Chinese travellers short on cash?

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CHIANG RAI, 19 February 2018 It’s surprising how many times you hear the words cheap and nasty when discussions turn to tourism from China.  Most of the comments are plain old prejudice. They fly in the face of facts backed by serious research, but it doesn’t stop people in travel from jumping to the conclusion that Chinese tourists are broke and bring no benefits to a host country.

Singapore’s latest statistics paint an entirely different profile of the Chinese traveller.  It carries weight because we all know Singapore is one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Southeast Asia. Check out the hotel rates, cost of dining, boozing and even shopping. There are no bargain basement stores awaiting us in Singapore.

Yet, despite the high cost, the Chinese visitor spend grew by 10% January to September 2017. And for good measure, the Chinese have been Singapore’s top spenders three years in a row. On the spend graph, China leads runners-up US (growth rate 22%) and UK (24%).

Both the China and UK market growth spend in Singapore was attributed to an increase in leisure travellers and their enthusiasm for shopping.

Thailand’s tourism pioneers look back on the golden days when tour buses were packed with Europeans. Those were the good old days when tourism earned real revenue.

But was it really like that?  Or, are we conveniently ignoring the other side of the coin because we feel overwhelmed by the boom in travel from Asian markets?

A tour operator explained the economic realities of the golden days of the 1980s to 1990s when savvy tour operators from the UK and Europe managed to secure “summer rates” at hotels in Thailand for a net THB197 a night including breakfast. It was achieved with variations of the pay-one-get-one-free gimmick and hotel sales directors fell for the trick year-after-year.  For every extreme budget traveller from China there’s a cash strapped traveller from Europe. Check out the backpacker scene. It is still dominated by European travellers who are now bedding down in hostels for THB200 a night in Bangkok’s tourist districts.

Chinese tourists generally spend more on shopping and dining than on accommodation, but due to the sheer size of the market, that should exceed 10 million visits this year, there is no shortage of wealthy Chinese tourists. Would serious research show a trend that shows there are now more Chinese tourists spending heaps of cash that filters through the system to  the local economy? Or is it as critics claim?  Cash transfers from left hand to right hand without a cent slipping out of the China pocket?

The popular prejudices we hear so often, expressed from people who should know better, suggests we need to spend more time researching facts and clearly demonstrate how money moves in tourism markets.

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