Global tourism is being driven by mainland visitors, their numbers surging annually by double-digit percentages. Chinese are expected to become the biggest outbound market this year, overtaking Americans and Germans with 95 million trips and US$110 billion in spending. But while they are being welcomed with open arms by governments, they are not always as warmly greeted by locals. As in Hong Kong, manners and habits are criticised most.
A series of incidents have fuelled a growing perception of mainlanders as being ugly tourists, people who do not respect the country they are in. The latest involved two apparently drunk men on a flight from Paris to Wuhan who stole bottles of wine from the service cart and argued with passengers, who told them to put the drinks back. Coming amid the fallout of a widely circulated video of a Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee member in Yunnan province smashing an airport check-in counter in a fit of rage, the internet is awash with postings of how poorly behaved mainlanders can be when travelling. Discussion mirrors our long-running love-hate relationship with cross-border visitors.
The complaints are the same: that they are loud and flout rules and customs. Hotel, shop and restaurant staff perceive them as difficult. It has led to them being loved for their money, yet getting treated coldly. Authorities in Beijing are well aware of the concerns, telling people heading overseas to watch their manners and to act as ambassadors for their country.
It is true that some mainland tourists are poorly behaved - the internet videos that have gone viral attest to that. But it is wrong to paint every traveller from China as being a loud-mouthed litterer, spitter and queue-jumper. The vast majority abide by laws and, when made aware, try to conform to customs. As increasing numbers are exposed to the wider world through travel, those unfamiliar with international common practice will modify their behaviour.
Every country has its ugly tourists. Surveys of which travellers are the rudest put all manner of nationalities at the top; many populations see themselves as the worst. People going overseas for the first time are bound to be excited and on a mission, whether to shop, sightsee or experience something new. It takes time to perfect the art of travel and become attuned to other cultures. As mainlanders travel more, the world should try to be welcoming, patient and understanding.