Destinations and retailers can ignore tourists’ minor transgressions as long as they keep spending, but Chinese officials are right to recognize their tourists for the cultural ambassadors they are.
While tour operators and department stores from New York to Paris court Chinese visitors to boost their coffers, one of the country’s top leaders has warned that ill-behaved tourists are damaging the national image.
Wang Yang, one of China’s four deputy prime ministers, said that while other countries had welcomed Chinese tourism, the quality of some travellers was not high.
He said: “They speak loudly in public, carve characters on tourist attractions, cross the road when the traffic lights are still red, spit anywhere and [carry out] some other uncivilised behaviour. It damages the image of the Chinese people and has a very bad impact.”
Wang told a government meeting that officials should guide tourists “to consciously obey social and public order and social morality, respect the local religions and customs, pay attention to their words and behaviour in the public, especially in the international environment, protect tourism resources and protect the environment”, Xinhua, the state news agency, reported. Wang said tourists should be ambassadors for China’s image.
Wang’s complaint about graffiti may have been inspired by a domestic incident: there was anger recently when a vandal carved “Liang Qiqi was here” into a relic at Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Chinese people made 70m overseas trips in 2011, according to the World Tourism Organisation, which predicted the annual total would rise to 100m by the end of the decade. That figure included trips to Hong Kong and Macau, run under the “one country, two systems” framework.
Though on average they spend less than their western counterparts, their sheer number means that China has become the highest-spending nation for outbound tourism. Its tourists spent $102bn (£67bn) overseas last year, compared with the $84bn that German and US tourists spent, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation.
Chinese tourists have raised concerns about the behaviour of their hosts, too – including a lack of language skills and poor planning in South Korea to bullying guides in Hong Kong, the lack of hot water in Italian hotel rooms and the UK’s “unfriendly” visa system. Britain promised this week that it would try to simplify visa applications.
According to Visit Britain, the UK has seen a 39% rise in visits from China over the past five years. It welcomed 150,000 Chinese visitors last year, who between them spent £240m.
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Photo credit: A Chinese tourist (foreground) grabs a beer and celebrates with German friends at Oktoberfest in Munich September 28, 2012. Michaela Rehle / Reuters