China has over 2,000 years of continuous history. Along with India it has the oldest surviving civilization and history in the world. And along with India, China is the cultural heavyweight of Asia. For this reason alone, China will always be a place that appeals to a certain type of tourist.
Moreover, the country is blessed with places of special significance and beauty such as the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and Lhasa. These places vie for status as belonging to the modern wonders of the world.
For many, the transition of China from being a rural and insular economy to being a modern, hi-tech state with a vast pool of young and talented people makes for an exciting destination. There are the bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to discover. The countryside is also becoming more accessible thanks to a vastly improved public transport system which now includes high speed railway links.
China has economically exploded since the 1990s. At the same time foreign visitor numbers have shot up. The dual money system of foreign exchange credits has been dropped. More hotels now accept foreign guests. The central authorities have lost some of their suspicion and paranoia of foreign ideas and people. As a consequence, fewer places are off bounds. Even Tibet has largely been opened up. This is all good news for tourism in China.
The other side of the coin is that the Chinese economic miracle has created a large middle and upper middle class with plenty of spare cash. These intelligent young people now look outside of China’s borders for their recreation, fashion and to inform their world view. China now has millions of young Western-influenced professionals who want to see Europe, America, Canada and other parts of Asia.
As yet Chinese tourism abroad is still in its infancy. I say this because most Chinese still travel in tour groups. They are as yet still lacking in the confidence to travel independently. This is something of an ‘Asian’ trait, as the Japanese and the Koreans also tend to travel in groups, use package tours and interpreters. Those hotels that have staff that can speak Chinese and that have connections with Chinese tour operators do a very brisk trade.
Thailand is a good example of a popular Asian destination for Chinese tourists. As yet most Chinese visitors only make it to the main tourist areas of Phuket and Bangkok. These two cities attract because they have a high number of mid-range and budget hotels with facilities and customer service many wealthy Chinese can relate to and often aspire to.
However, with the level of demand it is only a matter of time before other tourist areas come on to the radar for Chinese such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Already Santhiya on Koh Phangan does a brisk trade with Korean guests. It is an ideal resort with its own beach, large pool, spa services, gym and glamorous restaurant. They provide a complete holiday experience that minimises the concerns of Chinese tourists who probably don’t speak much (or any) Thai or English.
It is only a matter of marketing back in China combined with media stories and word of mouth recommendations and many new Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian and Indonesian destinations will be welcoming Chinese visitors.
Also the level of English will improve among the Chinese middle class as well as confidence to use it. They will be less worried about eating Chinese food and having Chinese speaking tour guides. These people will look to rent a holiday villa in Thailand and elsewhere as they represent better value for families and groups of friends.
As Europe and America continues to suffer from the consequences of the financial meltdown of 2008, it is to other emerging economies that countries that rely heavily on tourism for income will have to turn. Moreover, rising prices in Thailand combined with high flight prices are keeping many tourists away. South East Asia is not such an exotic destination anymore. For those Europeans who do have the money, it is probably less well trodden locales that entice.
It is the Chinese and the Russians who are filling in the holes left by a receding European market as far as tourism goes. These nations are used to getting value for money and so the future looks bright for those tourist destinations that can offer this. There is always a tendency in the tourism business to charge as much as the market will bear until a location becomes as expensive as Paris or Rome. This is a huge mistake since Paris and Rome will always have a massive appeal to tourists.