Published on Friday, July 10, 2009

Why are the Chinese not coming? They go where they feel welcome


The summer is here. But tourism does not seem to be picking up as it should. Blame Swine flu? Recession? twitter? Michael Jackson?

What I do know is that Chinese people continue to want to travel abroad and will find ways and means of doing so, no matter how many obstacles their government or our governments put in their way. The most obvious challenge to rising numbers of Chinese visitors to Europe or the US is the difficulty in obtaining a leisure travel visa.
Even when countries sign the ADS agreement, it only applies to group package tours. Anyone who knows a bit about modern China knows that wealthy people in the big cities now do not want to travel like cattle in mass market tour groups.
It was already 2.5 years ago that experts at the ChinaContact forum on China's tourism industry at World Travel Market concluded that Europe (and North America) should focus its attention and marketing budget on the luxury travel segment from China.
This recommendation does not mean only promoting expensive products and services. It means marketing to the right consumers in the right tone and making the experience attractive and easy to access.
So far most destinations are found seriously lacking in this department. Their main shortcoming is not realising how quickly China is being transformed socially and economically. It's important to differentiate between the political views and statements of the government and the everyday life and aspirations of the emerging middle and upper classes of Chinese society.
I am heartened to see that some destinations are already beginning to understand this and are shifting their policies accordingly. Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea have begun to either offer an individual leisure visa or waive visa requirements altogether. They receive a million or more Chinese visitors each year.
Recently Australia and South Africa have said they are looking at offering individual visas to Chinese from the major cities. This kind of positive development needs to happen in Europe and North America as soon as possible and it is up to the industry to lobby and pressure the government to see the light.
Instead, we see new restrictions that aim to further alienate new visitors.
The UK government has announced a review of visa policies and are considering whether joining or partnering with the Schengen Visa agreement will work.
But now we have a new Home Office Minister and their priorities may be different. When I spoke to the Minister for Tourism at the British Travel Trade Fair she was not at all aware of the difficulties Chinese face in trying to visit or the dramatic drop in visits from China to the UK.
I am not confident that the Schengen Visa approach is the right one since currently only the UK among European countries is demanding biometric data at origin. The complicated visa procedure (with forms only available in English) requires the applicant to visit the visa processing centre in person. This can be an additional inter-city trip, the cost of which (and the visa application fee) is non-refundable if application is ultimately unsuccessful.
We should remember that visa policies and the behaviour of consular services in China are part of the image of the country and how Chinese first judge us. If we want Chinese to visit us by choice (as opposed to a delegation or business visit) then we need to roll out the welcome mat, not roll up the barricades.
About the author:
Roy Graff has been immersed in Asian business and culture since 1994 and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. He launched ChinaContact in 2005 after working in senior management positions for a global travel group in Shanghai and Beijing for three years. He focuses his consultancy practice on China's tourism and hospitality sectors with an emphasis on online marketing and e-commerce.
For further information:

Story Image

Your Comments (24)

, be the first to post a comment.
Your email:

Email other comments made to this story

NOTE: Comments are subject to admin approval before being posted.
  • Typos...

    I wish there were a preview or edit facility for these comments. The small writing area makes it tricky to check one's work and, once posted, it is unalterable in all its mistyped glory! Leaving aside any other typos, please be aware that my final paragraph, that made no sense as it was written, should have read: "So, in spite of the many ways in which the UK authorities do discourage travel, giving a hard time to those who choose to visit "unfriendly" countries is not one of them."

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Some subtle difference...

    There is a massive differebce between not being allowed to leave to visita another country and being asked questions about your visit on your return. And in fact, even this ddoes not stand up to scrutiny. My friend who visited North Korea had this to say: To answer your question though, no I had no questioning of any description either when leaving or when returning and none since. This doesn't mean that I won't have questions asked when I try to leave the country again but so far it hasn't happened. I'd say that your correspondent is making unwarranted assertions based on his beliefs rather than on any evidence. I have also been in contact with about half a dozen of the others who were on the trip and none of them mentioned any difficulties. So, in spite of the many ways in which the UK authorities do discourage travel, giving those who choose to visit "unfriendly" countries is not one of them.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Chinese 'approved' destination policy

    Richard, we will have to agree to disagree. The difference is so subtle it doesn't exist in reality. By the way, I agree with you totally about travel restrictions but we will never see them totally disappear. This whole debate started with a Swiss hotelier complaining about Chinese groups and the value of holding ADS accreditation. As a New Zealand citizen I have a keen interest in the Chinese policy of 'approved' destinations. It is not widely known that New Zealand was the first official recipient of ADS accreditation as part of a Free Trade Agreement. Chinese tourism is now starting to mature into a very lucrative market as it moves from embryonic group tours into high value FIT product. Direct Air New Zealand services from New Zealand to Shanghai, Hong Kong & Beijing are one of the stable platforms of a national carrier that has continued to be profitable throughout the financial crisis. I believe that along with Australia and ADS accredited ASEAN countries the Asia/Pacific region will benefit hugely from Chinese tourism in the short to medium term. Much needed as British authorities tighten the tap on one of our key markets with their iniquitous longhaul departure taxes.

