost their tourism in­dus­tries, China is the sin­gle largest source of in­ter­na­tional tourists and the most sig­nif­i­cant source of tourism ex­pen­di­ture, with 130 mil­lion tourists a year who spend some US$115 bil­lion on their trips. China is al­ready the largest source of in­bound tourists for 10 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Thai­land, Ja­pan, South Korea, Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia, Rus­sia, Mal­dives, In­done­sia and South Africa.

These smart­phone-ad­dicted, spend-happy tourists are chang­ing the global tourism in­dus­try and rewrit­ing the rules. Whether des­ti­na­tions are ready or not, Chi­nese tourists are al­ready on the road and they are go­ing fur­ther and faster.

Gold Rush

“Chi­nese tourists are the most pow­er­ful sin­gle source of change in the tourism in­dus­try,” Taleb Ri­fai, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the UN World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO), told the South China Morn­ing Post in Oc­to­ber 2017.

Last year, Thai­land and Ja­pan re­mained the two hottest

des­ti­na­tions, at­tract­ing 9.8 mil­lion and 7.35 mil­lion tourists from the Chi­nese main­land.

Dark horse des­ti­na­tions such as Morocco, Turkey, Tu­nisia, Rus­sia, the Czech Repub­lic, Ger­many, Spain, the UAE, the UK and Ice­land have also seen a dra­matic surge in Chi­nese vis­i­tor num­bers.

More di­rect air links, fewer visa re­stric­tions and tar­geted mar­ket­ing have driven vis­i­tor num­bers. Since King Mo­hammed VI of Morocco de­cided to grant Chi­nese cit­i­zens visa-free ac­cess from June 2016, tourist num­bers have seen re­mark­able growth. Khalid Fathi, chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Moroc­can tourist of­fice in China, said some 118,000 Chi­nese tourists vis­ited Morocco in 2017 – quite a boost, when it used to av­er­age no more than 20,000 each year.

To stand out from the fiercely com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, in­dus­try play­ers have be­gun to be more cre­ative with their ap­proaches to tar­get Chi­nese tourists through mar­ket­ing cam­paigns and ads.

From em­ploy­ing Chi­nese-speak­ing staff, of­fer­ing in-room elec­tronic ket­tles, pro­vid­ing Chi­nese rice por­ridge for break­fast and slip­pers in their rooms, to pro­vid­ing rooms with Chi­nese lucky num­bers like six, eight or nine, while avoid­ing the num­ber four, a ho­mo­phone for death, a grow­ing num­ber of hote­liers are pro­vid­ing small yet sig­nif­i­cant changes to cater to Chi­nese vis­i­tors' spe­cific cus­toms and cul­tural tastes.

Des­ti­na­tions also uti­lize China's pow­er­ful fan econ­omy to lever­age China's mas­sive youth mar­ket. In May 2017, Den­mark ap­pointed 17-year-old Jack­son Yi from the hugely pop­u­lar Chi­nese teen band Tf­boys as Dan­ish tourism am­bas­sador to China, a smart move to at­tract Chi­nese young­sters.

The band has more than 13 mil­lion fans, nearly three times that of Den­mark's own pop­u­la­tion. Most were born post 1990, and com­pared with other de­mo­graph­ics, Chi­nese mil­len­ni­als are bet­ter ed­u­cated, more tech­nol­ogy-savvy and pro­fi­cient in English, pos­sess strong spend­ing power and tend to travel in­de­pen­dently.

In 2016, Switzer­land ap­pointed the pop­u­lar ac­tor Huang Xuan as its tourism am­bas­sador to China, and re­cently the Bri­tish Tourism Bureau named fa­mous Chi­nese ac­tress An­ge­lababy (An­gela Ye­ung Wing) as its good­will am­bas­sador.

