July 26, 2005

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How Will China Change Global Tourism?

Today's Guardian newspaper carries an article on the first group of Chinese tourists officially allowed to visit Britain as vacationing tourists (previously they were only allowed in on business or student visas).

Lin Li, a 19-year-old student from Beijing who had won her ticket on a TV game show, has already been soundbited by Reuters, three official Chinese state news agencies, and Sky News. And still she shows no signs of flagging despite the rain dripping down her neck.

"What do you think of London, Lin Li?"

"I am very lucky dog to be here! This is American English. It means, I am very lucky lady indeed."

"How have you found the British so far?"

"Very helpful and kindly and warm-hearted. For example, yesterday, when we arrived at the hotel and were waiting for the lift, a woman, she pressed the button for me! And then when I entered the room, the lights had no power, and a man came to put them on!"

We were also "very clean", she says. Mrs Zhang, Mrs Laun and Mrs Cao, all professional women in their late 40s to 50s, agree. They thought it was because of "Britain's famous gentleman culture".

It is of course wonderful that these Chinese tourists had such a positive impression of Britain, especially after the two sets of London bombings that might have colored the impressions of other tourists.

But one question is: how will the Chinese customers change the global tourism market? To date, globally there has been a mve away from mass-market package tourism, and towards independent travel and cultural tourism. Will that change as increasingly wealthy mainlanders take to the international skies? The article alludes that the Chinese seem to prefer the tourism spectacle:

"It's brilliant, really brilliant." says James Bradbury, the general manager of Madame Tussauds. "We've done a lot of research into China. It's our number one emerging market. You can't overestimate how important it will be. We already have an attraction in Hong Kong, so we know who they like. It's why we moved Victoria next to David Beckham. We did that today especially for them."
Or will tastes change quickly, and will Chinese tourists embrace independent travel as their restrictions grow fewer and far between? It's a subject I've studied at length as I have a cultural tourism company in Hong Kong, and I have my own opinions, particularly on differences between Northern Chinese and Southern Chinese tourists. But how do the rest of you feel?

posted by HK Dave on 07.26.05 at 05:51 PM in the


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I think I'm going to go with what's behind door number 2.

The Chinese are accustomed to doing everything as a collective group. People here really aren't use to independent travel, but given the way society is changing here and the way the rich look at themselves, I'd be willing to bet that in the coming years we will see more and more independent Chinese travelers.

What do you think?

Bet a beer on it?

posted by: Gordon on 07.26.05 at 07:09 PM [permalink]

I think you're right, Gordon. The outbound Chinese market is mostly packaged-based at the moment, but the Chinese that have the money prefer to do things their own way. In Hong Kong, a lot of the people that sign up for 'tours' end up ditching their guides and striking off on their own.

Also, there are marked differences in how northern Chinese and southern Chinese travel. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has noted that northern Chinese tend to be more interested in history and culture, whereas the more earthy Cantonese, for instance, tend to place greater emphasis on food and shopping.

However, beyond these massive generalizations, I shall posit an even greater one - Western tourists toting Lonely Planets tend to be cynical, authenticity-craving visitors. LP's massive success over the last two decades attests to the triumph of these attitude to tourism in the West. However, Chinese tourists are still fascinating by the spectacle, the traditional dances, etc. When that will change is open to question. Is the Western mode of travel more sophisticated or advanced? Or is it just different? Many people assume the former because Western tourists thirty or fourty years ago also liked that sorts of thing, but on the whole seemed to 'grow out of it.' But whether that will also be happening in China is really anyone's guess...

posted by: David on 07.26.05 at 07:51 PM [permalink]

Good question, Dave,
I believe if Chinese tourists could surmount certain obstacles, they would prefer the independent tour for sure. For example, they have to be able to speak or read basic english to get around. They may need an international driver license to rent a car... However, only a small percentage of Chinese tourists is confident enough to travel Brittain independently regarding their language and other surviving skills for now. I am not sure how many percentage will be added in the next 10 years. Although this trend will be positive, probably you can only partition those with some international experience already into the market for independent tourists?

posted by: lin on 07.27.05 at 06:35 AM [permalink]

By the way, forgive my ignorance, is "lucky dog" really an American slang?
Sorry, one more silly question, Anyboby use "running dog" in english?
looks like the Guardian reporter pictured Ma in his interesting article as a "running dog" or I am just too sensitive-:)

posted by: lin on 07.27.05 at 06:59 AM [permalink]

Hi Lin,

Thanks for your comments. I think you are right, many people from China will take the package tour route first until they feel comfortable enough to branch out on their own. It just seems to me though (this is an impression, not a statistic) that more wealthy Chinese speak more English than do Japanese of the equivalent income level. That may mean faster movement towards a 'comfort zone' in terms of independent travel.

"Lucky dog" is an American slang, but you generally do not use it to describe yourself. It often refers, in jest, to another person's prowess in regard to members of the opposite sex. "Running dog" means collaborator, and was a particularly popular in regard to native people that co-operated with Western colonial regimes (i.e. imperialist running dog). But it has fallen out of common usage for the time being...

posted by: David on 07.27.05 at 11:24 AM [permalink]

My observation is that the age of the travelers tends to be the determining factor. Group travel takes care of language barrier, airport in-out procedure, local transportation, and the most important of all: food. I see few elderly Chinese that can go on a diet of western food for a week or two without complaining. The tour package operators usually arrange mainly Chinese restaurants in the itinerary with some local food eateries thrown in as a token representation. Group tour will remain popular as evident in Taiwan and HK.

There is very little independent travel guide book in Chinese. English speakers tend to take for granted the availability of information. I remember meeting some of young Japanese backpacker in youth hostels. They all have this same series of travel book similar to Lonely Planet in Japanese. I suppose that when there are more LP type guide books available in Chinese, I think we may see a few more young adventurous Chinese independent travelers.

posted by: Michael on 07.27.05 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

Thank you, Dave!
Thus the girl in the Guardian's report didn't use the slang correctly, neither did I -:)
Somemtimes it's just difficult to tell those subtle differences. And your words also remind me that I might have confused or even hurt some people at some places (such as pekingduck) without knowing it. :P
I think Michael's partitioning using the age is just brilliant.
In order to dig the business out from this "new" market, look like instead of "pull", a "push" strategy has to be used, which may not be easy for a small firm?
By the way, I don't think the influence of guide books may be relavant for mainland Chinese. From my limited experience, Chinese tend to use travel forums while they are planning their independent tour. "Sina", "Ctrip" and many other onlince communities have accumulated a humongous amount of info for domestic travelers. The traveler board at "mitbbs" also has a lot of foreign traveling experiences and tips from oversea's Chinese students' prospectives. Few people use books as I know even if they understand english.

posted by: lin on 07.28.05 at 01:58 AM [permalink]

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