    By Gary Westwood, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • There is a difference, Gary...

    ...between taking an interest in the reasons for a person's visiting a destination and stopping a person from going there. And of course, it is only right that such an interest should take place. Having said which, a friend of mine has just returned from North Korea and had no problems getting back into England. Insofar as the US policy is concerned, I already mentioned that in an earlier post. For what it's worth I consider that the US restrictions, especially those on Cuba, are pointless and self-defeating. That the Chinese Government is no worse than some other Governments in its restrictions does not mean that the restrictions it imposes are a good thing.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • China outbound tourism information

    Richard you can read it for free online here: yes China has restrictions on its citizens as do many other countries. Yes it would be great if all people in the world would be free to travel where they chose. Chinese have 105 destinations they can travel to as tourists if they so choose, and virtually no limit on where they go for business. The benefits of tourism are clear to those who read this website and Chinese have money to spend abroad. It may not be so obvious to Europeans or North Americans, but if you ask people in Asia and Australia, they will easily recognise the importance of this market.

    By Roy Graff, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Chinese 'approved' destination policy

    Presumably Richard English travels on a British passport and does not require official permission from the UK authorities to travel to any country that will accept him. There is no official list of 'approved' destinations for British citizens. He would, however, find that on his return from Afghanistan, Pakistan or North Korea [to name but a few countries] that the British immigration authorities would quite rightly take a very keen interest in the purpose of his visit to those countries. So whilst no official UK 'approved' list exists there is very definitely an unofficial schedule of destinations that are of keen interest to the authorities. The PRC government does not have sole rights to a policy of 'approved' destinations. Tried flying direct from Washington to Havana lately?

    By Gary Westwood, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • I still think it's a fair question that needs a fair answer.

    Whereas I accept that this is not the place for "... a full education on the Chinese tourism sector..." the question being asked is simple enough, "Does the Chinese Government place restrictions on the free movement of its citizens?" And the answer is, I think " Yes. It does". Whereas the restrictions might be less onerous than they were, they do exist and there are countries to which Chinese tourists cannot go without special permission. China is not alone in this and it's not an especially heinous crime - the USA is just one supposedly free country that imposes such restrictions. But I firmly believe that the free movement of people between countries offers many more benefits than does its restriction. I did try to look at the handbook you refer to, but it seems I need to register to download a copy and my interest in the Chinese market is not that strong.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Reply to Macy

    People still go to Macau - just less often. Still in much larger number that to Monaco. But there are no limits on people going to Monaco. How many Tibetans do you think can afford a holiday in Switzerland? Chinese with money come from the larger cities in the east and the major commercial centres such as Chongqing, Guangzhou, Wuhan etc.

    By Roy Graff, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Monaco but not Macao

    So, we can conclude that a Chinese could be allowed to go to Monaco, but not Macao, which has been been part of China since 1999? Would a Tibetan be allowed unrestricted travel to Switzerland (if he had the money) for instance? macy

    By macy marvel, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • More about Chinese travel

    Sorry I cannot provide a full education on the Chinese tourism sector through the comment section. My handbook is freely available online - China Outbound Travel Handbook, and should answer all your questions. All European countries are approved as tourist destinations for Chinese to restriction of travel is not the issue here.

    By Roy Graff, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Excellent - now tell me...

    I was going to congratulate the Chinese Government on its enlightened stand and hope still to be able so to do. However, one re-reading your comment I spotted the initially innocuous-looking phrase: "...Private people with valid passport do not need any other approval from the government to travel to approved tourist destinations....". What is an "approved destination"? And who does the approving? If this is the Chinese Government then they are thus restricting free travel (as do certain other Governments, of course). By refusing to "approve" any destination the Government is restricting travel exactly as would be the effect of requiring an exit visa which, of course, could be given only in respect of "approved" destinations. To my mind a Government only allows unfettered travel to its its citizens if they can travel where they like, when they like and take whatever cash they like. There are relatively few Governments thus enlightened.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Clarification about Chinese visa issues

    To make it very clear, Chinese do not need an exit visa. Officials naturally need approval for trips paid by public money. Private people with valid passport do not need any other approval from the government to travel to approved tourist destinations. They still need their employer's written permission which is a requirement of the European/foreign destination's consulate in addition to the other documents I mentioned earlier.

    By Roy Graff, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Clarification sitll needed...