Aus­tralia has pushed hard to get a slice of the ac­tion. China is Aus­tralia's sec­ond-largest vis­i­tor mar­ket with more than 1.2 mil­lion Chi­nese tourists vis­it­ing in 2017. The Aus­tralia China Busi­ness Coun­cil fore­casts that to­tal Chi­nese vis­i­tor num­bers to Aus­tralia are set to more than triple to 3.3 mil­lion a year by 2026.

China is al­ready the largest source of tourist ex­pen­di­ture, pump­ing a record A$10.4 bil­lion (US$8.17 bil­lion) into the econ­omy, a 14 per­cent in­crease from 2016. In the Aus­tralian lux­ury mar­ket, in­dus­try in­sid­ers es­ti­mate Chi­nese shop­pers are re­spon­si­ble for at least twothirds of sales.

“The cur­rent Chi­nese tourism boom in Aus­tralia is the re­sult of six years of ef­forts by Aus­tralia,” said Tan Zhuo, who has been in­volved in tourism mar­ket­ing for nine years, with a fo­cus on Aus­tralia and the US.

“Com­pared to other coun­tries, Aus­tralia has spared no ex­pense in de­vel­op­ing its in­bound Chi­nese mar­ket. It has seen how the enor­mous spend­ing power of Chi­nese vis­i­tors has boosted its econ­omy, so it's very will­ing to spend the big bucks on the Chi­nese mar­ket. That forms a vir­tu­ous cir­cle,” Tan told Newschina.

The rise of the Chi­nese tourism mar­ket in Aus­tralia, Tan stressed, was fueled by an in­crease in the num­ber of di­rect flights in re­cent years, which started in 2011. Be­fore then, only the ma­jor Chi­nese me­trop­o­lises of Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Guangzhou had di­rect ac­cess. Now tourists can fly di­rectly to Aus­tralia from 18 dif­fer­ent cities, and many of these new flights de­part from sec­ond-tier cities such as Kun­ming, Qing­dao, Chang­sha, Fuzhou and Xi'an.

Since 2011, di­rect avi­a­tion ca­pac­ity has dou­bled, with an­nual ca­pac­ity of around 1.5 mil­lion seats in April 2017, a 76-per­cent in­crease on 2013 ca­pac­ity.

“I've seen how the Aus­tralian mar­ket was es­tab­lished in China bit by bit. Mar­keters have done an enor­mous amount of re­search on routes, air­craft types and ca­pac­ity,” Tan said.

“To ma­ture a mar­ket takes a long time – five or six years per­haps, but a mar­ket can be frozen in a very short time,” she added.

South Korea, once one of the most sought-af­ter des­ti­na­tions for Chi­nese tourists, has been strug­gling in the last 12 months or so fol­low­ing a down­turn in the over­all Sino-south Korean diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship. This was sparked by Seoul's de­ci­sion in March 2017 to in­stall a US anti-mis­sile bat­tery, the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD), to counter North Korean nu­clear threats. China saw this as a threat to its own and to re­gional se­cu­rity.

As part of the fall­out from this de­ci­sion, the China Na­tional Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion banned pack­age tours to South Korea, although it put no re­stric­tions on in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers. The re­stric­tion was lifted in Novem­ber 2017 af­ter the two coun­tries is­sued state­ments in Oc­to­ber on their mu­tual de­sires to im­prove re­la­tions.

In 2017, South Korea re­ceived 4.2 mil­lion Chi­nese vis­i­tors, down 48.3 per­cent on the pre­cious year, ac­cord­ing to data from the Korea Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The Bank of Korea said in De­cem­ber that South Korea suf­fered a loss of 5 tril­lion won (US$4.7 bil­lion) in 2017 due to the de­clin­ing num­ber of Chi­nese tourists.

“Be­ing chopped in half at the waist,” a term that refers to an an­cient Chi­nese method of ex­e­cu­tion, was used by me­dia and in­dus­try play­ers to de­scribe the dev­as­tat­ing loss in tourism rev­enue that South Korea ex­pe­ri­enced.

