Chinese Tourists Take on Greater Role | China Unlocked

By Tian Yuan

“China, definitely China!” exclaims Kecuk Suhariyanto, chief of Statistics Indonesia (Biro Pusat Statistik, BPS), when asked which country supplied the most tourists to Indonesia in 2016.

“Take November 2016 as an example,” he adds. “Chinese tourists accounted for 13 percent of all foreign tourists in Indonesia, followed by Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan.”

For Chinese tourists to Indonesia, a destination they wouldn’t miss is Bali, a world famous island destination. In 2016, the island was awarded “the most favored destination for Asian tourists” for the 12th consecutive year. The residents and members of the tourism industry on the island were pleased to learn that the number of Chinese tourists to the island increased 30 percent year-on-year in 2016.

Addey, chief of Bali’s statistical bureau, commented that Chinese tourists accounted for 20 percent of all foreign tourists traveling to Bali, a higher percentage than the national average.
“That is on one hand an indication of Chinese tourists’ interest with Bali,” Addey said. “On the other hand, it reflects their robust consumption capacity backed by the healthy Chinese economy.”

Meanwhile, Bali Tourism Agency head Anak Agung Gede Yuniartha Putra predicts that more than 5.5 million domestic and foreign tourists are set to visit the island in 2017. Australia, China and Japan are set to remain the top three sources of foreign tourists.

“Since 2015, direct flights have become available between Bali and Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou,” Putra said. “More direct flights will be available for Chinese tourists in the future. We will also provide Chinese tourists with more services in Chinese, including tour guides, road signs, restaurant menus and so on.”

Tourists watch the sunrise near the stone pagodas at Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

Indonesia Emerges

Apart from traditional destinations such as Bali, Chinese tourists have shown a strong interest in Indonesia’s newly emerging tourist destinations. Figures from the statistical bureau of North Sulawesi on Feb. 18 show that of all foreign tourists visiting Manado, a popular diving destination, Chinese tourists have been the largest group.

“Thanks to Indonesia’s visa-free policy for Chinese tourists and direct flights between China and Manado, a record 2,488 Chinese tourists visited Manado last year, accounting for 65.13 percent of all foreign tourists to the area,” explained chief of the North Sulawesi statistical bureau. “In second and third place were Singaporean and American tourists, who accounted for 9.11 percent and 3.04 percent of the total, respectively.”

Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism Arief Yahya said that the country’s tourism industry met its target of 12 million tourists for the year 2016.

“We hope that we can attract 2.4 million Chinese tourists in 2017, roughly 15 percent more than 2016,” Yahya said. “To that end, we will continue with our efforts to meet the needs of Chinese tourists. For example, our national air carrier Garuda Indonesia has begun operating overnight direct flights from Bali to Guangzhou, seven days a week. The type of aircraft used for these flights has been upgraded to an Airbus A330-300.”

In addition, the Indonesian government has invested heavily in developing the tourist attractions of Djokjakarta and Malang in Java, Toba Lake in Sumatra, Papua Island and the Maluku Islands. Tourist departments and local residents are looking forward to the arrival of Chinese tourists.

Indonesia is not alone in anticipating increased Chinese tourist arrivals. Thailand, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries have long seen Chinese tourists as important contributors to the sustainable development of their tourism industries.

“Our 30 millionth tourist in 2016 was from China, our largest source of overseas tourists,” said a vice minister of Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports responsible for market and communication. “We presented her with a gift package, including a return air ticket, a luxury hotel package and a phone card.”

Thailand’s tourism industry has been impacted by the 2015 bombing attack on Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine and the Thai government’s crackdown on “zero-dollar tours”.

“Dealing with the problems in the industry is similar to removing a malignant tumor,” said the vice minister. “It is painful for a time, but beneficial for development in the long run.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry forecasts that 9.8 million Chinese tourists will visit the country in 2017, an 11.5 percent increase compared to 2016. Chinese tourists will bring revenue of 5.2 billion baht (US$152 million) to Thailand, a 16.7 percent increase over the 4.46 billion baht they brought in 2016. Statistics published by the Economic Intelligence Centre at the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) indicate that revenue generated by Thailand’s tourism industry accounts for more than 10 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP. The export of “tourism services” is playing an increasingly important role in maintaining Thailand’s GDP growth. Additionally, the World Economic Forum has listed Bangkok number one on its list of the world’s best tourist cities. Also in the top 10 on this list are Singapore (6th place) and Kuala Lumpur (7th place). China’s Hong Kong SAR ranks 9th.

Since Malaysia Airlines MH370 went missing in 2014, Malaysia has been trying to reshape its image as a global tourism power. According to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), the country hosted 12 million overseas tourists in 2016. MATTA Vice President (Inbound) Datuk Tan Kok Liang said the country’s tourism industry made a strong recovery in 2016. He hopes that the recovery will maintain its momentum in 2017 as Malaysia’s tourism industry targets growth of 8 to 10 percent.

“The Indonesian government has implemented visa-free policies for tourists from China and some other countries, which is helpful for attracting Chinese tourists with a high level of consumption capacity,” he added.


Targeting Sustainability

However, Southeast Asian countries are facing new problems relating to the sustainable development of their tourism industries. Also included in the Siam Commercial Bank’s (SCB) report are data indicating that although Thailand has attracted a greater number of overseas tourists year-on-year, their per capita consumption in Thailand has began to shrink. Many tourists do not choose to visit Thailand again after their first visit.

“The first reason is that the tourists’ itineraries have been shortened compared with previous visits,” the report said. “More in-depth, longer visits are needed. The second reason is an insufficient supply of tourism infrastructure, which has had a negative impact on the quality of tourist services. The third reason is tourist overload in popular destinations, which has badly damaged tourist resources.”

Busadee Santipitaks, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to ASEAN, said that Chinese tourists remain an integral part of the ASEAN tourism economy.

“At the ‘10+1’ Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2016, China and ASEAN set a target of 30 million tourists traveling both ways by 2020,” Busadee Santipitaks added. “The large number of Chinese tourists will play a key role in the rapid development of Thailand’s tourism industry. In the Year of the Rooster, visa fees, including visa on arrival fee, for Chinese tourists have been reduced. The latest decision of the Thai government is to continue with this policy.”

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