Are all tourist destinations in Asia ready for massive growth from China? Spotlight: Cambodia
The Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) was held in Manado, Indonesia in mid January 2012, a beautiful and remote destinations more well-known to divers. As Asia is the tourism growth region of the world, we expect to hear how private and public sector representatives are planning to leverage these opportunities in 2012.
However, growth, especially uncontrolled growth, can also bring problems with it. Just recently, Thong Khon, the Tourism Minister of Cambodia declared an increased focus on China. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia has been increasing at annual rates of between 30 and 40 per cent (38% in 2011), reaching about 200,000 in 2011, mainly attributing to non-stop flights from Beijing and Guangzhou to Phnom Penh.
Cambodia hopes to attract at least one million Chinese tourists a year by 2020, Tourism Minister Thong Khon told The Cambodia Herald beginning of January 2012.
“It’s a new trend for the world to urge Chinese tourists to visit their countries,” he said. “Cambodia has enough ability to attract at least a million Chinese tourists.”
While this sounds like a good plan, especially due to the fact that China is the fastest growing tourism source market in the world, projected to have over 100 million outbound tourists by 2020 according to the UNWTO, and already overtook Japan as the largest source market in Asia.
Having visited Cambodia a few times in the past, and being a fan of the culture, heritage, and the people (minus the horrible period of the Khmer Rouge), I was also able to witness how the temples around Angkor Wat in Siem Reap are flooded by tour groups, especially from South Korea, and soon most probably from China, especially when Tourism Minister Thong’s plan is successful. This all sounds good, especially if the tourist visa revenues will be put to work, but according to the Overseas Development Insitute ODI, the share of spending by tourists within a destination that reaches poor people can vary from less than 10% to a high of 30%. In Laos and Vietnam tourism is pro-poor, while in Cambodia (Siem Reap) only 7%% of the tourist spending actually stay in the community, compared to 26% in Vietnam (Da Nang), and 27% in Laos (Luang Prabang). Increasing the number by developing infrastructure is critical in order to protect the culture, heritage, as well as the people, the main theme of the 2012 Mekong Tourism Forum in June 2012 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. While everybody talks about sustainable and responsible tourism, and focuses on climate change and being eco-friendly, the aspect is many times forgotten.
Looking at China as a potential large influx of tourists to destinations that require sustainable protection and capacity building, like Siem Reap as the example above, the Boston Consulting Group published a report last year (link), in which 95% of Chinese tourists are dissatisfied with current travel offerings from Chinese travel agents and tour operators. While this number may seem problematic at first, it actually is good news and provides for great opportunities. According to the report, the new Chinese tourist is knowledgeable, sophisticated, technology savvy, and predominantly below 45 years of age. While still many first time Chinese tourists will see the benefits in joining traditional tour groups, the new breed of Chinese travelers are shifting towards more individual and personalized experiences. These trends are the focus of the Year of the Dragon Edition of the Essential China Travel Trends Guide (www.ChinaTravelTrendsBook.com), which is being published in March 2012.
A much bigger opportunity, which hopefully will be discussed during next year’s ATF, is the opportunity that digital story-telling via social media will have, not only in inspiring people to experience a particular destination, but also in changing mind sets for more responsible travel behavior and responsible tourism development, which in the end will preserve these incredible and fragile cultures, and leave them to experience for generations to come.
Especially in China, with now more than 500 million Internet users, the digital influence level is higher than anywhere else in the world, according to the Digital Influence Index (2010 – website). While Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, Chinese social media sites, especially Sina Weibo (micro-blogging) is becoming a powerful means to communicate, and for brands to influence consumers.
Jens Thraenhart is President of award-winning China Digital Marketing Agency Dragon Trail (www.DragonTrail.com), Publisher of China Travel Trends (www.ChinaTravelTrends.com), and Chair of PATA China Chapter (www.PATA.org).