    I understand what you are saying about the fact that certain countries no longer need a visa from Chinese visitors - which is clearly a good thing. But my question was, do the Chinese need an exit visa from their Government to leave the country - as was once the case with many communist countries and, from my own recollection, the case for the Chinese. They need a passport, of course (as do the British in the absence of any other form of national identity document). But, having obtained their passport can they simply travel to any country they wish, without needing further documentation from the Chinese Government - or do they then need to get an exit visa or some other kind of state documentation or permission? You wrote, "...Any Chinese person can apply for a passport and then apply for a visa...". Is that a visa of the destination country of an exit visa to allow them to leave China? That the Chinese are restricted by their Government from travelling freely was the suggestion made by Macy Marvel and the situation as I believed it was. Few countries are as unrestricted as is the UK in this respect and I would be very gratified if it were true that the Chinese is one of those Governments thus enligthened.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Clarification, given

    I did not say China does not place any restrictions at all on its citizens. But China signed ADS agreements with all European countries which means that now business travel and leisure group travel are freely open. Any Chinese person can apply for a passport and then apply for a visa. The restrictions that limit how many Chinese can visit Europe are mostly on the European side. Chinese do travel freely to many countries and in some of them no longer require a visa.

    By Roy Graff, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

  • Clarification, please...

    Are you saying, Roy, that the Chinese Government allows its citizens to travel anywhere in the world, without let or hindrance, and people can simply turn up at a port or crossing and go? With no restriction on where they go to or how much money they wish to take (apart from any restrictions of the destination country)? As can UK citizens? I confess I find that hard to believe - but I concede that I have not been able to find information on the current Chinese exit restrictions and maybe China is now as non-restrictive as is the UK (and a few other enlightened countries - not including the USA).

    By Richard English, Monday, August 24, 2009

  • Chinese gov. restrictions are not to blame

    Macy I disagree with your assertion. The Chinese government does not place any limits on Chinese going to Europe. It is true that they sometimes use tourism for political aims (see France last year or Australia recently) but these are isolated cases that usually have a very short term effect. Macau does attract many officials that gamble with public money and hence the restrictions. In Europe, it is our governments that are limiting the ability of Chinese to travel for feare of illegal immigration. And this is percieved as a negative attitude. If Swiss people had to submit their bank account details, employer letter, invitation letter and go to an interview each time they wanted to travel to another country I think they will not be too happy right? We take for granted our status as desireable visitors almost everywhere but do not consider how we are perceived by others. Chinese are being actively courted as desireable visitors by Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and even many Caribbean and African countries. The fact that average household income in China is less than in Europe is not a reason to ignore the potential of this market. Travel is an aspirational experience and people will save for several years for their trip of a lifetime. Those wealthy Chinese may be only several hundred thousand but they travel 4,5 times a year to several destinations. It is easy to blame the other side and not take a good look at ourselves. This is a message that both the Bible and Confucius teach us.

    By Roy Graff, Monday, August 24, 2009

  • Chinese market is very limited

    We can talk about a market of 250 million, but as far as mid- to upscale hotels in Europe are concerned , we are probably dealing realistically with a market of a few hundred thousand households at best. McKinsey's latest study shows that the two million 'richest' households have an average income of $30,000 and the estimated 70 million of 'middle-class' an average income of $5,000-$10,000. in any case, the biggest impediment to Chinese outbound travel is Chinese governmental restrictions, nothing to do with 'attitudes' in Western countries. Just look at what's happening in Macao where Chinese visitor numbers are dropping because of governmental restrictions on visas to travel there, due to fears that managers and government officials will 'gamble away' company or municipal funds. For the time being you are probably better off selling dried seahorses or Barbie dolls in this market if you want ot make money. I rest my case. Macy Marvel Lausanne Hopsitality Research Ecole h-´teli-¨re de Lausanne

    By macy marvel, Monday, August 24, 2009

  • Switzerland and Chinese tourism

    Macy, The problem with Switzerland was a) lack of direct flight connections b) they did not want to be part of the Schengen visa I followed the Swiss tourism promotion in China very closely and on the whole it was done better than many other countries in Europe. As a result the number of tourists to Switzerland rose faster than to other countries. But still it is a niche destination because it was not on the same visa as other EU countries. From this year, Switzerland joined Schengen and I think this will make an impact. It is important to maintain the brand image and hold out for the higher paying customers. As long as most of the Chinese customers pass through small operators that work without licenses, insurance etc. and offer very low rates, an image problem will remain.

