TOURISM IN ASIA: THEME PARKS, CHINESE AND HIPPIES

TOURISM IN ASIA

Marketing surveys show that Asians like to shop, eat and gamble when on vacation. Tourist receipts in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 30.6 percent of the half trillion dollar worldwide tourist market in 2000, up from 15.1 percent in 1990.

Tourism fell off after the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98. In 1998 there were 12 percent less visitors to Asia than there were in 1997. More foreign tourist it seems were put off by concerns about security and instability than were attracted by deals and values that result form the currency collapse. Tourism in Asia was hit hard by SARS in the early 2000s and to a lesser extent by bird flu in the mid 2000s. Tourists avoided Asia. Flights were cancelled. Hotels were empty.

According to a 1996 survey of 46 Asia-Pacific cities by the Hong Kong-based Business Traveler the ten worst cities in the region are: Dhaka (46), Guangzhou (45), Delhi (44), Bombay (43), Karachi (42), Ho Chi Minh City (41), Shanghai (40), Seoul (39), Beijing (38) and Moscow (37). The rating was made by 1,000 completed questionnaires filled out by business travelers in the region who have an average income of $110,000. the top four cities were 1) Sydney, 2) Vancouver, 3) San Francisco and 4) Singapore.

Growth in Asian Tourism

Asia relies heavily on tourism already for jobs and income but is also boasts some of greatest growth in tourism, with the lion share of the growth occurring in China. Adrian Addison of AFP wrote: “The sun is shining on the tourism trade in Asia-Pacific with double-digit growth notched up in 2010, spurred largely by Chinese and Indian middle classes packing their bags for a break abroad. Strong economies, the proliferation of low-cost airlines and a burgeoning constituency of online shoppers are adding to the region's rosy outlook. There was an 11 percent rise in arrivals in the region overall last year, according to preliminary data from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). [Source: Adrian Addison, AFP, March 6, 2011]

"Asia will receive international arrivals at close to double that of the world average growth rates," PATA's deputy CEO John Koldowski told AFP. "It's Asians travelling to Asia, that's the key to all these numbers and the big shift we are seeing globally in the tourism market. It's all happening in Asia now." The proliferation of low-cost airlines, particularly in Southeast Asia, is also a shot in the arm for the industry. Carriers such as Malaysia's AirAsia and Cebu Pacific in the Philippines, among others, continue to expand aggressively. [Ibid]

“South Asia reported the strongest arrivals growth with a gain of 14 percent, highlighting a record year for India which posted 5.6 million foreign inbound visits for the year, a nine percent increase. Over 70 million people went to Southeast Asia, 12 percent up on 2009, with Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines all ratcheting up record growth. Australia and New Zealand and the Pacific islands also had a record year for tourist arrivals. The total travel market in Asia Pacific reached $212 billion in 2011, reflecting a near five percent increase over 2010, according to industry analyst PhoCusWright. [Ibid]

“Growth in the region is being boosted partly by a newly minted middle class in the enormous populations of China and India -- around 46 million Chinese travelled abroad last year, as did over four million Indians, PATA say. And they take their wallets and credit cards with them. Chinese travellers spent almost $44 billion in 2009 while travelling overseas, according to data from the World Trade Organization -- and that's excluding the cost of getting there."For some markets Chinese and Indian tourists are extremely important," said Koldowski. "Indian travellers to Singapore, for example, travel in an average group size of four against an overall average of 2.9 people and spend on average 5.8 days there against a total average of 4.0 days." [Ibid]

“People from Europe and North America are also heading to Asia and the Pacific in their droves -- arrivals from Europe were up 11 percent to 24 million, PATA say, while arrivals from North America grew by over 10 percent to 13 million. "For developing nations, which make up a large portion of Asia-Pacific, short vacations to neighbouring countries will continue to be most popular. As nations grow, so does their exposure and disposable income, leading to trips to farther afield. [Ibid]

“And many of those will book their trip online, another area of huge potential growth for the travel trade. US Internet travel booking giant Expedia plans to launch at least five new Expedia-branded sites throughout Asia, having already recently launched a new site in Singapore. "Already in 2011, we're seeing growth rates in markets like Asia that are outpacing the growth that we saw in 2010," an Expedia spokeswoman told AFP."One of Expedia's primary focus areas in 2011 will be on growing its presence in Asia-Pacific and we plan to invest heavily in the region, as we think the opportunities are immense and in some cases untapped." [Ibid]