Tan also ex­pressed her wor­ries over the Chi­nese and Amer­i­can tourist in­dus­tries un­der the shadow of a trade war.

“The strained bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship and more re­stric­tive visa poli­cies will in­evitably im­pact tourists' choices. We are not quite sure where the sit­u­a­tion will lead,” she said.

Cash­less Rev­o­lu­tion

E-com­merce, an im­por­tant slice of China's econ­omy, has been spread by Chi­nese tourists to the world.

Chi­nese peo­ple are lead­ing a cash­less life­style as the use of mo­bile pay­ment has spread like wild­fire across the coun­try. The ad­van­tages of this new pay­ment method are ob­vi­ous: it is quick, easy and con­ve­nient, with no need to cal­cu­late change or ex­change for­eign cur­ren­cies.

Of the world's ma­jor economies, China is light years ahead in the on­line pay­ment rev­o­lu­tion. Some busi­nesses now refuse cash pay­ments, or strug­gle to make change. You are more likely to be asked if you want to use the lead­ing mo­bile pay­ment sys­tems, Ali­pay or Wechat Pay. Even pedi­cab driv­ers will take elec­tronic pay­ments and street artists have a QR code for do­na­tions.

Mo­bile pay­ments in China hit 81 tril­lion yuan (US$12.8 tril­lion) for the first 10 months of 2017, nearly 40 per­cent more than the whole of the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est of­fi­cial fig­ures from the Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy. The lat­est tally dwarfed the es­ti­mated US$49.3 bil­lion in to­tal mo­bile pay­ment trans­ac­tions in the US, data from emar­keter shows.

Now the boom in Chi­nese tourism has ex­panded the cash­less life­style to the world.

Ac­cord­ing to the Out­bound Chi­nese Tourism and Con­sump­tion Trends: 2017 Sur­vey, is­sued by Nielsen and Ali­pay, 65 per­cent of out­bound Chi­nese tourists have al­ready used mo­bile pay­ments while trav­el­ing abroad, six times that of non-chi­nese tourists (11 per­cent).

Ninety per­cent of Chi­nese tourists would use mo­bile pay­ment over­seas if given the op­tion, and 91 per­cent said that this might in­crease their de­sire to pur­chase more goods or ser­vices.

“China has em­braced mo­bile pay­ments faster than any other coun­try, and will con­tinue to lead the global charge in this re­gard. Mo­bile pay­ment is on the rise glob­ally, and will con­tinue to sup­port greater con­nec­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency across the com­mer­cial ecosys­tem,” said Vishal Bali, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Nielsen China.

Ali­pay, the world's lead­ing dig­i­tal pay­ment plat­form op­er­ated by Ant Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Group, a divi­sion of tech be­he­moth Alibaba, has been ex­pand­ing ag­gres­sively. Now it has been adopted by mil­lions of re­tail­ers, restau­rants, su­per­mar­kets, con­ve­nience stores and du­tyfree stores in 40 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries, in­clud­ing the US, Europe, Ja­pan, South Korea, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Sin­ga­pore.

Ali­pay has be­come avail­able as a pay­ment method for about 35,000 North Amer­i­can mer­chants. Tens of thou­sands of cabs in New York City and Las Ve­gas ac­cept Ali­pay. Fin­land is an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Chi­nese tourists and be­came the first coun­try to of­fer Chi­nese tourists an en­tirely cash­less ex­pe­ri­ence when they visit.

“The boom in Amer­i­can out­bound tourism brought about the era of the Visa credit card, and now China is pioneer­ing the new era of mo­bile pay­ments. The im­pact of China's cash­less life­style on the world is rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” Zhao Ping, di­rec­tor of the depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional trade re­search at the China Coun­cil for the Pro­mo­tion of In­ter­na­tional Trade, told the Global Times.

Ready or Not?

Many coun­tries have put tourism at the heart of their eco­nomic growth strat­egy, eye­ing the lu­cra­tive Chi­nese mar­ket. But are des­tina- tions ready for the in­flux of Chi­nese tourists?

