Don't criticise Chinese tourists – we're just as bad
The Chinese are coming. They're coming to a hotel near you. They're coming to your favourite resort. They're arriving in your home town.
We were here first. If anyone is going to annoy the Balinese, it's us.
For those in the tourism industry, that's a very good thing. The Chinese market is huge these days, it props up the entire industry. If Chinese travellers were to suddenly disappear, a lot of people would be in a lot of trouble.
For everyone else, however – particularly other travellers – I get the feeling this news isn't exactly welcome. There seems, to me, to be a dislike of Chinese travellers, or at best a distrust. Those from the Western world are not 100 per cent sure about these guys. We're not convinced they're doing things right.
You only had to look at the paper on the weekend to see evidence of that. In Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald and Age there was a story about the rise of Chinese tourism in Bali, and in particular the rise of "zero dollar" tourism, where would-be travellers in China are offered heavily discounted all-inclusive tour packages, and then encouraged to buy marked-up goods at foreign-owned shops in Bali to offset the money lost. Barely any money actually goes into the Balinese economy.
Admittedly, that's a problem. But it's not unique. In fact, the most interesting thing about this story, to me, is the fact it's even a story at all.
It's the inference the doesn't sit well: that the Chinese are not doing travel right, that there's something shifty and underhanded going on here. There's an element of paternalism too – as in, Bali is ours. Don't mess with it.
I'm sure the Balinese would be interested to hear that, given we've been messing with their island paradise for some time now. There's also the point to be made that Chinese tourists in Bali, with their zero-dollar tourism, are not actually doing much different to what Australian tourists have been doing in Europe for decades.
Think about all the all-inclusive coach tours that are a rite of passage for young Australian travellers in Europe, and increasingly for older Baby Boomer travellers as well. The companies who offer those services are foreign-owned, usually by other Australians. They offer heavily discounted package trips. They use foreign guides – again, often Australians, some with questionable visa status. They encourage guests to buy souvenirs in over-priced stores to allow the commissions to feed back to the tour's underpaid staff.
And then you have the cruise passengers, who make up a huge percentage of the tourist numbers in cities such as Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona. Those tourists are taking up a lot of space, but they're not spending much. Their food and drinks are paid for on board their foreign-owned ships. Their accommodation and transfers are taken care of. These tourists are there to take photos and gawk and maybe pick up a souvenir or two in the place their guide recommended, and then get back on board and go. Zero-dollar tourism at its finest, right?
My point is this stuff isn't generally seen as a major problem until it's the Chinese who are seen to be doing it. Then, we take issue. Then, we write stories.
I get the feeling that's because some people don't like the reality that the Chinese are our fellow tourists now. We feel an ownership over the pursuit of travel. Like, we were here first. If anyone is going to annoy the Balinese, it's us.
Chinese tourists, particularly those who move in large groups, often do travel in a different way to what we're used to. They shop in stores and buy things we have no interest in. They dress in a way we don't really understand. They bring with them their own standards of behaviour, standards some people vehemently disapprove of.
Again though, are they that different to Australians? Do you think every Balinese person loves what's happened to their island thanks to the influx of singlet-wearing Aussies? Do you think they're all huge fans of the AFL sports bars and the gaudy superclubs?
I'm not saying every Chinese tourist is an angel. I know some have done some shocking things – I've seen it. But there does seem to be an air of cultural superiority at best – and blatant racism, at worst – when it comes to attitudes to Chinese travellers, and it's unbecoming.
Maybe, before we go criticising their practices, their behaviour, their attitude, we should take a closer look at our own.
Do you think Australian travellers are guilty of the same things the Chinese are being criticised for? Do you think there could be more acceptance of difference on our part?
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