“Booking through mobile devices and social media is also expected to help the tourism industry grow. According to industry analysts, such as PhoCusWright, the US travel market is approximately 38 per cent online, Europe is 34 per cent online and Asia Pacific is 21 per cent online. Expedia recently bought mobile travel application firm Mobiata and EveryTrail, a GPS-enabled publishing platform to create outdoor tours and city guides for mobile devices."Consumers will use their mobile devices more and more to research and purchase products and services, including travel, at an increased rate," the Expedia spokeswoman told AFP. "Social media and user-generated content will continue to be an important factor in the travel decision-making process, with more travellers than ever relying on reviews, photos and videos, and recommendations from peers." [Ibid]

Asia Theme Park Boom

Kelvin Chan of AP wrote: “Disney's long-awaited $3.7 billion park is scheduled to open in Shanghai in 2016. The Pasadena-based Hettema Group is designing a Hello Kitty park set to open southwest of Shanghai in 2014. Burbank-based Thinkwell Group is working on a Monkey Kingdom park near Beijing based on the classical Chinese epic novel also scheduled for 2014. [Source: Kelvin Chan, AP, July 21, 2011]

“Outside China, Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme park opened last year in Singapore, part of a $4.4 billion resort that also includes the city-state's first casino. Another Universal Studios is slated to open in 2014 in Seoul, South Korea that will be bigger than the company's four existing parks. Asia's first Legoland is scheduled to open in southern Malaysia in 2013. A $2 billion, five-star hotel and amusement park slated to open in southern Vietnam in 2014 has lured Joe Jackson, father of the late king of pop Michael Jackson, as one of its investors. [Ibid]

"The growth of the middle class in Asia is phenomenal and will drive huge investments in theme parks in the coming decade," said consultancy Aecom in its annual report on theme park development. Phil Hettema, president of The Hettema Group, said he's in talks "probably every week about additional projects upcoming in China." "There's a growing market there. There's a huge class of people looking for family entertainment," he said. [Ibid]

“Asian theme park attendance is forecast to grow to 290 million in 2012 from 249 million in 2007, while spending in that period will rise from $6.4 billion to $8.4 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Legions of newly affluent Chinese making more trips around the country is one big factor driving China's resort building boom, said Christian Aaen, a principal at consultancy There's also a large pool of young people who are "looking for new things to do and are starved for entertainment," he said. [Ibid]

“Meanwhile, China's government is also trying to promote tourism as part of a push to boost domestic consumption. Regional governments have been partnering with private companies to build property developments anchored by theme parks that also include hotels, shops, restaurants or other services, said Aaen. [Ibid]

“But there are no guarantees of an easy ride. Hong Kong's Disneyland has never turned a profit since it opened in 2005 despite being popular with mainland Chinese visitors. The park is the smallest Disney property, which many blame for its poor performance. Asia also has its share of abandoned amusement parks, many of which suffered because of lack of investment. "Ninety percent of theme parks in China that are designed by Chinese companies fail," Goddard said. He tells this to potential clients before asking them if they really want to proceed. [Ibid]

“Part of the problem is that some developers want to do it on the cheap. Sometimes that means they want to clone famous existing parks even though they don't have enough money, said Goddard. He has been working on and off in China for about 15 years and has had to talk potential clients out of trying to copy Disneyland or Universal Studios. "You're never going to be as good as the real thing. You want to do something original and different," he says. [Ibid]

“When projects do get under way, designers need to adapt attractions to Asian tastes. Many Asian park visitors consist of families that may include a young child and one or even two sets of grandparents. That means extreme rides are out, said Kevin Barbee, of KB Creative Advisors. For these families, "if you have a roller coaster, the youngest is probably too short to go on and oldest ones don't want to be spun and twisted," said Barbee, who recently moved his office from Los Angeles to Singapore. He's working on several new Universal Studios attractions there and is close to signing a deal on a theme park renovation in China. Designers say another big difference is the food. In China, theme park visitors just aren't as gastronomically adventurous as their counterparts at parks in North America. "You can't really have themed food. They don't want French food or Italian food," said Goddard, but added that they will make an exception for hamburgers and hot-dogs. [Ibid]