In 2017, the num­ber of Chi­nese main­land trav­el­ers to Ja­pan grew 15 per­cent to 7.35 mil­lion, with to­tal spend­ing of 1.69 tril­lion yen (US$16.9 bil­lion), up 14.9 per­cent from 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Ja­pan Tourism Agency.

How­ever, a grow­ing num­ber of Ja­panese res­i­dents have ex­pressed con­cerns at the po­ten­tial im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties that are not used to over­whelm­ing num­bers of vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially in top des­ti­na­tions like Tokyo and Ky­oto.

“The qual­ity of cus­tomer ser­vice in Ja­pan is on the de­cline,” Noriko Ito, 29, told Newschina. Ito, who can speak Chi­nese quite well, used to work in Ise­tan Shin­juku, one of the trendi­est depart­ment stores in Tokyo, and cur­rently works in a law firm. “In Tokyo, the more Chi­nese tourists there are, the worse the qual­ity of cus­tomer ser­vice will be,” she said.

Ito shared an ex­pe­ri­ence she had while shop­ping at the Al­bian counter, a Ja­panese high-end skin­care brand, at the Mit­sukoshi Ginza Depart­ment Store. She said she was shocked by how coldly the shop as­sis­tant was treat­ing Chi­nese cus­tomers.

“The as­sis­tant spoke to them in a very cold and rigid tone, never smil­ing – that's re­ally very un­eth­i­cal in Ja­pan; but when she turned to me, she im­me­di­ately re­cov­ered her Ja­panese style of hos­pi­tal­ity and courtesy,” Ito said.

Ja­pan is usu­ally famed for its im­pec­ca­ble cus­tomer ser­vice, where re­spect, courtesy and hos­pi­tal­ity are high­lighted in many ar­eas in dayto-day life, and even fish­mon­gers treat cus­tomers like a god. “Ja­panese are su­per fussy about ser­vice qual­ity. Af­ter all, it's part of our cul­ture,” Ito said.

The spend­ing power of Chi­nese tourists in Ja­pan is so im­pres­sive

that a new Ja­panese term, “baku­gai,” which means “ex­plo­sive buy­ing,” has been in­tro­duced to de­scribe Chi­nese tourists' frenzy for shop­ping. Many Tokyo depart­ment stores have hired Chi­nese-speak­ing staff to cater to the in­flux.

“I feel very bad about what I saw,” she con­tin­ued, “On the one hand, I want to ques­tion the staff, ‘Where is your Ja­panese spirit of ser­vice gone? You're not show­ing re­spect. You're dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Chi­nese tourists!' On the other, I quite un­der­stand them, be­cause for ser­vice providers in our coun­try, the in­flux of Chi­nese tourists is too over­whelm­ing to cope with.”

“Now lo­cals [in Tokyo] will not buy cos­met­ics or lux­ury goods in Ginza or buy elec­tronic de­vices in Ak­i­habara. There are Chi­nese tourists ev­ery­where. We have to wait for half an hour to buy some­thing,” Ito told our re­porter. Ginza is like Fifth Av­enue in New York City, fa­mous for high-end shop­ping, and Ak­i­habara is Ja­pan's pop­u­lar cul­ture and elec­tronic shop­ping dis­trict.

“The ser­vice providers have very com­pli­cated feel­ings. They dis­like Chi­nese, but they de­pend on them,” she added.

An ar­ti­cle in the Asahi Shim­bun news­pa­per in June 2017 claimed that “crowds, un­known neigh­bors and un­ruly be­hav­ior” have dam­aged life for Ky­oto res­i­dents, as mass tourism has re­sulted in is­sues such as crowded trans­porta­tion, scarcity of ho­tel rooms and a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in ur­ban san­i­ta­tion.