    By Roy Graff, Monday, August 3, 2009

  • reply to Westwood

    Hello, First of all, I'm glad that my comments have stimulated some debate and I certainly would not disagree with Westwood's characterisation of outbound tourism from Northern and Central Europe. I would like to point out, however, that here in Switzerland, considerable effort was already invested in preparing hoteliers for what was thought to be a rush of Chinese incoming tourists. The Swiss hoteliers" association instituted special training courses for hotel staff to prepare them to receive Chinese guests already over half a decade ago - all to little avail. My comments only reflect the frustration of hoteliers here Geneva who tried their best for years to serve this market. I suggest Westwood talk to some hoteliers who have actually had extensive experience with the incoming Chinese market to find out what the reality is.

    By macy marvel, Tuesday, July 14, 2009

  • The Chinese market

    I agree with Macey, it is good to get a debate going on this subject. Look to the past where we have seen both the Japanese and the Korean markets mature from cheap group tours dependent on shopping commissions for their commercial viability into valued high revenue FIT markets. At least that is the trend that we saw in Australia & New Zealand & where the Chinese FIT market is just starting to evolve. Despite the tough economic times there is a huge educated middle class in China looking to expand their knowedge of local cultures, cuisine & wines. Sure, they like a Chinese breakfast to start the day but then don't we as Western visitors to China prefer our continental and English breakfasts. As for language then I would not have thought that some key front office & service staff having a knowledge of Mandarin or Cantonese would be out of the way. I would suggest that there is an attitudinal problem in Europe that unless remedied will see the Chinese market look elsewhere. Possibly Geneva hotels, used to as they are to accommodating high yield corporate guests, bureaucrats & delegates to international conferences are not suited to meet the needs of Chinese tourists.

    By Gary Westwood, Tuesday, July 14, 2009

  • Marvel has got it wrong.

    The UK authorities can free up visa requirements for tourists from the PRC as much as they like but if Macy Marvel's attitudes are representative of the inbound industry towards the Chinese why on earth would they want to visit anyway? And speaking of "the ordinary cheap group traveller who speaks no foreign language and expects to eat a Chinese diet" just substitute "English diet" & I believe that Marvel has described a sizeable portion of the shorthaul outbound market from the UK to selected European destinations. Those hoteiers seem to be happy with their 40 Euros.

    By Gary Westwood, Monday, July 13, 2009

  • China overestimated

    There have been perennial hopes that China would prove to be spectacular growth market for Europe. The reality has proved to be quite the opposite and is likely to continue to be so for the forseeable future. The need to cater specially to this market is a bit of a paradox, for it is not the wealthy sophisticated international Chinese who need the hand holding, but rather the ordinary cheap group traveller who speaks no foreign language and expects to eat a Chinese diet, etc. and earns the hotelier about €40 per head per day - meals included. In any case, over half of what is statistically outbound Chinese outbound travel is to the SARs of Hong Kong & Macao. (Oddly, the 'Chinese Province of Taipai' is not considered as an outbound destination.) Asian destinations overall capture well more than two-thirds of this market, with such countries as Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam leading the charge.

    By macy marvel, Sunday, July 12, 2009

  • Unreasonable visa process

    I assisted a friend in getting a visa to visit the UK from a S.E. Asian country. She was forced to travel to the embassy rather than use the consulate in the city she resided in. Questions went way beyond reasonableness and included marriage plans and sexual activities. The interviewer eventually accepted that my friends virginity had no valid relevancy on whether she would return or not. The whole business was embarrassing and to curtail the process I offered to post financial security for her return.

    By J Hewson, Saturday, July 11, 2009

  • They don't believe it's their job

    It is my experience that visa departments (and it seems that the UK's is amongst the worst if this report is to be believed) are amongst the most awkward and obstructive of all Government departments. They see their job as that of processing visa applications, not that of serving customers. They see no reason why they should make it easy for the Chinese (or indeed an other nation) to get a visa - why should they - the visa setup is for the concenience of the receiving country and the visa department, not the visitors. Of course, to an extent this is understandable - visa offices believe they have a monopoly - you stick to their rules or you don't get a visa - there is, after all, no other source of supply. But this is a false belief. Although many potential visitors to the UK must obtain a UK visa, the UK itself does not have a monopoly of tourist and business attractions. Visitors, especially leisure travellers, can choose to visit Britain - or they can choose to go elsewhere. But the visa offices, and the Government officials reponsible for the visa rules do not see this - and I suspect they never will. Indeed, if a single representative of the responsible authorities deigned to respond to this article and any postings, I should probably collapse with shock!

    By Richard English, Friday, July 10, 2009

Mole Poll
Has the announcement of a UK quarantine further hit bookings?
YES 57.77 %
NO 42.23 %

Thank you for your vote

What is GoodtoGo?

Submit your news
or special offer

Current UK Special Edition

Current US Special Edition

Current Asia/Pacific Special Edition


Malta prepares to open up to the world

Iceland plans to launch new UK trade initiative

Mario Hardy, CEO PATA - Who dares, wins: Who will hit the reset button?

The Florida Keys is open for business ! Find out the details here