Win! A pair of tickets to the M Literary Lunch featuring 'The New Chinese Traveler' scribe Gary Bowerman

By That's Shanghai, October 10, 2014

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By Aelred Doyle

Chinese people are not just traveling in previously unseen numbers, but they are spending like crazy – USD102 billion
The Chinese are coming. Actually, as anyone in any tourist destination will tell you, they’re already here to stay. As Gary Bowerman puts it in The New Chinese Traveler, “the tourism industry [is] now officially addicted to a transformative new stimulant. It’s called China, and the world is transfixed... In whatever form and scope to which it may evolve, the Chinese Travel Revolution is only just beginning.”

The massive growth in Chinese tourist numbers in the last decade and its knock-on effects is a fascinating new chapter in the story of China’s rise. We’re talking about around 100 million outbound tourists projected for 2014. The number in 2000 was about 10 million, and as recently as 2009 still under 50 million. It’s doubled in five years, and we ain’t seen nothing yet: some suggest 200 million by 2020.

And Chinese people are not just traveling in previously unseen numbers with the most outbound tourists in the world since 2012, they are also spending like crazy – USD102 billion. Again number one, in both total and per person average. This has not gone unnoticed: “The Chinese are increasingly referred to as ‘Walking Wallets,’ while Londoners joked about the ‘Peking Pound’ as Chinese visitors embarked on a buying spree during the 2012 Olympics.”

So what does this mean? Most of us have seen more evidence of attention to Chinese tourists in our home countries, whether celebrations of Chinese New Year in cities that previously did not have them or Mandarin signage in big department stores. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg as countries compete for the Peking Pound. With a new wave of sophisticated, independent travelers looking for more experiential trips that are WeChat compatible, everyone is going to have to up their game. 

These Chinese visitors are in no way wide-eyed naifs: “Armed with a diverse library of mobile-based travel information tailored for each trip, Chinese vacationers are among the best-informed tourists in the world.” Mobile is everything, and competition is fierce to provide information and booking services.

Chinese tourists want plenty of shopping. They see free Wi-Fi as a necessity, by far the most common request in a survey of global hoteliers. They want to share their holiday in real time on social media; the photo rather than the experience often seems to be the point. 

They also want kettles in their rooms (for instant noodles), and they want Chinese-language materials, such as hotel information and website, travel guides, even TV channels. In-house Mandarin speakers are highly prized. It’s going to be a good few years for Confucius Institutes, or more likely for local language schools all over the non-Chinese world, especially since tourists are looking further afield.

Until recently the majority of ‘international’ trips were to Hong Kong and Macau, but that has changed. Asia is still the most popular destination, but more and more people are heading to Western countries, especially France and the UK. Interestingly, the US is not seen as particularly attractive relative to other countries. There’s a sense that it is falling behind in terms of economy and infrastructure, and that other countries offer more.

Intriguingly, the knock-on effect is leading to changes in the domestic tourism experience too. “China itself has long suffered from sterile, ineffective tourism marketing. It has relied too heavily on its one-dimensional mass tourism sites... little effort has been expended to diversify and drive repeat visits to explore China beyond its marquee attractions.” 

Chinese people are fully aware of the negative aspects of tourism in China – crowds due to limited vacation days, the tendency to change areas of natural beauty into commercial, ersatz environments – and demand better. However, entrepreneurs in tandem with ambitious local leaders are starting to turn this around, part of another sea change: “China is now an active creator, investor – and increasingly an acquirer – of modern tourism, not just a consumer of facilities and amenities created beyond its borders.”

Bowerman is an experienced China and Asia journalist, and after Matthew Crabbe’s Myth-Busting China’s Numbers, this is the latest in the Palgrave Pocket Consultants Series. It’s another well-written primer for business people and laymen interested in the topic. Bowerman mixes the stats with personal anecdotes and interviews with experts, as well as including the approach and opinions of a sample of experienced Chinese travelers.

We found the general overview of the Chinese tourism landscape most appealing; for others, the sections where Bowerman drills down into specific destinations like Hong Kong and Macau will be invaluable guides. Either way, this is an excellent look at a phenomenon that is going to affect us all.

// Bowerman speaks at a M Literary Lunch and Book Talk: Oct 23, noon-2pm, RMB188 (with three-course lunch). M on the Bund.

We have a pair of tickets to the M Literary Lunch to give away. Simply e-mail with the subject ‘New Chinese Traveler’ by October 16 for a chance to win.

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