Thai­land, the top des­ti­na­tion for Chi­nese out­bound tourists, has seen its share of con­tro­versy. The large num­ber of in­bound tourists puts sig­nif­i­cant strain on air and road in­fra­struc­ture. Lo­cals in hot des­ti­na­tions like Bangkok and Chi­ang Mai must deal with crowded streets, long lines and short­ages of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Other coun­tries are also feel­ing the pres­sure. Aus­tralia, for in­stance, is still not ready for the mas­sive Chi­nese tourism boom, although China is al­ready on its way to end the two-decade reign of New Zealand as the top source mar­ket of tourists for Aus­tralia.

“We're not re­ally ready. We've had is­sues with Chi­nese New Year when you get 150,000 or 200,000 tourists and the ho­tels strug­gle,” said John Brumby, Pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralia China Busi­ness Coun­cil and the for­mer premier of the state of Vic­to­ria, in an in­ter­view with Aus­tralian broad­caster ABC. “If they're strug­gling now, they're re­ally go­ing to strug­gle with 3.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors,” he added.

“It's in­evitable that Chi­nese tourists want to ex­plore the world, and the world needs to get fully pre­pared,” Ge Lei told Newschina. Ge is the CEO of the Bei­jing-based Cyts-link­age pub­lic re­la­tion firm un­der China's top tour op­er­a­tor CYTS Tours Cor­po­ra­tion.

“One sug­ges­tion for over­seas des­ti­na­tions is that it will be bet­ter if they put more value on qual­ity than quan­tity,” Ge said.

If they mas­sively in­tro­duce cheap pack­age tours, des­ti­na­tions may find them­selves in the awk­ward po­si­tion of at­tract­ing mil­lions of Chi­nese tourists, who may con­trib­ute lit­tle to the lo­cal econ­omy but strain trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture and lead to crowded streets.

Since 2016, Thai­land has made ef­forts to weed out the so-called “zero-dol­lar tour,” cheap tours at the in­cred­i­bly low prices of 1,000 to 2,000 yuan (US$159-318). The tours are as­ton­ish­ingly cheap but no­to­ri­ous for bussing Chi­nese tourists around to re­tail spots and restau­rants that over­charge tourists and give lo­cal guides and op­er­a­tors hefty com­mis­sions. The Thai tourism in­dus­try is striv­ing to trans­form from a quan­tity-ori­ented mar­ket to qual­ity-ori­ented one, eye­ing the grow­ing num­ber of in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers and high-spend­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

“Es­pe­cially in terms of tour groups, more is not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter,” Ge said.

Chi­nese tourists pose for photos at the Hon Chong scenic site on Septem­ber 9, 2017 in Nha Trang, Viet­nam. With a to­tal of 2.7 mil­lion tourists in 2016, China is Viet­nam’s largest source of tourists. Most main­land Chi­nese head to the cen­tral coastal cities of Da Nang or Nha Trang, both famed for their beaches, his­tor­i­cal sights and seafood

A flag ad­vert for mo­bile pay­ment plat­form Ali­pay hangs from a husky’s neck at Husky Park in Ro­vaniemi, Fin­land, also known as the home­town of Santa Claus, to at­tract Chi­nese tourists dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day

Chi­nese and Ital­ian po­lice of­fi­cers con­duct joint pa­trols in Rome’s Pi­azza di Spagna on June 5, 2017

Chi­nese tourists take suit­cases to pack their pur­chases in Myeong­dong shop­ping dis­trict, Seoul, South Korea. The dev­as­tat­ing de­cline in Chi­nese tourists, a re­ac­tion against Seoul’s de­ci­sion to in­stall the USde­signed Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense anti-mis­sile sys­tem (THAAD), has struck a hard blow to South Korean tourism. Some newly opened duty-free stores are at risk of clo­sure

A phar­macy in Perth, Aus­tralia dis­plays tags in Chi­nese for the con­ve­nience of Chi­nese tourists

Chi­nese tourists queue up out­side a Louis Vuit­ton store in Barcelona, Spain

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.