Asia Theme Park Boom Provides Work for Designers

Kelvin Chan of AP wrote: “A rush of theme park construction across Asia that will result in new homes for Mickey Mouse, the Monkey King and Hello Kitty is also providing a financial lifeline for the world's elite group of entertainment designers. New theme parks, resorts and casinos are scheduled to open from Singapore to Seoul over the next several years as property developers and entertainment companies aim to draw Asia's rapidly growing middle classes. They're betting there will be a big market for family amusement rides, live shows and the chance to pose for a picture with Snow White. [Source: Kelvin Chan, AP, July 21, 2011]

“The projects represent the next big growth area for skilled and experienced designers and creators as the North American market has become saturated and opportunities to design big new resorts have dried up. "America has slowed down and Asia has kicked into higher gear. Especially China and Macau are really busy," said Gary Goddard, a veteran architectural designer who drew up the masterplan for the Galaxy Macau, a $1.9 billion casino resort that opened in the southern Chinese city in May. Goddard and many of his competitors are based in Southern California but they've been doing a lot more traveling to Asia lately to work on projects and meet potential clients. Many aren't strangers to the region, having worked in Japan on an earlier generation of parks and developments. Now the focus is shifting to China. [Ibid]

“It's not just theme parks that need skilled designers. In Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal, the Galaxy is the first of what is expected to be several new hybrid casino-resorts aimed at turning the city into a tourist and cultural destination and reducing its reliance on gambling revenues. Goddard said he was tapped by a rival casino company for its expansion project three days after Galaxy opened. His design featured multiple rooftop finials reminiscent of Thai palaces as part of a theme evoking a mystical Asian kingdom. [Ibid]

“In Galaxy's lobby, a fountain turns into a giant roulette wheel before a giant diamond rises out of the top. It's a metaphor for wishing casino goers eternal luck and prosperity, said designer Jeremy Railton. Railton's company, Entertainment Design Corp., also created the Dancing Cranes show at Singapore's Sentosa Resort, which features two giant animatronic birds with video screens on their chests in a mating dance. [Ibid]

High-Speed Rail, Cruises and Cheap Airfares in Asia

Andrew Bender wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “China's first high-speed line connected Beijing with Tianjin in 2008, and four more lines have opened since. Anticipation is high for a sixth line, which is to connect Beijing with Shanghai in June. It's expected to run the 819-mile route in about four hours, at speeds up to 236 mph. Tickets are projected to cost about $103 versus $190 for a coach-class flight of two hours. [Source: Andrew Bender, Los Angeles Times, March 06, 2011]

“Japan created the world's first permanent high-speed rail system in 1964, and the network continues to expand. On Saturday, the new Shinkansen (bullet trains) on the southern island of Kyushu will extend the journey from the current terminus, Hakata (in Fukuoka), to the new southern terminus in Kagoshima, making the trip in 78 minutes. Along the way, Kyushu's other big city, Kumamoto, will be a 33-minute day trip (or new commuting option) from busy Fukuoka. [Ibid]

“Singapore's Tiger Airways, Malaysia's Air Asia, Thailand's Nok Airlines, Indian carriers JetLite, SpiceJet and GoAir, and Australian-based JetStar Asia Airways are among the ones to watch. Fares tend to be lower the earlier you book, though taxes, fees, checked baggage and meals can add up. Also be alert for the impact of rising fuel prices on fares. [Ibid]

“Singapore is a low-airfare hub. A recent search of Tiger Airways found a round-trip ticket between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur of $37, though checking a 55-pound suitcase would cost you $27.50 more. The same round trip on Singapore Airlines: $223. A similar search on JetStar Asia Airways yielded a double-take-inducing one-way $1.56 fare to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, though taxes and fees increased that to $23.50. Random searches for the two-hour flight between Delhi and Mumbai in India yielded round-trip fares of about $144 on SpiceJet and $194 on JetLite, versus $223 on JetLite's full-fare parent company, Jet Airways. Buy-on-board food included north and south Indian-style vegetarian meals. [Ibid]

Lower fare options are cropping up even in traditionally pricey Japan. Fares on Skynet Asia Airways, Skymark Airlines and AirDo average 20 percent less than on legacy carriers Japan Airlines and ANA, with occasionally steeper discounts. A recent search found one-way fares for the 95-minute flight from Tokyo to Sapporo for about $430 on ANA and JAL, $238 on Skymark and as low as $202 on AirDo. Travelers to Japan from overseas can save even more with "Visit Japan" fares on JAL, ANA and Skynet Asia Airways, about $126 for a domestic flight when combined with a round-trip ticket to Japan.

