October 11, 2016
Are today’s Chinese tourists simply Ugly Americans?
“Ugly American” is a derogatory term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. Although the term is usually associated with or applied to travelers and tourists, it also applies to U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena and to some of its sports men and women.
The term was used as the title of a 1948 photograph of an American tourist in Havana by the Cuban photographer Constantino Arias, but seems to have entered popular culture as the title of book by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. In 1963, the book was made into a movie directed by George Englund and starring Marlon Brando. (Wikipedia)
The Hi and lo of Chinese tourism
The reputation of Chinese tourists over the last few years here in Thailand has swung like the head of a lion dancer. Where once they were welcomed opened armed, by the majority of Thai people, not surprisingly as Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world, accounting for 14 percent of the Thai population (2012). Things in recent times have turn from sweet to sour.
In the last few years the Thai and international press has been full of stories vividly commenting, on the behavior of some of these new wave of Chinese tourists, including the flagrant disrespect shown at temples and religious sites, the frequent occurrences of people defecating and urinating in public, plus trashing washrooms and using sinks to clean their feet and shoes.
There have also been instances of people trying to open aircraft doors, the most recent unflattering images, are of Chinese tourists acting like animals at a buffet and then leaving behind copious amounts of wasted food, not to mention the road chaos reported, due to Chinese in campervans in northern Thailand. All these incidents have left some attractions baring all Chinese tourists from entry; White Temple in Chiang Mai.
Combine this with the recent clamp down on “zero dollar” tours (see below), which the Thai government says tarnishes the country’s image and you get to see why the tide is turning.
The Chinese Government
On the 1st October 2013, the Chinese Government in a bid to counter some of its people’s unruly behavior, which they rightfully believed was tarnishing their countries reputation, published the national tourism administration, 64-page rulebook containing regulations, forbidding its people to behave in “uncivilized” ways while overseas.
The rules, urge travelers to “behave” and “abide by the norms of civilized tourist behavior”. It went further and states that tourists will have to “observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs”.
Several of its points cover some of the most basic of etiquette such as:
- Expose the chest or back, or look dirty in public areas
- Eat a whole piece of bread in one mouthful or slurp noodles noisily inside an aircraft
- Avoid occupying public toilets for too long
- Should not take excessive amounts of food at buffets.
The rulebook also includes a designated section listing behavioral guidance for specific countries:
- Thailand – Do not discuss the royal family and do not touch people and their belongings with your foot
- Ask for pork in Islamic countries
- Call Africans “Negros” or “black”
- Use shower curtains in a hotel
- Keep quiet when waiting to board a plane & Keep mobile phones turned off until the aircraft has come to a complete stop
Source: “Guidelines on civilized travel abroad”, released by China National Tourism Administration
Crime and Punishment
There’s no concrete evidence on what the penalty will be for tourists not following these rules, but CNN reports that tour guides and agencies that break any of the articles face fines up to $49,000. In 2015 the Chinese government named four tourists who are now on a new blacklist, which could affect their credit ratings and freedom to travel for years.
Li Zhongguang, a researcher at an arm of the China National Tourism Administration, stated that China has had laws on the books for nearly two decades banning bad tourist behavior, but he says they haven’t had the desired effect.
Tourism Authority of Thailand, followed the Chinese example and in 2015, listed its own etiquette manuals for Chinese tourists
A Brief History of Chinese Tourism in Thailand
It is worth noting the history of Chinese tourism in the Kingdom; Thailand was one of the first countries in Asia to welcome Chinese tourists, when it opened its doors in 1988 (Hong Kong and Macau were the first in 1983 and 84 respectively), while China’s own neighbouring countries did not sign agreements with them until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
The 1990’s saw what is called the Impetuous Fire of luyou re (or ‘the craze for travel) sweep across this wakening power house. After the years of overly bearing socialist ideals, the nation’s once mainly impoverished people, saw the new found freedom to travel, fitted with their traditional ideology and their upward looking mentality. The Chinese believe, that if there is a need to move to enrich oneself, then one moves, this can be seen in how mass population, left rural life and moved to the new cities within China (1950-70’)and how centuries before they moved around Asia to find new lands and wealth.
The early days saw group travel dominate the landscape (this was the only route open to its citizens) this involved busing the tourists from city to city on a grueling schedule. A common visit to continental Europe with a package tour might hit five countries in as little as 10 days. These groups have a reputation for staying in budget motels, only eating Chinese food, passing through the major attractions as quickly as possible and spending most of their travel budget on luxury consumer goods.
The prestige of bringing back gifts and souvenirs for friends and family at home is a high priority, for many Chinese tourists. While this form of group travel still dominates the Chinese travel market in Thailand, according to the report of Qyer.com, in 2014, more than 70% of outbound Chinese tourists were independent travelers. (Prior to 2003 and the introduction of the Individual Travel or Visitor Scheme, the Chinese were not allowed to travel outside of their country unless in a group)
Past and Present – China the worlds new Ugly Americans
Today many of our guests still tell us that they will return to their homes in China, they can proudly claim that they chu guo guo (have gone abroad) and many will have one thought on their mind, that of their next adventure to lands further afield in the west.
So just maybe these new breed of Chinese tourists are the next evolution of Ugly Americans and like their predecessors they will learn that the best tourists are those that take in what is around them and act in a manner that does not piss off their hosts. Time will tell.
Zero Dollar Tours
These tours involve Chinese visitors paying Thai-based operators, low prices for their package holiday. But once in Thailand, they are often pressured into buying overpriced food, accommodation and gifts, said industry experts.
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