The travel industry should exercise more caution towards the Chinese market and focus less on the projected numbers of outbound tourists from China, according to two leading academics.
Professor Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (Cotri), told the World Tourism Forum in Lucerne: "There is a danger we talk about numbers all the time when 90% of Chinese outbound tourists will never come to your place.
"Maybe 10% of the Chinese outbound market is of interest to you. We have to be careful looking at the numbers."
Official Chinese figures recorded 107 million outbound trips last year following re-evaluation of the data. But Professor Arlt calculates there were perhaps 20 million tourism trips.
He said: "Someone who travels to London and may go to night clubs is completely different from someone going to New Zealand to go bungee jumping – a big thing now – or someone who goes to Hong Kong to buy milk powder.
Fellow professor Kaye Chon, dean of the school of hotel and tourism management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said: "Everyone sees China as an opportunity, but you have to look with caution."
He explained how Hong Kong had approached Beijing for help in attracting mainland Chinese visitors after the Sars outbreak in 2003, leading to a relaxation of the visa regime.
Chon told the forum: "Hong Kong attracted 54 million visitors last year, 70% from mainland China, half of them day visitors.
"There were big protests against these tourists saying 'Go home'. The government did not really think about the consequences. There is a lot of social tension. Now Hong Kong says [to Beijing] 'Can you stop the tourists?'"
Chon added: "The Maldives has become an upscale destination for Chinese tourists. They love it."
But the influx had pushed up hotel rates and caused visitor numbers from Europe to the Maldives to decline, he said, arguing: "It is important to weigh benefits and costs, continually monitor and make adjustments to your policy."
Arlt said: "The good news is we are on the second wave of Chinese tourists, who have already travelled to Paris or Italy. It's an opportunity to get people to less well-known places."
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