"The global cruise industry is now looking toward Asia as a major growth engine," says Lanie Fagan, director of communications for Florida-based Cruise Lines International Assn. The association sees Southeast Asia as one of 2011's hot destinations. About 2 million cruise passengers passed through Hong Kong in 2010, and a record-breaking 1.14 million in Singapore, which is building an almost seven-acre deepwater cruise terminal expected to be completed by late 2012.

By 2015, the Asia Cruise Terminal Assn. is projecting about 7 million annual cruise passengers in Asia, thanks to a growing Asian middle class. Another sign of the times: Atlantis Events, which charters ships for gay cruises, offered its first Asia cruise in 2009 and doubled that in 2010.

Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India

In a review of Rory MacLean’s book Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India , Jane and Michael Stern wrote in New York Times, “Hippies were the fireworks of freedom,” an Istanbul journalist declares at the beginning of “Magic Bus,” Rory MacLean’s retracing of the eastward path traveled by enlightenment-hungry pilgrims in the 1960s and “70s. With a spiritual craving kindled by a pantheon of idiosyncratic gurus that included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Bob Dylan and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, these so-called Intrepids had little money but plenty of time---and a yen to sip tea and smoke dope with the locals. Their goal wasn’t to observe other cultures but to absorb them and be transformed. [Source: Jane and Michael Stern, New York Times, February 19, 2009]

“That Istanbul journalist credits hippies with nothing less than the rebirth of humanity, but MacLean’s travelogue conveys a measure of cynicism about the consequences of their intrusion. In many places, the antimaterialist hippies’ arrival stimulated a crass tourist trade and an attendant defilement of native culture. Another Turkish acquaintance refers to their path as the “hash-and-hepatitis trail,” and MacLean even suggests that their hedonistic ways might have been partly responsible for the rise of Islamic militancy, strengthening traditionalists’ anti-Western resolve. [Ibid]

“Good or bad, were they really so significant? MacLean thinks so. He lectures a group of young travelers that the beats and hippies “brought minority rights, ecology and alternative medicine into the mainstream” and “for a few short years tied together the world.” Whether such grandiose claims are true or just an expression of the baby-boomers’ self-importance, there’s no denying that the stoned rovers were present at the beginning of a cataclysmic period in history, whose legacy “Magic Bus” describes in exquisite detail, most of it sorrowful. [Ibid]

“As he travels from the Bosporus to the notorious trance-dance beach at Goa, MacLean goes from areas of commercial desecration to brutal police states and ghastly combat zones. The decimation of Kabul reminds him of Dresden or Hiroshima after World War II. Tehran, “an urban disease fed by anger, despair and pollution,” is a “sprawling cemetery to tolerance.” A fight between Nepalese troops and Maoist rebels leaves 15 dead and several secondary-school students shot. “Bullets have not been removed from their bodies,” The Katmandu Times reports, “due to lack of money.” [Ibid]

“Traveling along this horrendous path, ironic considering its erstwhile symbolism as the road to Shangri-La, MacLean balances apocalyptic bereavement with engaging cameos of individuals who manage to persevere. Carla Grissmann, the “Grandmother Intrepid” whose wanderlust “predates the Beatles and Beats,” is met at the sandy ruin that is Kabul’s once-grand museum. She’s trying to piece together shards of precious pottery gleefully sledgehammered by a delegation led by the Taliban’s minister of culture, who deemed the world’s greatest collection of Central Asian artifacts un-Islamic. “I weep for the Kabul I knew and loved,” she says. Ahmed, a British comedian whose parents emigrated from Pakistan to the Midlands in the 1960s, delivers an invidious set of terrorism jokes when MacLean meets him on a railway platform in Rawalpindi. “Hey,” he asks, holding his hands under his stomach, miming a bulky explosive belt, “does my bomb look big in this?” [Ibid]

“MacLean also crosses paths with an original flower child called Penny, who rode the magic bus with Ken Kesey, survived Woodstock, traversed the Asia trail when she was young and has now returned for a last swim in the Himalayan lake where she found serenity 40 years earlier. The most memorable character, and the man MacLean jokes that he wants to adopt as his guru, is Rama Tiwari, an enormously charming bookseller and publisher “who touched---and enlightened---more Intrepids than any other Indian.” Rama succinctly summarizes the hippies’ big mistake: “They didn’t see we can only live in happiness if we conquer the restless dream that paradise is in a world other than our own.” [Ibid]

Book: Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India by Rory MacLean (Ig Publishing, 2009)

Chinese Tourists in Asia

About 70 percent of Chinese travelers who travel abroad go to Hong Kong or Macao of nearby gambling destinations such as Russia or Vietnam. Only 7 percent go to Europe. Gambling is major attraction for Chinese traveling abroad. Many mainland Chinese can be found at casinos in Macao, Pyongyang and Sydney. Chinese men also attracted by the fleshpots of Bangkok.

