Chinese Tourists: An International Love-Hate Relationship

Dan Levin wrote a compelling piece for the New York Times about Chinese tourists. The reports are in and it’s now official: the Chinese spend the most on tourism in the world. They outspent both Americans and Germans last year when they collectively dished out $102 billion abroad. Americans have long been one of the most wooed and simultaneously resented (as worded in Levin’s title) tourists internationally. While businesses abroad want American money, they haven’t always wanted some of the American etiquette that so stereotypically accompanies that American money. Now that very same problem has shifted over to China and Chinese tourists seem to be the ones who international businesses both love and hate.The ire stems from what is perceived to be a lack of basic cultural etiquette, according to the article. Like the unfortunate reputation of American travelers, Chinese tourists are gaining a reputation of rudeness for behaviors that seem to recur -– like ignoring line formations, spitting or speaking loudly while indoors.

But no matter how much locals disagree, it’s difficult to argue with the kind of money Chinese tourists are spending.

[Thanks, New York Times]

Official To Chinese Tourists: ‘Be Quiet, Don’t Spit’

A senior official in China has urged Chinese tourists to improve their behavior, the South China Morning Post reports. Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the “breeding” of some Chinese tourists leaves something to be desired and there are problems with them, “talking loudly in public places, jay-walking, spitting and willfully carving characters on items in scenic zones.”

Mr. Yang is backing up his warning. He made the comments at a meeting where the Communist Party passed a law that will allow travel companies to cancel their contracts with tourists who “violate social ethics.” While the wording is vague, it basically means tour companies can send embarrassing guests home.

Needless to say, this bit of news is causing much snickering in the Western press, but personally I haven’t noticed that Chinese tourists are any ruder than any other kind of tourist. Having lived in tourism epicenters such as Madrid and Oxford, I’ve seen plenty of Chinese tour groups and never witnessed any spitting. The only bit of obnoxiousness I saw was a group walking through Oxford with a tour leader giving her spiel on a megaphone. Yeah, passing through the dreaming towers of academe with a bloody megaphone. The Oxford police must have put a stop to it because I never saw it again.

Considering that the Chinese come from a culture where international tourism is a very recent phenomenon, I think on the whole they behave quite well. As China reaches out into the world, however, the government has become increasingly image conscious, doing such PR blitzes as putting on grandiose Chinese New Year’s shows in places like the Estonian capital Tallinn, a city with only a tiny Chinese population.

So congratulations to Mr. Yang for being overly cautious. If only David Cameron would tell the English not to go on drunken stag trips. If only Barack Obama would tell Americans to not be so damn loud and arrogant. Yes, these stereotypes only apply to a small minority, but it’s those obnoxious few that we tend to remember.

Chinese Tourists Spend More Money Than Anyone Else

Chinese travelers have officially become the biggest contributors to the tourism industry, spending a whopping $102 billion on vacations and other travel in 2012.

Figures from the UN World Tourism Organization revealed the Asian country has dramatically upped its travel spending, with last year’s expenditure up 40 percent from the prior year.

The organization credits China’s increased spending to the growing numbers of people entering the middle class.

According to the BBC, not only are the Chinese dedicating more money to travel, they are also shifting their spending habits. Instead of taking organized tours and joining busloads of other tourists, more and more Chinese are hiring cars and traveling independently.

However, one thing hasn’t changed – the Chinese still love to shop. Purchasing souvenirs and luxury goods remains high on the list of favorite travel activities.

Other emerging countries have also shot up the list. Russia’s travel spending increased by more than 30 percent last year, boosting the country to fifth place.

The United States came in at third place behind Germany, with tourism spending totaling just under $84 billion dollars.

[Photo credit: Flickr user bigbirdz]

Enjoy Chinese hospitality at Hilton and Starwood hotels

In an effort to cater to the surge of tourism from China, both Hilton Hotels and Resorts and Starwood, which includes the Sheraton, Westin, and W brands, are launching Chinese hospitality services in their hotels. The welcome program includes special breakfast items, such as congee rice porridge, fried rice, and dumplings; in-room amenities like tea kettles, a selection of Chinese teas, and slippers; and a fluent Chinese-speaking staff member to assist Chinese visitors.

San Francisco, where tourism from China increased more than 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, will be one of the first cities in the U.S. to roll out the test programs. Hilton Huanying (“Huanying” means “welcome” in Chinese) will launch in three San Francisco hotels and at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on August 16. Starwood Personalized Travel, the pilot Chinese welcome program from Starwood, is currently being tested in 19 properties across the globe, including San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis and the W in New York’s Times Square. Starwood plans to offer this service at all of its hotels by 2012.

While these free hospitality programs are aimed at the Chinese traveler, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a little touch of China during your hotel stay, too. So next time you’re planning to stay at a Hilton or Starwood, check to see if they are offering the Chinese welcome service. Then sit back and enjoy a little chai and congee. It’s an easy way to make a typical hotel stay a touch more exciting.

[Photo credit: Flickr user sparkieblues]

Direct flights between China and Taiwan resume

The miles between Taiwan and mainland China are not many. But, in history the distance across the Taiwan Strait has been huge.

When I lived in Taiwan in the late 1990s, travel to cities in mainland China from Taiwan meant heading to another country or through Hong Kong first. There weren’t any direct flights otherwise. This meant a vacation that might have been an inexpensive and easy trip involved more time and money. As a result, we traveled in Taiwan or headed to Thailand instead.

Today the tides have changed. According to this article, the first direct passenger plane between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (China) happened early this morning. The last such flight was in 1949 after China’s civil war when Chiang Kai-shek headed to Taiwan to set up another government. Along with this first flight will be 16 others over the course of today and several more throughout the week. Recently, there have been special tourist charter flights, but today air traffic has been normalized for the regular traveler who is not part of a special group.

This is big news indeed. It does indicate a more normalized relationship between Taiwan and the mainland, for one thing, and points to the power of the tourist dollar. Tourism between these two countries will economically benefit both. It’s estimated that by 2010 the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan could triple, according to the president of Taiwan’s China Airlines.

I’m wondering where they will all fit on a weekend? Seriously, there are some places in Taiwan that are already absolutely packed on a holiday.