DESTINATIONS IN ASIA ARE STRUGGLING TO COPE WITH THE HEAVY ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL CHALLENGES OF CHINESE ARRIVALS
Over recent months there have been many articles written about the long-term damage caused by the mass influx of Chinese tourists to Asia. The following articles are just some examples of the concerns facing countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Article 1 – TTG Asia (05Apr18)
Mass construction of tourist infrastructure and the Chinese visitor invasion are driving European travellers away from the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, industry players claim. Recent years have seen huge amounts of Chinese investment pumped into Sihanoukville, with the town and its coastline dotted with new hotel, casino, condominium and resort developments. Despite having a population of fewer than 100,000, the town will soon house 30 casinos, up from 15 at the end of 2015 and 10 built in 2016 alone. An estimated 70 per cent of international flights at Sihanoukville International Airport are also from Chinese cities. Mick Spencer, owner of Ana Travel in Sihanoukville, said: “Already, we are seeing visitors skip the mainland on the way to the islands and going directly to Kampot or Kep on their return. We can expect there to be no let-up in construction and this will heavily affect tourism, not just international visitors but locals.” He added the mass investment has also sent rental rates up. “No one is unaffected, while a few are making a lot of money,” he said. Diethelm Travel Cambodia has also noted “migration” from Sihanoukville – especially this high season, said branch manager Coralie Romano. Romano added: “In February, Kampot was the place to be. Not only because it has more to offer today than it did a few years ago but because people don’t want to go to Sihanoukville anymore because of the construction and the many Chinese tourists.” She added agents are now recommending the islands and Kampot or Kep over Sihanoukville. Khiri Cambodia’s general manager Miles Garrett agreed. “As a company, we can no longer recommend Sihanoukville to our clients. For the last few years we’ve only been using Otres Beach, but unfortunately the development there has made that beach an unpleasant experience,” he said. In the first nine months of 2017, Chinese arrivals to Sihanoukville jumped by 170 per cent to 87,900.
Article 2 – The Nation (21Feb18)
Frequent cases of Chinese tourists damaging coral reefs and other fragile sea natural resources have prompted the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to seek help from its Chinese counterpart. Phanu Woramitr, director of the TAT office for Hat Yai, Songkhla and Satoon said on Tuesday that TAT has sent a letter to the Chinese tourism agency asking it to warn Chinese tourists to behave while visiting Thailand. The Chinese tourism agency was asked to tell Chinese tourists to strictly observe Thai laws and regulations when they visit national parks, temples, seas and coral reefs to avoid damaging fragile natural resources.
Chinese visitors have been asked not to touch anything while visiting such places so they won’t cause damage, Phanu said. He said park and provincial officials have also been alerted to help warn visiting Chinese tourists against damaging the places they visit. The chief tourism and sports officer for Satun, Atcharin Muangchan, said she has been compiling information about environmental damage caused by tourists, especially Chinese tourists, to coral reefs. The information will be raised during a meeting to develop Satun tourism on March 2, which will be chaired by the Satun governor and will be attended by representatives from all relevant sectors, Atcharin said. She said the provincial administration would produce pamphlets in the Chinese language to distribute to tourists to warn them against destroying fragile sea natural resources during their visit.
