A Happy New Year?

Cautious optimism for Chinese outbound tourism in 2020

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

June 2011 was the only month in the first decade of the 21st century when Hong Kong registered less than two million arrivals from Mainland China – until November 2019, when less than 1.93 million border crossings by Mainlanders resulted in a further deepening of the crisis of Hong Kong’s tourism and hospitality industry. Minus 58% in November in year-on-year comparison pushed the result for the first eleven months of the year of 2019 to -9.9% and therefore for the whole year certainly over the double-digit hurdle. Unfortunately, the non-Mainland market did not help, with some source markets like Singapore, South Korea and Thailand seeing even bigger losses with more than 60% fewer arrivals in November 2019 compared to November 2018.

For very different reasons the arrival numbers from China as well as from other markets have dived for Australia. No current statistical data are available yet, but some destinations have reported decreases of 50% and more. With the fires still burning with no end in sight, and with not only the Southeast of Australia afflicted but also other parts of Australia including Western Australia, the damage to the tourism industry will take some time to overcome.

Tough times for the industry in these areas, COTRI Weekly is extending especially strong wishes for 2020 and the Year of the Rat to all colleagues in Hong Kong and Australia!

Your humble editor spent a good part of December in Vientiane/Laos, as a guest of the National Institution for Mass Media Culture and Tourism (IMCT), supported by LUX DEV, the development support agency of Luxembourg. We have discussed the development of Chinese outbound tourism to Laos in an earlier editorial of COTRI Weekly (Nov. 26, 2019), especially the question of how the country,  which has neither beach resorts, stunning ruins or a sophisticated infrastructure like most of its neighbors, can position itself in the Chinese outbound market without falling into the trap of ending as a low-end market destination for visitors from Mainland China looking only for a cheap international experience.

In Vientiane, we developed in cooperation with IMCT special training based on the COTRI face-to-face CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome training and the new online CTT China Tourism Training. From this work, from spending some time in the city and from a first pilot training I conducted in the Crown Plaza hotel during the Christmas days, it became apparent to me where the uniqueness of the Laos experience can be found: in the inhabitants, the different groups which together form the people of Laos PDR. The main attraction is not lower prices – actually, they are higher for all the imported goods compared to neighboring countries. The laid-back behavior should work as a tonicum for superbusy stressed-out Chinese visitors. No Tuktuk driver tries to convince you of your need for a ride in his vehicle, no roadside restaurant waiter invites you with many words to sit down on his folding table and plastic stools. Many Chinese visitors will lose their temper confronted with the lack of eagerness and competition, but many others will be happy to visit a country that is safe, children-friendly and helpful to find – if only for a limited time – back to a slower pace of life.

Laos has been called „the overlooked country“, another incentive for Chinese visitors to be part of the first wave before the new train connection opens the floodgates for mass tourism.

All best wishes for a peaceful and profitable 2020 from Prof. Dr. Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY team!