Chinese tourists: Mind your manners



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eiffel_000_par7515915_300IT’S HARD being a Chinese tourist. Reviled for bad behaviour one day and ripped off by everyone from taxi drivers to pickpockets the next, China’s newly minted travelling classes are having a tough year.

In typical fashion, the Chinese government appears intent on regulating away some of that pain. On October 1st China’s tourism industry came under a new set of rules, most intended to curb corruption in domestic travel and ease the burden on guides, groups and tourists travelling within the country. The law includes at least one clause that seems to have been inspired by a series of incidents that have revealed the apparently bad manners of Chinese tourists, on the mainland and overseas.

The number of Chinese travelling at leisure, both domestically and abroad, has grown tremendously in recent years, boosted by rising incomes, a less restrictive passport regime and softer limits on spending. The new tourism law aims to help the tourists themselves, mainly by preventing practices like the forced-march shopping excursions that are often led by ill-paid tour guides. The law also provides helpful advice to the many millions of mainland Chinese who do their pleasure-seeking abroad.

Section 13 advises Chinese tourists to behave themselves wherever they go in the world. The article is a nod to high-profile embarrassments like the one that a teenager caused by carving his mark—“Ding Jinhao was here”—into an ancient wall in the Egyptian ruins at Luxor earlier this year. Chinese tourists have drawn scorn after posting online snapshots of themselves hunting and devouring endangered sea clams in the Paracel islands, and others have produced fake marriage papers at resorts in the Maldives, in order to take advantage of free dinners. (Closer to home, the new law might have given pause to the group of Chinese tourists on Hainan island who inadvertently killed a stranded dolphin by using it as a prop in group portraits.) Spitting, shouting and sloppy bathroom etiquette have made the Chinese look like the world’s rudest new tourists, from London to Taipei and beyond.

A vice-premier, Wang Yang, made note of the problem a few months ago, calling on his countrymen to watch their manners when travelling abroad. The new regulations add legal force to his plea.

“Tourists shall respect public order and social morality in tourism activities, respect the local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, take care of tourism resources, protect the ecological environment and respect the norms of civilised tourist behaviours,” as Section 13 instructs.

Although it might be difficult to regulate such sensitive matters by fiat, this kind of nudge can have an impact in China. These few headline-grabbing humiliations, along with an ongoing campaign that mainland visitors face in Hong Kong, have made many relatively seasoned Chinese travellers more careful about the way they comport themselves abroad. In Paris, ever a favourite destination for Chinese tourists and shoppers, polite French-speaking Chinese guides shepherd their flocks through the sites, apologising when any of their charges bumps into others.

And they must be careful for their own sake as well. Chinese tourists have become a favourite target of French pickpockets and criminal gangs, leading this year to calls for greater protection and self-awareness among tourists over their belongings. Chinese tourists in France and elsewhere have been advised to hide their blingy jewellery and electronics, rather than show them off; to avoid cheap but unrewarding budget travel groups; and to be more aware of the risks that inevitably accompany foreign travel.

There are hopeful voices among China’s travel elite. Experts who study the industry say the rapid rate at which China’s tourism industry is evolving could portend good things to come. China’s millions of novice travellers want to be respected in the countries they visit, not looked down upon as a kind of scourge.

Zhang Guangrui, who studies China’s tourism industry at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, anticipates that the extra scrutiny will help rein in tourists quickly, and the new law will help.

“The heavy media reports about the issue, criticism and discussion online about the problems just show Chinese people’s increasing awareness about it,” says Mr Zhang. “The new tourism law points out the problem and reaffirms the principle, as a way to further remind Chinese people to pay attention to their behaviours when they travel.”

Even if Mr Zhang’s theory is right, China is bursting at the seams with millions of travellers-in-waiting, very many eager to exercise their new opportunities to get out and see the world. As other emerging economic powers have found over the past century or so of international leisure travel, the antics of a few holidaymakers can go a long way towards tarnishing the reputation of the rest.

(Picture credit: AFP)

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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