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Changing needs and numbers of tourists from China

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-14 07:45
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A bank staff member counts Chinese currency renminbi at a bank in Linyi, East China's Shandong province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Editor's Note: Thanks to China's rapid economic development and rising individual incomes, Chinese tourists have been traveling across the globe and contributing to the local economies. But before the pandemic-induced international restrictions are lifted, some foreign destinations would do better to improve their services, writes a veteran journalist with China Daily in the third of a series of commentaries.

During my stay in Hawaii for further studies in 1983-84, I saw many Japanese tourists enjoying the sun and sand on the Waikiki beach or shopping in the malls. As a student from a poor country, I hoped that someday the tourists would include some Mandarin speakers.

At that time the monthly income of an average Chinese worker was less than 30 yuan-the exchange rate then was 2 yuan for one US dollar-not enough to even make ends meet for most of the families. As a result, traveling abroad was a dream for most Chinese.

But that dream has come true.

About 10 years ago, when I visited Hawaii again to attend a seminar hosted by the East-West Center, I found Chinese tourists had replaced their Japanese counterparts both on the beach and in the malls. Only that the Chinese tourists were shopping more crazily.

The country's rapid economic development has enabled millions of Chinese people to travel abroad. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Chinese people made 155 million overseas visits, making China the top source of outbound tourists in the world, far ahead of second- and third-placed Germany and the United States.

Chinese tourists spend about $130 billion abroad every year, the most by any tourists from any country. Chinese tourists today can be found in all the corners of the world, from the Waikiki beach to Sahara Desert, from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The trend started 30 years ago when some Chinese, who had relatives in Singapore and Thailand, were given visas to travel to those countries provided the relatives sponsored their visits. The same mode was adopted for those who had relatives in the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions and, later, Taiwan.

Soon some neighboring countries started welcoming Chinese tourists in groups and, in no time, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand became the favorite overseas destinations for the Chinese people. Thailand remains the second-most frequented tourist destination for the Chinese people even today, just behind Japan.

Impressed by the Chinese tourists' purchasing power, more countries opened their doors to Chinese tourists. Today, more than 70 countries are open to Chinese tourists with quite a few offering visa exemptions or a visa-on-arrival service.

The majority of the Chinese tourists, however, still prefer to travel in groups-the latest figures showed there were more than 38,000 travel agencies in China in 2019, with more than 13 percent of them qualified to organize overseas tours. And most of those who travel in groups are retired people or inexperienced, young tourists.

But an increasing number of Chinese people, especially youths, are choosing to travel solo or with family or friends. Perhaps the fact that they can read, write and speak the English language, thanks to China's education system which lays stress on English, makes them confident of arranging their overseas travel according to their schedule and needs.

While the internet enables them to book air tickets and hotels, mobile phone apps help them to better communicate with the local people no matter which language they speak. The apps also help them to rent a car and go wherever they want to, even in an alien country.

Traveling abroad once or twice a year has become something of a ritual for many Chinese. So frustrated for not being able to travel abroad because of the pandemic, travel-hungry Chinese people have turned their eyes to remote destinations in the country since last year.

As a result, tours to Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions have become more popular thanks to their beautiful landscapes and distinct cultures. Yet millions of Chinese are waiting for the pandemic-induced restrictions on international travel to be lifted so they can dash to their favorite overseas destinations. And their visits to these places will certainly help the global tourism industry to rebound.

But before that, it would be better if some foreign countries built more paid and unpaid toilets in and around their tourist sites, because many Chinese tourists, spoiled by the abundance of toilets and other essential services in their cities, have complained of the lack of such services in some overseas tourist sites.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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