By Nicole Petrak, AdventureTravelNews Assistant Editor and New Media Manager to the ATTA
The UNTWO’s recent report shows that the Chinese are now the highest spending international travelers in the world, nudging Germans from the premier group and marking a 40 percent rise in Chinese spending since 2011. In 2012 more than 80 million Chinese traveled outside their country’s borders, a number up from only 10 million twelve years ago.
Multiple factors (increasing incomes, evolving roles of women in Chinese society, and growing Internet usage and bookings) means another 15 percent growth in outbound travelers is expected between now and 2017. While Asian destinations are currently the main focus of this group, Western Europe and the United States are expected to see increasing arrivals in the next few years.
Much has been written about the Western markets’ need to adapt to this influx of the new Asian consumer, but much media and tourism attention remain focused on simple adjustments such as slippers and porridge added to hotel rooms, some websites and signs translated into Mandarin – moves mostly being incorporated by luxury brands, according to ATTA member Mei Zhang, founder / CEO of WildChina, which caters to both inbound and outbound tourists.
According to a CNN interview with Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), these efforts are not nearly enough to help capture profits from this coveted yet still challenging group of emerging tourists. Dr. Arlt reports that despite being high spenders, Chinese often feel they’re treated as “second class” citizens while on the road – likely due to some outdated stereotypes prevailing in the Western world about what they desire:
“The problem is the international tourism industry is slowly catching up with the idea that the Chinese traveler is coming, but in fact the Chinese traveler is already here and they’re segmenting,” says Arlt. “You have two kinds of tourists. Package tourists, who are usually first time travelers. They do the eight European countries in 10 days, ticking off the sites… But you have a growing number of what we call the ‘new Chinese tourist.’ People who are better educated, with more travel experience — most have been students abroad so they know their way around. Self-organized.”
It’s these tourists who are looking to try the local cuisine and want new experiences, he says, and resent being stereotyped as an ignorant traveler from the countryside who can’t live without his instant noodles.
Arlt points out that Chinese dissatisfaction with the “front line” service staff of Western tourist destinations is manifesting itself on millions of social media and online forum expressions — areas rich with information for quick-moving tourism companies. He suggests having a Chinese company data mine the sites for intel on improvement that matters to this segment. China is the global leader in both Internet and smartphone users but is low on adoption of social sites popular in the West. TravelDailyNews reported that major Eastern web companies to look at are Tencent and Baidu, both of whom were present at the industry’s WTM Vision Conference as they become more involved in the global online travel industry. Other resources to pay attention to are online travel agent competitors Ctrip, Qunar, and eLong.
Other issues complicating the relationship between China’s outbound and Western industry are new cultural attitudes towards money and spending power held by the Chinese, which has led to some backlash by Western domestics.
Zhang remarked in CNN:
“The majority of [Chinese] tourists still need to develop. One problem area is advance planning. We have few clients who plan six months ahead. So they end up giving last minute requests for Michelin-starred dinners and they just can’t get in. Then they become unhappy because they think money can get anything. The game in the international market is slightly different. So advance planning is something they’re learning.”
Arlt explains the Chinese are often proud to be among the world’s wealthiest travelers after recent decades of history, and are “more than happy to rub it in the West’s face”:
“This has happened all in one generation,” he says. “Many [Chinese tourists] have parents who didn’t have shoes… Now they’re showing the world and themselves: ‘I’m strong, I can go spend US$5,000 for nothing, just for my pleasure.’ The Chinese have the idea that since the Opium Wars they’ve been oppressed and looked down on, so now [t]his is the fun for them. You toss some coins and Western people dance for you.”
For a much more detailed analysis at the different cultural issues at play, please read the entire CNN article.