Chinese tourists will come of age

Updated: 2014-04-30 07:51

By William Daniel Garst (China Daily)

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The May Day holiday will see many Chinese mainland residents, bitten by the travel bug, spending time away from home. While most of them will travel within the mainland, a large number will head overseas. We can thus expect yet another slew of micro-blogging reports on Chinese tourists behaving badly outside the mainland.

Recent additions to the mainland outbound tourist behavior "hall of shame" include faking marriage certificates to get honeymoon discounts in the Maldives, letting children defecate on the floor of a Taiwan airport, and throwing candies at tiny tots in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

These conducts reflect the explosive growth in Chinese outbound travel in recent years. Some 98 million Chinese tourists traveled abroad last year, up 14 million from 2012 and well above the 29 million who traveled abroad in 2004. It's highly likely that the majority of these people had not been abroad before.

In an article in South China Morning Post on June 1, 2013, Yong Chen, a researcher in tourism with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that most "bad" tourists don't intend to be "bad"; they simply act as they normally do in China. Acts like spitting in pubic, haggling over prices of goods (even when prices are non-negotiable), posing for photographs in roped-off flower beds or talking loudly in restaurants that may be tolerated in China, but they are not appreciated in many foreign countries.

In a May 30, 2013, Reuters article, Liu Simin of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences went further, saying: "Objectively speaking, our tourists have relatively low civilized characters." Concern over this problem has prompted the Chinese government, which wants to protect the country's image and project its "soft power", to issue guidelines for the conduct of Chinese traveling overseas.

Although there is no shortage of anecdotes of Chinese tourists' boorish behavior, hard numbers to back the sweeping generalization made by Liu are difficult to come by. Furthermore, while the admittedly substantial numbers of Chinese who behave outrageously abroad grab all the attention, their well-behaved compatriots pass under the radar screen. China may have more than its share of culturally insensitive, ill-behaved tourists, but a majority of outbound Chinese travelers, especially those who have been abroad before, probably do not cause problems.

People in foreign countries may kvetch about their Chinese guests, but they are more than happy to receive their money. According to data released by CASS earlier this year, Chinese tourists spent $102 billion in 2012, putting them ahead of the previous world leaders, the Americans and Germans. And a 2013 survey indicates that 48 percent of the Chinese tourists traveled abroad for shopping, mainly to buy luxury goods that could cost up to 60 percent more in China.

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