Article 3 – South China Morning Post (27Jan18)
Although the Thai government has been actively courting the Chinese market, as a result of which Chinese visitors made up about 8.7 million of the 34 million tourists to Thailand in 2016 – a 10.3 per cent increase from 2015 – there are a number of factors behind the increased tourist traffic from China. The uptick in arrivals from China has widely been attributed to the phenomenal success of a 2012 Chinese road movie, Lost in Thailand, but there’s also the favourable exchange rate between the Thai baht and Chinese yuan, a growing Chinese middle class whose incomes are rising and who are eager for travel and adventure. Tying it all together is the availability of so-called zero-dollar tours that are touted as great holidays at fire-sale prices. However, these popular package tours – organised by proxy companies with Chinese owners, but registered in Thailand – have been controversial. Once welcomed because they brought more tourists into the country at a time when the economic outlook was bleak, the Thai government had a change of heart a little over a year ago and announced a crackdown on operators, saying they harmed the country’s image. Once in the country, visitors are often pressured into buying goods from certain stores while on tours, and sometimes browbeaten into buying additional gifts. If they object, they are scolded and even punished. They may not have their hotel room key returned by their guide, for example, according to a report last year in the Financial Times. The Thais have other problems with these tours. As a result of the way they are managed and financed – by Chinese nationals – much of the revenue generated goes back to companies in China, at the expense of local Thai hoteliers and restaurateurs, who receive a much smaller portion of the revenue. The tours also avoid local taxes, depriving the Thai treasury of millions of dollars.
Despite the crackdown, the problem of zero-dollar tours appears far from over. The Phuket Gazette reported this month that the island’s Kathu Temple has recently been inundated with hundreds of coaches a day dropping off Chinese tourists. The temple makes money from selling lucky religious amulets, reportedly for 20,000 baht (US$627) and more. The Gazette reported that the temple has been working in conjunction with a Chinese tour company. Part of the attraction of zero-dollar tours for Chinese visitors to Thailand is that all their needs are seemingly catered for. Being unable to speak more than a few phrases of English, and probably no Thai, going on a tour avoids language problems. Although this has its pluses, it can also be a problem because they have difficulty complaining to Thai police when they are pressured into buying products they don’t want. The Thai authorities launched a crackdown in October 2016, when three large zero-dollar tour companies were busted, resulting in 2,150 tour buses being impounded and 29 operators prosecuted during a Chinese “golden week” holiday.
Article 4 – Bloomberg (20Dec17)
Thailand, land of golden temples, white-sand beaches, smiling hosts. Or of overcrowded airports, epic traffic jams and littered seashores. Facing a deluge of Chinese tourists that has strained its airports beyond capacity, the Southeast Asian nation is spending billions to upgrade its infrastructure, open up new islands and cities to travelers, and tone down its image of cheap shopping, hotels and sex that underpinned the industry for half a century. But the change will take years and even then may fail to keep up with soaring visitor numbers that have given the Land of Smiles a reputation for delays, overcrowding and government crackdowns. “Our strategy was more for less, not less for more, so we invited a lot of tourists from China,” said Suvit Maesincee, in an interview last month, when he was the minister attached to the Prime Minister’s office. “I think in the near future we need to change from volume to value.” The military-backed government relies on tourism for 18 percent of the economy and foreign inflows have made the baht one of the strongest performers in Asia this year, a bright spot amid weak domestic consumer demand and private investment. While it plans to spend more than $5 billion to double capacity at its international airports, it’s planning to increase foreign tourist numbers at a similar pace, reaching 68 million in the next decade. Weerasak Kowsurat, who returned to the post of tourism minister in November in a cabinet reshuffle by the military government, is frank about the challenge: “Today we’re not even ready,” he said after a press briefing in Bangkok on Dec. 1. “To get us prepared within a year is not even possible.” At the heart of the upgrade, and the congestion, are Bangkok’s two international airports: Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, which are running at 40 percent beyond designed capacity. New terminals, facilities and another runway would allow them to handle 130 million passengers a year, including inbound and outbound trips. But work won’t be completed until 2022 at the earliest, and the first taste most travelers get of the Thai capital is a long queue at immigration.
From Select Representation’s perspective the danger signs are very clear. It’s really is a question of volume versus value. Countries need to ask themselves, do they want short term mass tourism or long term valuable business? Short stays versus longer stays? Clients not spending money in resort versus clients spending? Already established markets, such as, the UK, Scandinavia and Germany are turning their back on favourite spots in Asia, in search of newer and less crowded locations. It’s not just the Chinese that can be blamed for mass tourism, as the growth can be seen from other nations like India and Russia.