Independent Chinese travellers demand freedom

Millions of free-thinking Chinese seek liberation from tyranny of Communist tourism

Independent Chinese travellers are set to shake up expectations in Thailand and across all of Southeast Asia.

More than 10 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019. Almost all of them were on a strict schedule overseen by a terrifying tour guide. Almost all spent most of their money on Chinese-owned operations. Many were riding around in buses provided by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s family business.

When it was always sunny, just before the pandemic, forced marches, force-feeding, and keeping Chinese money in China were the rules of the game. That was the main form of mass tourism from China to Thailand.

The South China Morning Post spoke to Huang Hubin and Huang Junjie, a marketing manager and music producer, both in their mid-20s

Distance, visas, climate

Thailand - Independent Chinese travellers

On a pier in Pattaya that was once blossomed with twangy flags of ever-present tour groups, the Guangzhou natives were enjoying the freedom of their first holiday for years. The trip was even more rewarding because the cousins had reserved it themselves.

There are many like these cousins, chasing bespoke holidays that offer value and something a little different from bus-hopping photo-ops, set-menu restaurants and quick splashes along packed beaches.

After a day of snorkelling and jet-skiing Hubin said…

“Thailand is close. It’s easy to get a visa and it’s warm.”

Younger, armed with apps and with more than enough funds to go it alone after three years at home, so-called free and independent travellers (FITs) like the Huang cousins are back across Southeast Asia, seeking adventure, local food, the chance to inject a little local colour into their social media profiles.

But a fortnight since tour groups were allowed outside China, only a trickle has shown up, worrying tour operators who expected a quicker bounce back. The absence is due in part to the shortage of direct long-haul commercial flights.

‘They’ve changed’

tourist haven Independent Chinese travellers

The rumble of countless coaches full of Chinese tourists was conspicuously absent this week on the road leading to Kuta on Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali. There has been a steady stream of domestic visitors and foreign travellers from countries like Australia, Russia, and India, but local businesses are pining for the return of China’s tourists. Nearly 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Bali in 2019, about one-fifth of the total.

Even aviation hubs like Singapore are experiencing more of a trickle rather than a flood of Independent Chinese travellers.

Just a handful of tourists from China were spotted visiting the landmark Merlion statue earlier this week, considered a “must-see” for visitors from the mainland.

And for those who do make the trip, spending habits have changed.

Wing Kwong, a tour guide in Cambodia, said Chinese tourists who visited during the Lunar New Year holiday were more conscious of where and how they spend their money. Major destinations like historic Angkor Wat remain popular for Chinese visitors, but they are not spending like before.

“They’ve changed from drinking one coconut per person to sharing between two or three people, and from eating at fancy restaurants with air-conditioning to places without.”

Cambodia is aiming for one million Chinese tourists this year.

Independent Chinese travellers keen to learn

Arts - Visit Singapore Official Site Independent Chinese travellers

However, this does not mean that Chinese tourists don’t want to spend. On the contrary, they are more than willing to shell out for their travels – but on their terms and with a growing focus on new experiences. From jungle trekking to deep-sea sport fishing, slots are quickly being filled by intrepid travellers seeking thrills they may not necessarily experience back home.

Tour operators in neighbouring Singapore are seeing growing demand for private tours from smaller Chinese travel groups keen on learning more about the country, to Colin Goh, a tour experience manager at Let’s Go Tour Singapore. He said…

“They want specific things and they’re very aware of what they want to do. They don’t want to blindly follow a tour guide.”

Independent Chinese travellers demand freedom | News by Thaiger

World News

Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

Related Articles