China’s continuing economic expansion will greatly benefit both domestic and international tourism.
Recently, two family members and I had a week-long vacation in Thailand’s enchanting Koh Samui, a large offshore island in Surat Thani Province. We flew there by Silk Air and the journey was about two hours. We took advantage of an irresistible off-season discounted promotion offer from an internationally-renowned hotel group, which was founded by a well-known Singaporean family, and had a delightful time there.
This resort has 88 villas built on an extensive hilly land and many of them including ours are self-enclosed and command a panoramic view of the South China Sea and other villas dotted below to feast our eyes and senses throughout the day. A private swimming pool comes with our villa, with a spacious well-shaded open air round table and comfortable chairs for our added enjoyment. The two bedrooms too have a splendid vista of the wide open seascape as our villa sits near the picturesque hill-top.
One big surprise greeted us upon our arrival there, about two-thirds of the resort guests came from Mainland China, with their family of one or two children and some with their parents too. The Australian resort General Manager told us that the younger generation independent Chinese tourists had been their majority guests for quite some time already, especially during their “Golden Week” holiday breaks in May, October and Chinese New Year periods. This resort employs Thai Chinese-speaking staff to cater to their non English-speaking guests during their entire stay there. It has excellent dining and recreational facilities for both adults and young children.
Being curious whether independent Chinese tourists also form the majority groups in the other top-end international resort hotels there, among them are creme de la creme Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton Hotels, we hired a hotel car for a whole day sightseeing and to visit four of these resorts on a kind of fact-finding tour. Koh Samui is known as the land of one million coconut trees which adds to its scenic charm.
To our utter amazement, all the other four hotels that we visited also confirmed that the newly affluent and high-spending younger Chinese tourists also formed their majority guests, just like in our own resort. All of them also employ Chinese staff to make their guests feel more at home while holidaying there. I spoke to two of these hotel managers who felt confident that this trend would continue as more Chinese tourists become high-spending international tourists. They also disclosed that elite hotels in Bangkok, Chiangmai, Phuket and Krabi too have even more affluent Chinese tourists among their hotel guests as their fame has spread far and wide.
As a Singaporean, I am of course fully aware that Chinese tour groups are a common sight in Singapore as it has long attracted them to go there as their must-see destination on their Southeast Asia adventures. Be that as it may, only upon my return from Koh Samui did I find out that more and more highly affluent independent Chinese visitors, both tourists and business people, also constitute a substantial group in my country’s five-star hotels, though not in the same proportion as in Thailand, which is their most popular destination in the world. They also help boost the tourist trade in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives and other parts of Asia. Beyond the Asian shores, the footprints of Chinese tourists are fast increasing in numbers in the Western countries, the Americas, Africa and even the more remote parts of the globe too.
For economic and tourism reasons, more and more Thais are now taking up Chinese as a second foreign language and its rapid rise in popularity in Thailand has made it the second most popular foreign language there after English. It is now commonly taught in schools, night classes and tertiary institutions. This will make it more convenient for non English-speaking Chinese visitors to that country in future.
According to China Tourism Academy statistics, out of China’s 1.3 billion population, close to 10% of the better-off citizenry, mostly from the urban city areas, can now afford overseas travels because of the nation’s unprecedented rapid economic expansion. They are high spenders in the countries they visited, more than any other affluent tourists from other countries. This is borne out by the fact that 122 million Chinese travelled overseas in 2016, a world record, and they spent USD 110 billion there. An even higher number has been predicted for this year and beyond. Chinese outbound tourists are most warmly welcome in the host countries, despite the lack of social graces of many of them which harms China’s international image.
Despite China’s growing wealth, it is still a relatively poor country as a high percentage of its rural population still live in poverty, but are now much better off than before the advent of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Its continuing economic expansion from late 1980s to the present time is quite unprecedented in human history as it was achieved in just one generation!
It is a tested truism that national fortunes will always rotate from country to country and from one continent to another. As the older among us, who had lived through the tragic period of WWII, will vividly recall that after 1944 -1945 the American tourists were by far the most affluent and high-spending tourists in the world. Hence, it was not surprising that many of them did behave in a rather condescending and supercilious manner towards the locals when travelling overseas and became known as the “Ugly Americans”. With the decline of American economic power later, the new-rich and enterprising Japanese took over from the Americans as the high-spending international tourists during the 1970s and 1980s. Thereafter Japan’s economic prowess also took a turn for the worst and has still not fully recovered from its more glorious days.
In the 1990s the newly capitalistic Russia became richer than ever before after ridding itself of the oppressive yoke of Communism, numerous of its more affluent citizenry replaced the Japanese and emerged as free-spending international tourists with unedifying international repute for the rowdy social behaviour of many of them in the host countries they visited. From the 2000 onwards and until the present time, China’s palpable growing economic affluence has made the Chinese tourists the undisputed symbol of lavish-spending international travellers.
Alongside the rapid growth of China’s international tourism, its domestic tourism too has enjoyed a tremendous and ever increasing boom as more and more middle-income Chinese families have tasted the delights of travelling within their own vast country to savour its unrivalled scenic wonders and incomparable cultural and historical relics accumulated in the past millennia. Travelling from one province to another has become more comfortable and less costly as its highway, high-speed railway and airline infrastructures are now comparable to the best elsewhere, based on my regular visits to China and other countries in the past years.
Such domestic travel boom is further augmented by a vastly expanding international tourist flow there, which has made it one of the most visited countries in the world. Travelling within China itself can easily stretch to thousands of kilometres and, I believe, it is humanly impossible to cover all the famous sights and attractions within one’s own life time.
Nowadays, one of the most common grouses among foreign tourists there is that all the famed tourist attractions are invariably inundated with domestic tourists who seem much more patient and composed than foreigners to wait a long time in order to gain access to them especially during the “Golden Week” periods, weekends and public holidays. This contrasts sharply in the 80s and part of 90s when foreign tourists like my wife and I were able to visit them most leisurely as not many local tourists would be there then, except the more privileged ranking government officials with their foreign guests.
China’s continuing economic expansion will greatly benefit both domestic and international tourism. This is amply demonstrated by China’s recent “11/11” Singles’ Day international on-line sales turnover, mostly generated by the domestic buyers themselves, which amounted to a truly staggering world record of US$25. 4 billion dollars in just one day, thus enabling China’s E-Commerce giant, Alibaba, laughing all the way to the banks! Most economic analysts believe that future such one-day sales are likely to set even higher sales records. We shall wait and see.
For the once poverty-stricken and economically backward country, with the largest population in the world, China has achieved a great stride forward by lifting one-third of its people out of abject poverty and by overtaking highly industrialised Japan as the second largest world economy some years ago. Economic experts now predict confidently that, before long, it will even overtake the US as the biggest economic power in the world.
Lam Pin Foo