Courting China the Chinese way(1)


If you’ve attended ITB (International Tourismus Borse) in Berlin, you’ll understand the scale of the world’s largest travel trade show. Let’s just say you have to take shuttle buses to get to different halls.

You get the feeling things would reach this scale at Shanghai New International Expo Centre which hosted the China International Travel Mart last month.

Incidentally SNIEC is part owned by Germany’s Deutsche Messe AG, Messe Duesseldorf GmbH and Messe Muenchen GmbH.

SNIEC, which opened in November 2001, has seven halls now and when the project is completed, it would have 17 halls with total exhibition space of 250,000 sqm!

Everything’s big in China. The CITM show was no exception. This year saw more than 2,900 exhibitors, about 1,000 from overseas. Buyers numbered over a thousand.

But what emerged from the show is the enthusiasm of foreign national tourist boards to engage the Chinese.

South Africa launched a destination specialist programme for travel agents; New Zealand was pushing its Kiwi specialist programme while India is planning to launch road shows in several Chinese cities.

The Europeans, many of whom have recently received ADS status, were there in full force, with models decked in traditional European outfits.

As of December 15, 63 countries and regions would have received Approved Destination Status (ADS) from the Chinese government.

In 2003, the outbound market reached 20.2 million, ousting Japan from top position in the Asia/Pacific outbound ranking for the first time.

This year, up to October, 23.48 million Chinese had gone abroad – an increase of more than 65 percent over the corresponding last year (skewed though because of last year’s SARS epidemic).

While everyone wants a piece of the Chinese traveller pie, China isn’t in a hurry to offer ADS to more destinations.

Take Guam for example, small as it maybe, just wants a drop in the ocean of Chinese travellers. The average spending for a Chinese tourist is US$1,000 per trip.

Wealthier ones usually spend US$8,000 or more. So Ernie Galito, deputy general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau, is placing a bet. “If we attract 10,000 Chinese visitors a year, that’s US$10 million already.”

That’s a huge opportunity for a small destination like Guam. But Guam doesn’t have ADS status and it hasn’t received the US government’s approval for a Guam-only visa-waiver programme for the Chinese.

The others just have to wait for there is more to the granting of ADS than mere travel and tourism potential.

The other side of the ADS coin is the situation within China. The officially sanctioned Golden Week holidays – Spring Festival, May Day and National Day – have been successful in creating enormous movement of tourists and tourism receipts.

According to China National Tourism Administration chairman He Guangwei, this year’s May Day holiday saw a record 100 million travellers and tourism income stood at RMB 39 billion (US$4.7 billion). The National Day Holiday saw 110 million people travelling, and tourism income at RMB39.7 billion.

With state-sanctioned holidays, there’s enormous strain on the country’s transport system and capacity of places of interest to cope with the mass movement.

There’s been calls to abolish the mandatory week-long holidays and the time is right now. As more foreign destinations are granted ADS, their national tourism boards would be pitching their marketing campaigns for the same tourist traffic in the same season. What a waste.

Apart from wastage, the best time to visit an overseas destination might not coincide with China’s national holidays. For instance, year-end might be a good window to travel to warmer places, for instance, in South-east Asia, but there’s no Golden Week then.

As Chinese travellers become more affluent and well-travelled, group tours might not be what they want. There’s needs to be flexibility and scrapping the rigid travel season is something the authorities should seriously consider.

Again, tinkering with this involves more than just concerns about travel and tourism. But there’s hope as CNTA chairman He told TravelWeekly recently (in Mandarin), “China’s travel industry is now more open, more global-oriented and more compatible with international standards.”

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