With 135 million travellers a year, China already has the largest number of outbound tourists in the world. Chinese President Xi Jinping predicts that 700 million Chinese will make overseas visits in the next five years alone.
In line with a rising economy, Chinese tourism exploded in 2009 and broke the record of 100 million outbound travellers in 2014. That number has been growing, year on year, ever since.
“Chinese tourists are the most powerful single source of change in the tourism industry,” Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), told South China Morning Post.
With over 135 million international departures in 2016, the Chinese are the leading global outbound market, and as Rifai goes on to say, “This number has been increasing in double digits since 2010, and it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.”
“The potential of the Chinese market is far greater because only [six] per cent of Chinese people own a passport. So we expect 200 million Chinese to travel abroad in just a few years’ time.”
A survey by leading insights group CLSA reveals that the most visited destinations for Chinese travellers last year were Hong Kong and Macau, followed by Thailand and Japan. The survey predicts that the United States, along with Japan and Thailand, will be the top destinations for Chinese to visit in the next three years. France came in as the most desired destination for Chinese tourists in Europe.
Chinese tourists also lead the world in terms of tourist expenditure, forking out US$261.1 billion last year, according to the United Nations agency.
“Chinese travellers spend double the international average, so their impact on local economies can be huge,” Rifai told South China Morning Post.
Currently, Chinese tourists make up the largest group of travellers to Thailand. According to the country’s tourism minister, Chinese tourists made up 8.7 million out of a total of 32.85 million international arrivals last year.
Destinations or sites featured in Chinese movies can spark a huge wave of tourism, and this was the case with places such as Chiang Mai University – famous among the Chinese for the film Lost in Thailand . Due to enormous visitor numbers, the university has since had to design a special route around the campus to minimise disturbances, which calls into question the less-than-favourable reputation that many Chinese tourists have earned.
Although not considered violent, Chinese tourists have been branded noisy and crude. The international news has been no stranger to reporting on their uncouth and sometimes disrespectful behaviour – such as the case of a teenager defacing an Egyptian pyramid in 2013.
“Some are new rich and treat people like animals. They give orders and never say thanks. Others seem to have just left the jungle: they shout, fight for food at the buffet and make everything dirty,” says Benigno, the manager of a small hotel on the island of Boracay, in an interview with South China Morning Post.
In 2013, in response to the unruly behaviour of Chinese citizens abroad, China’s national tourism administration issued a booklet titled “Guidebook for Civilized Tourism,” filled with dos and don’ts of how to behave abroad. The 64-page guide contained rules such as “don’t sneeze at others” and “don’t force foreigners to take group photos.”
Experts in the industry believe that Chinese travellers are willing to learn and will eventually become more respectful of the cultures and places that they visit. Much like Americans and Japanese sparked criticism and ire when they first started venturing abroad, it’s thought that, in time, the Chinese will learn to behave better when travelling.
Meanwhile, China’s annual Golden Week started on October 1, 2017. During this week-long break, nearly six million people from China are expected to travel abroad.
One thing is clear: like it or not, Chinese tourism is sweeping the globe.