China’s international tourists spend around US$161bn a year on travel, and as this number grows, so an increasing number of economies worldwide will remain eager to capture their share
As we queued to climb onto the little tourist bus readying to take us down into Hobbiton, the secret and mystical valley home of Bilbo Baggins and his fellow hobbits, there was already a sense of foreboding. And no, it did not come from the glowering rain clouds hovering close overhead.
Is this the shape of “tourism future”, not just in mythical places like Hobbiton in New Zealand, but worldwide, as unprecedented millions of mainland China’s newly empowered middle class families prepare to discover the globe? How prescient was Tolkien to note, as Bilbo was about to begin his adventure across Middle Earth, to the Lonely Mountain and the home of Smaug the dragon: “It is a dangerous business going out of your front door.”
As in other areas, China’s laws of big numbers are transforming the world of tourism, and not just in New Zealand. The Germany-based China Outbound Research Institute calculates that more than 150 million mainland Chinese travellers ventured overseas last year – the largest number from any nation. And this is predicted to grow beyond 200 million annually in the next five years. Admittedly, 68 million of the present total were travelling to Hong Kong and Taiwan, but that still meant 83 million travelled more intrepidly – outnumbering the 83 million German overseas travellers, and the 68 million from the US.
Perhaps more important, Chinese visitors are predicted by 2023 to be the country’s most important source of tourism dollars because, perhaps surprisingly, they are among the world’s highest-spending travellers. New Zealand’s tourism officials say Chinese visitors spend an average of NZ$297 (US$215.50) a day, compared with NZ$240 among US travellers, NZ$223 among Japanese, and a comparatively miserly NZ$130 among British visitors.
China’s international tourists today spend around US$161 billion a year on their travels, and as this number grows, so an increasing number of economies worldwide will remain eager to capture their share – even if significant stresses arise as they try to manage the flows.
At present, a majority of mainland travellers are moving as part of large tour groups, but as the free individual traveller category of traveller grows and as more mainland cities are allowed to issue individual travel visas, so the awkward lumpy impact of these travellers can be expected to lessen.
In Hobbiton, it was fascinating to observe the embarrassment of the numerous individual Chinese tourists – most of them young, English-speaking, and sporting the latest iPhones – as they watched the uncouth impact of their fellow countrymen.
And as I too wrestled to listen to our intrepid tour guide, I was reminded first that it was unfair to racially stereotype: kids aged one to five in numbers can without doubt be uncouth and uncontrollable from any number of countries and cultures – especially to fusty oldies like me.
我也在在喧闹环境搏斗时也听到了我们导游的话。这让我想起了第一次出境游时遭遇的不公平种族刻板印象:任何国家文化背景的1 - 5岁孩子行动都不受自己完全控制,特别像我这样的老派人看来。
And second, I was reminded of those large, noisy groups of Japanese tourists that Londoners complained about in the 1960s, and thoseHong Kong tourists being herded into tourist trinket shops in Thailand or Paris in the 1970s. All came and went.
Perhaps this can all be for the good. Remember Tolkien’s sage words: “Not all of those who wonder are lost.” I can quaff a glass of ale to that with Chinese friends in Hobbiton’s Green Dragon pub.