Relative newcomers to international tourism market, the Chinese traveler is the new target for a tourism industry that suffered major losses during the crisis. Thanks to a bustling local economy and the government’s relaxation of travel restrictions, in 2013 Chinese tourists took a total of 97 million trips abroad and spent some $102 billion, becoming the “world’s biggest spenders” according to a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). A study conducted by the Chinese government predicts those figures will rise to over 100 million overseas voyages by 2015, and 200 million by 2020.
Taken in perspective with the recent past, these numbers represent a spectacular amount of growth, when in 2004 only 29 million went overseas. However, when isolated on a per-country basis, the growth can seem even more shocking. For instance, the number of Chinese tourists who visited Thailand last year more than doubled over the year before.
According to Abagail Haworth of The Guardian, the Chinese tourist represents “a global phenomenon, an unstoppable trend, a lucrative opportunity… Now millions are on the move.” CNN labeled the new found market, “the biggest phenomenon to hit the global travel industry since the invention of commercial flight.” International travel has been growing among the Chinese over the past decade, with rising prosperity at home and the relaxation of Communist government travel restrictions.
So aside from the economic and political explanations, why are so many Chinese flocking abroad? The firm Morgan Stanley predicts that in two years, Chinese tourists could spend $194 billion on vacations abroad, much of it on luxury products. Despite government policy to encourage spending at home, Chinese flock abroad in droves to take advantage of the lower prices on foreign designer products. This is because the government imposes import duties and taxes that can mean an additional 60% added to the price one would find in another country. A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences called his compatriots “walking wallets,” due to the amount they’ve become known to spend abroad.
Thus it becomes clear why London, Paris and Hong Kong have become favorite destinations for the Chinese: luxury shopping. To put things into perspective, by 2015 the total amount of spending from Chinese abroad will exceed total sales of luxury goods worldwide, when compared to 2008 when it represented solely one third of that figure. A government crackdown implemented two years ago reinforced this phenomenon, as the growth in the domestic luxury market grew a mere 6%, whereas Chinese luxury spending abroad increased 37% over the preceding year. Some sectors, such as high end liquor and watches even saw a decline in sales.
This potential market has inspired Paris to invest in a manual for the city of light’s business owners to better understand the new wave of boutique-obsessed clientele. French-speaking guides do their best to meander giant tour groups through the crowds at department stores and on high streets. They much watch out for the guests, who have become an easy target for pickpockets and other criminals. New campaigns have begun by tourism officials to raise awareness among tourists of the dangers of dressing conspicuously and showing fancy electronics or jewellery in public. In London, the famous department store Harrod’s has hired 70 Mandarin-speaking employees. An additional one hundred China Unionpay registers permit direct payments by Chinese tourists from their home bank accounts.
The growing presence of Chinese tourists comes along with it a greater exposure and international visibility. However, surveys about the perception of tourists worldwide do not characterize Chinese tourists in a very positive light. One analyst even called them the world’s new “ugly” tourists. While self-organized trips are on the rise, the majority of international travel still occurs in tourist groups. Sociologists believe this “increases their collective visibility and amplifies stereotypes and cultural unfamiliarity on both sides” by limiting individual interactions between the tourists and locals. Media reports flourish about the negative impression left by Chinese tourists, that they “are loud and rude, or that they refuse to queue or give tips…”
“Other complaints range from the practical to the surreal. In July, residents of the small Swiss city of Lucerne protested that up to 120 Chinese tour buses a day were paralysing local traffic, as they deposited tourists who wanted to buy luxury watches. Then there were bizarre reports, picked up by the Chinese media, of competing Chinese honeymooners brawling in French lavender fields over the best spot for photos to capture a “Monet moment”. A group travelling to North Korea drew scorn for throwing sweets to children as though they were “feeding ducks”, while a number of Chinese tourists in the Maldives were reportedly caught giving fake marriage papers to upmarket resorts in order to get free dinners offered to newlyweds.”
Beijing has been so bothered by the potentially negative perception of its people in other countries that the government has instituted a new clause that applies to Chinese citizens specifically when they travel abroad. Section 13 of the new bill states, “Tourists shall respect public order and social morality in tourism activities, respect the local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, take care of tourism resources, protect the ecological environment and respect the norms of civilised tourist behaviours.”
In terms of which countries can benefit from the growth in demand of accommodations and travel services, Thailand tops the list. For a mere £500, Chinese tourist can spend a week in the country with an organized tour, with flights included. The combination of historically and architecturally significant temples, pristine beaches and duty-free shopping brings Chinese here for the first time, if not on return trips. In fact, Thailand ranks as number three on a list of the most visited foreign destinations by Chinese, not far behind the “satellite Chinese territories” Hong Kong and Macao. London still leads at the top destination in terms of cities, but faces a threat from Bangkok, quickly gaining steam as a potential replacement.
What does this profound change in visitor composition mean for hotel, resort and Bnb operators? First of all, they’ll have to adapt to Chinese cultural standards. Since the ability to travel abroad for a Chinese person already assumes a certain standard of living and income level, one can expect that these travelers will not be the easiest to please. Standards for hygiene vary quite a bit in Eastern Asian from those typical of Europe or on other continents.
How can managers of accommodations adapt? By trying disposable products, of course!
At Caractère, we make a variety of popular disposable slipper and sandal solutions to prevent the spread of infections on the floors of hotels, resorts, salons, saunas, showers, locker rooms, changing areas, baths, pools, hot tubs, spas, etc.
Another favorite product in finer establishments is our popular line of luxurious Bath robes, available in several designs. For perfect hygiene and the ultimate protection of your clientele (not to mention your business investment), try our other disposable, recyclable solutions, and discover the reason why we’re the buzz of the most luxurious hotels of Paris, the world capital of fashion and design. Our products will be sure to meet the standards of even the most difficult to please clients, including Chinese tourists on luxury shopping sprees.