The Tricky Business of Catering to PRC Tourists

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/20/2013 11:06:00 AM
Since I am currently writing up some tourism-related research, two recent articles about the global industry catering to Chinese travelers caught my eye. While there is some debate going on as to whether tourism is the world's largest industry, we can safely conclude that it is a very large one. Combine that fact with China becoming the second-largest economy in the world and the embrace of Chinese tourism is only natural: As early as the mid-Nineties, I remember visiting Parisian luxury boutiques and seeing the effects of the first wave of PRC tourists as most had salesladies who were fluent in Mandarin. However, that is pretty much a baseline expectation nowadays.

(1) To be sure, the cruise ship industry has been hurt by high-profile incidences of American liners alternatively sickening and killing their passengers. Fortunately, its tarnished reputation is not (yet?) global. There are pockets of opportunity alike China. Again, it's only natural that the Chinese would take to the open sea since they have the world's busiest seaports--the infrastructure is already there. What has been lacking, however has been marketing: Chinese with an interest on going on cruise ships cannot be away for too long since they probably are too busy making money (unlike, say, their American counterparts who can go on decade-long cruises if there were some Wall-E style). Hence the popularity of short trips around East/Southeast Asia:
When the Mariner of the Seas arrived in Shanghai in June, it became the largest ocean liner with a home port in China — a 138,000-ton mega-ship that boasts an ice rink, 10 pools, a rock-climbing wall and a mini golf course. But the 3,800 passengers it can carry don’t get long to enjoy the array of amenities. The ocean-going giant, owned by Royal Caribbean International, mostly makes three- and four-night trips to South Korea that start at about the equivalent of $500 per person. 

The preference for such short cruises is one of the major challenges international cruise lines face as they focus more resources on luring Chinese customers, says Zinan Liu, the Shanghai-based managing director for China and Asia for Royal Caribbean, whose parent company is the world’s second-largest operator, with slightly more than 23 percent of all cruise passengers. (Carnival Corp. is the largest, with a little more than 48 percent.) 

If Chinese take to cruising in the same way as North Americans and Europeans, they could provide as many as 40 million cruise guests a year, according to a 2010 market analysis by Royal Caribbean. That is twice the number of passengers expected worldwide this year. But unless they work for international companies, most Chinese take vacations only during the public holidays clustered around traditional festivals like Chinese New Year, usually a week or less at any one time.
(2) However, all is not just moneymaking with PRC tourists. Whereas the rest of the world once had to deal with loud, brash Americans and pack-rattish Japanese, today the accusations of poorly-mannered tourists are aimed at the Chinese:
Now it is China’s turn to face the brunt of complaints. The grievances are familiar — they gawk, they shove, they eschew local cuisine, and last year, 83 million mainland Chinese spent $102 billion abroad — overtaking Americans and Germans — making them the world’s biggest tourism spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Their numbers have also placed them among the most resented tourists. Mainland Chinese tourists, often laden with cash and unfamiliar with foreign ways, are tumbling out of tour buses with apparently little appetite for hotel breakfast buffets and no concept of lining up [...]
Certainly, more cultured Chinese are ashamed of the poor behavior of some of their compatriots who believe that spending a lot means they do not need to observe manners:
But the greatest opprobrium seems to be coming from fellow Chinese. In May, a mainland Chinese tourist in Luxor, Egypt, discovered that a compatriot had carved his own hieroglyphics on the wall of a 3,500-year-old temple. “Ding Jinhao was here,” it declared. A photo of the offending scrawl spread rapidly on Chinese social media, and outraged citizens tracked down the 15-year-old vandal. The uproar subsided after his parents issued a public apology. 

Embarrassed by the spate of bad press that month, Wang Yang, China’s vice premier, publicly railed against the poor “quality and breeding” of Chinese tourists who tarnish their homeland’s reputation. “They make loud noises in public, scratch graffiti on tourist attractions, ignore red lights when crossing the road and spit everywhere,” he said, according to People’s Daily. 
As the saying goes, you take the good with the bad and try to mitigate the latter through better customer education. There remain instances when the customer is not always right.

UPDATE: This rude Chinese tourists trope is gaining popularity. The South China Morning Post adds to it.