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The evolution of tourist philosophy for ordinary families in China

Author  :  ZHANG ZIYUN, DONG XUE, YAO BING     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-10-26


A Chinese couple walks on a beach in Maldives (PHOTO: XINHUA)

Zhang Li, 49, and his wife Mrs Ye have been planning a journey from Harbin to Moscow for the “Golden Week” of China’s national holiday. This was the first time the couple traveled abroad.

“I fell in love with the architecture of Moscow thirty years ago when I was a student. And now I am here!” said Ye, who is about to reach the age for retirement. London, Canada and Dubai were on the list of her next destinations. 

In less than four decades, tourism has changed from a luxury to a necessity for Chinese people. From having no idea what the term “tour” means, to taking self-guided tours around the world, and from chasing tourist sites as a member of a group tour to leisurely traveling around a particular city, Chinese philosophies about tourism continue to change.

After China’s reform and opening up, Zhang’s first long journey was to visit a relative in Beijing. He went to the Forbidden City for the first time and looked at the portrait of Chairman Mao on the Tian’anmen Rostrum with reverence. There he took a picture of himself standing upright. 

In 1992, with the opportunity presented by a company training session, Zhang took a visit to Huangshan City in Anhui Province, where the Yellow Mountain is located. “The Qiyun Mountain there was not developed for tourism at all. When I was hungry and tired, I had to ask the locals for food,” Zhang said. “I asked for a long time before the locals agreed to sell some of the tea leaves they had picked,” Zhang laughed.

“As result of the underdeveloped economy, Chinese people had little desire for tours at that time. Inbound travel represented the majority of China’s tourism industry then. Domestic tourism emerged in the early 1990s,” said Lü Xingxiang, an associate professor from the Department of Tourism Management at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. 

The first Golden Week of the National Holiday started in 1999. Many other factors contributed to the prosperity of domestic tourism as well. The purpose of travel has changed from visiting relatives and friends or business trips to visiting tourist sites and vacations.

Dou Zhiping, editor-in-chief of Tourism Research said that tourism infrastructure in the early 1990s was underdeveloped. “Without the help of travel agencies, it would be impossible to buy a ticket, for an instance, from Kunming to Xishuang Banna,” Dou said. 

As a tour guide, Qian Qingxiang has witnessed the popularization of group tours. Sleeping on the tour buses while taking photos when arriving at a tour site was a memorable moment in early tours of China for her. She has noticed that the number of tour groups has increased and the scenic areas are getting more crowded year by year.

Mass tourism entered a new era in 2012. Traditional group tours could no longer satisfy people’s demand for multiple forms of tours. Self-guided tours, self-driving travelling, customized tours and farm tours have become popular in recent times. 

Zhang and his wife began to plan self-guided tours when the internet boosted the options for travel planning. For the sake of comfort, Zhang Li began to plan trips a month ahead, including planning routes, booking hotels and finding the restaurants with specialities, all of which can now simply be done through smart phone apps.

In recent years, changes have occurred in the tour choices for Zhang’s family. Zhang’s nephew went to see tourist sites and shopped in South Korea during the 2013 national holiday. Five female members of the family took a self-guided tour of Japan in 2015. 

Zhu Bowei, president of the Association of Tour Agencies in Kunming, Yunnan Province, said that before China’s reform and opening up, traveling abroad required a group visa. Now multiple forms of visa can be granted. A lot of countries have given visa preference to Chinese tourists.

Editor: Yu Hui

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