As of 2002 about 10 million Chinese visited tourist destinations in Asia, speeding around $18 billion. Chinese tourists now make a large share of the market in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Indonesia In some cases there are taking up the slack in places where the numbers of European, Japanese and American tourist are declining.

More than 1 million Chinese visit Thailand annually. Many go on five-day package tours that include flight from to Bangkok, meals and accommodation. On some Philippine islands Chinese tourist went very quickly from having a limited presence to dominating the island.

Chinese tourists love to shop. Those traveling abroad have a reputations for scrimping on food and accommodation and spending considerable money for luxury goods and designer clothes. A survey nu A.C. Nielsen and tax Free World found that the average Chinese overseas traveler spends almost $1,000 on shopping, more That the average Japanese.

Many of the Chinese travelers to Hong Kong go on shopping sprees, and spending an average of $790 per person for a total of $1.7 billion. Many also go to Thailand to shop. A representative of CITS, China's main tourist organization, told the Independent, "Chinese have lots of money to spend. Chinese shopping is shocking. We buy on a family and group basis---if one from a village or work unit is going abroad, everyone gives him money to buy them things. I've seen Chinese visiting Thailand who buy 20 crocodile skin belts each, and 10 gold necklaces."

Obnoxious and Tacky Chinese Tourists

Chinese tourists traveling are infamous for uncouth behavior such as walking around in hotel lobbies in pajamas, tossing chicken bones on the floor of restaurants and talking loudly. Chinese state-supported travel agencies warm their customers that “spitting, slurping foods and jumping queues merely disgust people at home. But is intolerable in other countries.” Chinese tourist are also coached not to roll up their trouser legs and strip off their shirts to keep cool.

Chinese tourists have reportedly leaped into Japanese-style baths without washing themselves off first, which is the custom in Japan , causing Japanese using the same baths to leap out in horror. Complaints by hosts in Thailand led China’s Spiritual Civilization Steering Committee to issue a guide on proper behavior when abroad. [Source: Strait Times]

Even in Taiwan, the locals are shocked by the behavior of Chinese tourists. .One Taiwanese visitor to a hot spring told the Strait Times, “I was taking the lift to the pool when a group of Chinese tourists, also on their way to the pool, stepped in clad only in their underwear. Nobody seemed embarrassed except me.” A Taiwanese travel agent who specializes in trips to South Korea said, “In general, people in South Korea have reservations about Chinese tourists as they feel they tend to haggle over prices and are less courteous than the Taiwanese.” Some Taiwanese find Chinese tourists boorish, complaining of their spitting and loud voices.

Overseas Chinese are among this who find mainland behavior to be the most uncouth. A Hong Kong newspaper ran a picture of a mainland mother helping her child pee on a wall at Hong Kong Disneyland and reported that many benches at the theme park were unusable because middle-aged Chinese men were sleeping on them. A Hong-Kong-born London-based Chinese wrote a guidebook in which advised Chinese “Don’t ask foreign women how old they are” and “Don’t clean your ears in public.”

Some don’t find Chinese tourist to be that obnoxious. An Australian travel promoter told the Straits Times, “The Chinese are model tourists frankly, we have more issues with British and European backpackers.” An Indonesian travel agent told the Straits Times,”Chinese tourist can be a bit rowdy. We understand that this is part of their culture. For bigger or spacious hotels, we get around the problem by having a special buffet area for the Chinese, so other tourist won’t be disturbed.”

Georg Arit, a German sociologist who has studied Chinese tourists, told the Los Angeles Times, Chinese are rude to people they don’t know. Unfortunately, when it comes to tourism, you don’t know most of the people you meet. He also said Chinese tourists were notorious for consciously breaking rules. “You’ll see people flouting “no smoking” signs in luxury outlets, knowing few will complain when they’re spending $10,000. There’s also a feeling that “foreigners have been trampling on us for 200 years, and now it’s our turn.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2012

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