Chinese Tourists’ Behavior Under Fire Across Asia

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CDE Op-Ed Commentary

The massive upsurge of mainland Chinese tourists, caused by increasing wealth and a bi-annual holiday system that allows mainland Chinese a week off work during New Year and National Day, is putting intense pressure on many Asian holiday destinations. 

The pressure isn’t just on infrastructure, however – it is also spreading more alarmingly to criticisms of mainland Chinese cultural and behavioral traits. The phenomena began in Hong Kong when mass tourism groups bussed into the territory for cheap shopping; Hong Kong is a duty free port and many products are cheaper than on the mainland. This rapidly spread to legions of mainlanders arriving in Hong Kong to buy cheaper products, including items such as infant formula, which could then be sold in China at a higher price. The buying of baby formula led to a shortage of the product in Hong Kong, leaving nursing mothers without food for babies and leading to Hong Kong passing a law restricting exports of the product. Yet other items are still being targeted, with mainland Chinese being described as “locusts” by many Hong Kong residents.

This trend has now manifested itself in other Asian cities. Thai celebrity Duangjai Phichitamphon’s recent video of how Chinese tourists pushed people out of the way and disrupted an orderly queue for tax refunds at Seoul International Airport has gone viral. Chinese tourists have also been accused of defecating in public, including at memorials in Taiwan, on busy shopping high streets in Hong Kong, and even at temples in Thailand.

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Other problems include sheer bad manners. Pointing or kicking at anything with the feet in Thailand is extremely rude, yet this tourist reached out to kick 14th century bells in a Thai monastery. Others have been recorded washing their feet in hand basins and public fountains at the Louvre.

This has also led to more serious cases of vandalism and the damaging of antiquities, as in the case of the Chinese tourist who carved his name into a 3,500 year old Egyptian sculpture,   and of sensitive ecological sites, such as Palau, where Chinese tourists have been seen to be harassing rare turtles and damaging the fragile eco-system.   

The amount of Chinese tourists has also lead to some intimidation, as can be seen by a group of mainland Chinese arguing with Police in a Hong Kong Hotel over attempts to settle their bill with an expired credit card.  Such incidents have also resulted in a number of potentially very dangerous situations on board aircraft, with numerous attempts to open aircraft doors inflight, as well as even fighting in the cabin while airborne.

While this can partly be put down to a lack of infrastructure in dealing with the impact of large numbers of mainland tourists, blame can also be laid at the feet of other national tourism departments that, while welcoming Chinese money, have failed to conduct any research into the needs or impact of Chinese tourism. More worrying, however, is the ‘sense of entitlement ‘ that many Chinese have overseas; a combination of repressed national pride and a view that they’ve paid for the experience, they can do as they please. 

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Nevertheless, China can take some steps. The imposition of different taxes on different products between mainland China and Hong Kong should be reviewed on a product-by-product basis. It is also apparent that there are supply chain issues in getting enough of certain desirable commodities – such as infant formula – into the mainland. In 2015, this should not be an issue.

These behavioral trends should also alert other countries’ tourism chiefs to study the impact of attracting Chinese tourists. A lack of Chinese signage at tourist areas is a result of bad planning, and it is clear that there is insufficient management of large numbers of tour groups. Chinese tourists have a lot to offer in terms of giving to the international tourism industry, but both China and the national tourism boards responsible must be seen to do more to manage this large influx. Bad behavior is the result of a lack of infrastructure and management, and both the Chinese and international tourist departments must share this responsibility to prevent what could soon end up in tragedy.


Chris Devonshire-Ellis
 is the Founding Partner of Dezan Shira & Associates – a specialist foreign direct investment practice providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam, in addition to alliances in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, as well as liaison offices in Italy, Germany and the United States. For further information, please email asia@dezshira.com or visit www.dezshira.com.

Chris can be followed on Twitter at @CDE_Asia.

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