It’s no secret that the Chinese traveller is both courted and feared by national tourism boards, hoteliers, retailers and airlines across the world. Around 100 million of China’s 1.3 billion people travelled outside the mainland last year and the number is expected to double by 2020.
But every month or so, a blurry video crops up online and ends up going viral. Some show a riot that leads to the smashing of a check-in counter, an emergency exit door being opened on a plane that’s already taxiing on the runway or the verbal and physical abuse of a shocked flight attendant mid-flight.
It’s likely that we’ve all seen one or many of these clips showing outrageous behaviour by travellers from mainland China. Their horror has not only shocked those outside the country but also caused considerable concern for powers in Beijing, who see this increasingly poor (and highly public) behaviour as contrary to the image they wish to present of modern China. In the past, the government has issued guidelines for the correct behaviour of its citizens when travelling abroad. And last month, China’s Civil Aviation Authority said it would look into compiling a black list banning those with bad behaviour from future air travel.
However these travellers behaving badly are, of course, in the minority. The millions of well-heeled and increasingly cosmopolitan Chinese holiday makers who are actively exploring further afield, be it in Japan, South Korea, France or the UK, may end up shaping how the rest of us will holiday.
A recent report shows that on the honeymooner’s favourite chain of islands, the Maldives, Chinese holiday makers have made up the largest single group since 2010 and have at times outnumbered the locals themselves. Previously reluctant to cater to the specific needs of these travellers, the island’s five-star resorts now hire Chinese-speaking staff, ensure home comforts such as kettles are installed in rooms and provide adequate shade for the many Chinese guests who prefer to stay out of the sun.
It’s not just in the Maldives that other travellers may notice a difference. All owned and operated out of Hong Kong, hotel groups such as the Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, Rosewood and Peninsula continue to expand and represent luxury travel to a global audience. With an understanding of catering to Chinese guests at their core, it’s likely that these hotels will pave the way not only for China’s approach to international travel but also as examples of how the rest of the world must learn to adapt.
Aisha Speirs is Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief.