Southeast Asia Needs Sensible Solutions to Tackle Misbehaving Chinese Tourists

ASEAN countries are getting increasingly annoyed by repeated bad behaviour of some Chinese travellers. While pointing the finger at Chinese tourists is easy—many citizens in Southeast Asia already have hostile feelings towards China—it also shows that favouring quantity over quality might be a tourism killer in the long term by generating aversion amongst the local population.

ASEAN governments are all luring Chinese travellers. There are several good reasons to have more Chinese travellers coming to their countries: they bring quantity, they swell statistical reports over tourist arrivals, they spend lots of money, and by throwing out the welcome mat they help please their powerful (Chinese) neighbour.

However, quantity does not always equal quality. Although there are more and more Chinese tourists who are mature consumers—especially from large urban areas—some groups definitely lack good manners. Chinese travellers will come of age eventually, especially the ones who come from rural areas and have little experience of going abroad, however with the rapid rise of China tourism in ASEAN, there is a feeling of a “Chinese invasion” and it has started to annoy local populations.

In Thailand, the country where mass tourism is anything but an unknown phenomenon, Chinese travellers generated less than stellar reactions. In Chiang Mai for example, authorities had to close the University compound to Chinese tourists following their intrusions into classrooms during teaching, just to take pictures (as the place was displayed in a famous Chinese TV soap opera). In Japan—where the anti-China feeling remains strong—pictures and videos on social networks showing Chinese travellers climbing in blossoming cherry trees, just for the sake of a picture, went viral. Some Japanese asked for the creation of special “zones” for Mainland tourists.

And now the phenomenon seems to have reached Vietnam. This year marks a boom in Chinese tourist arrivals to Vietnam, with numbers of travellers up by almost 50% in the first six months of 2016—the equivalent of 1.2 million tourists. From 2008 to 2015, Chinese arrivals into Vietnam, jumped from 650,055 to 1,780,918. In 2016, Vietnam will see,for the first time, over two million travellers from Mainland China.

This boom is inevitably fueling a growth in Chinese-related unpleasant incidents. After videos on social networks showing some Mainlanders mistreating a street hawker in Danang went viral, reactions became vehemently negative. However, the Vietnamese government’s reaction has been strong. The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism has asked Chinese officials to strictly deal with tourists who misbehave or break local laws when visiting the country. Officials in Ho Chi Minh City are currently discussing plans to impose heavy fines on Chinese tourists who “disrespect Vietnam’s culture and history” and are issuing Mandarin-language do’s and don’ts.

The best way to combat all this is to do prevention maintenance, not only for Chinese travellers but to any tourists visiting a country. Cultural clashes are inevitable between people of different origins and cultures, but most of the time, it is only due to ignorance rather than a desire to do harm. Educating travellers, by providing good manners guidance, is the most appropriate solution. The Chinese government did this very thing with the publication of a guide book for travellers back in 2013. This could be linked to the setting up of fines for misbehaving tourists. Both precautions would work towards limiting incidents.

At any rate, some sort of a solution is needed. Otherwise, local irritation might turn ugly in the long term.