Young Chinese tourists escape shopping packs

One day this January, I was standing at the entrance of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and was happy to find there was an audio guide in Chinese  available. It was an exciting sign that the increasing number of Chinese tourists had caught the attention of the curators, and that their needs were starting to be seriously taken into consideration.

With so many Chinese tourists eagerly flooding into the outside world, China can’t remain a mysterious country in the Far East.

A recent report in the Financial Times says Chinese tourists’ “overnight” rise in the world tourism market is impressive. Chinese tourists’ swelling numbers and considerable spending power have helped ease the blow of the financial crisis in some tourist spots. Tour operators all over the world are studying and trying to better understand their potential visitors.

The normal perception is that the Chinese travel mostly in groups, and love to shop. Some foreign friends of mine compare Chinese tourists to Japanese tourists in the 1980s, who were also crazy about shopping and preferred to travel in packs.

Chinese tourists enjoy the trips in their own way. They indulge themselves in the moments when they find the cosmetics and luxury bags almost half price as in China, and they burden themselves with responsibility of taking back gifts to relatives and friends.

These people just do not have enough time and interest to stroll around, because the tour guide will tell them the time is up, and they have to hurry. But we shouldn’t blame them, since they come from a booming consumer society where shopping is the easiest form of pleasure.

It is natural that tour operators are thinking about developing more shopping programs and training Chinese-speaking sales staff to welcome the influx of Chinese tourists and their fat purses. Even the small wooden statues of gods sold on the Indonesian island of Bali are being remodeled as Guanyin, the goddess of mercy in Chinese Buddhism, because the faithful island residents have no reason to resist a long-term business opportunity.

We read other countries through their tourists. But the stereotyped groups in the shopping malls are only part of the story.

There is also a new generation of young Chinese traveling in a different style. They prefer planning the trips by themselves, they get help from the Lonely Planet guidebooks, and they share their travel experiences online. They choose their own travel buddies and go with them, instead of going in a tourist group. They are usually more interested in culture and local customs, and they research their destination in advance.

There are some online forums for these young travelers, who do most of the work themselves, rather than referring to travel agents. They believe their preparations and the troubles they encounter are part of the fun of travel.

These young Chinese, who often have better foreign language skills, grew up in a globalized information era. They may not be as rich as the older tourists from their country, but they have a more modern and intelligent sense of travel.

They are free to set out for adventure in a foreign country, without the meticulously organized but boring tour route planned by travel agents. They are ready to experience exotic culture and love to plunge in head first.

It’s true that in Paris I have seen more countrymen contently holding newly bought LV handbags walking along Av-enue des Champs Élysées than in the Louvre. But I am sure those “new” travelers from China are definitely excited about the Chinese audio guide in one of the world’s greatest museums, and are happy to spend more time to get to know the country, the culture and people there.

These people will change the image of Chinese tourists as shopholics with a negligible interest in culture, and foreign tour operators will not only improve the service in shopping centers, but also adapt cultural sites for Chinese visitors.

For adventurous tourists, the memories of the trip will be far greater than an LV handbag can contain.


The author is a Washington-based freelance writer. viewpoint@

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