Chinese tourists open wallets for fine dining

Published on
October 10, 2013

As China goes back to work this week following the week-long National Day holiday, the country’s travelers have been swapping stories of seafood consumption in far off destinations.

A dozen tourists surveyed by SeafoodSource spoke of consuming seafood which ranged from salmon in Sweden to herring in Germany and lobsters in Kenya. One tourist returning from Malaysia spoke of eating various types of grouper at prices lower than those charged in Beijing. Visitors to the Indonesian island of Bali meanwhile spoke of eating fresh Indonesian shrimp.

Consumption by cashed-up Chinese tourists looks set to be a key seafood consumption trend into the future, particularly as travel overseas change tastes at home. Back from a driving tour of Western Australia, property vendor Tan Xiuying spoke of sampling local oysters, abalone and rock lobsters.

“It’s so fresh tasting and it’s so wonderful to eat lobsters and oysters that have come right from the sea, we don’t really have any left in the wild in China, certainly not at the price we paid in Australia.”

Zhang Xinrong, a tourist to London and south England spoke of GBP 10 (USD 15.94, EUR 11.77) servings of battered cod and chips.

“I’d never really tried fried fish with bread on it but actually it was delicious, I’d try again,” said Zhang. She plans to have a fish n’ chips meal at a British-owned diner in Beijing which she found on a Chinese listings website.

China’s outbound travelers have increased in numbers as well as spending power. The number of Chinese who traveled abroad has grown by 700 percent, from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million last year, according to Chinese government figures. That figure is expected to jump to 90 million in 2013. Chinese tourists spent USD 102 billion (EUR 75 billion) compared to USD 73 billion (EUR 54 billion) spent by Chinese outbound tourists in 2011, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization. That makes outbound Chinese tourists the world’s No. 1 source of tourist spending.

The power of the Internet is obvious in influencing Chinese consumers — the country had 381.6 million microbloggers by end 2012, up fivefold in two years, as well as 400 million users of the increasingly popular WeChat program popular among smartphone users. An unlikely beneficiary of the twin Chinese trends of increased travel and Internet marketing: in southern England, the Regency Seafood restaurant has been a feature on the Brighton seafront since the 1960s and started to draw streams of Chinese tourists in the past two years after a celebrity Chinese chef blogged about his visit to the restaurant.

China’s tourist tastes are maturing — and spending more on dining, according to a Beijing travel agent.

“We are seeing less first-time tourists and more tourists who want to make a longer and more focused trips, which includes more quality exposure to local dining and culture,” said Ma Xiaoping, head of Golden Future Tours, which specializes in tailored trips for well-heeled tourists and official delegations to European and U.S. destinations.

“Only ten years ago Chinese tourists may have eaten at local Chinese restaurants but now they’re going to the best local restaurants when they travel abroad.”

Ma said the increasing prevalence of western dining options in Chinese cities makes it more comfortable and logical for Chinese diners to eat at good places when they’re traveling.

Chinese consumers are increasingly getting the chance to taste western cuisine at home, with the continued frenzy of openings by luxury hotel brands. Among them, the Ritz Carlton which will open properties in Chengdu as well as Tianjin this autumn, while the Intercontinental Group will open its Indigo property in the tourist mecca of Lijiang, as well as a five-star hotel in the southwesterly metropolis of Kunming.

The website has suggested that Chinese tourists have contributed to a 1 percent rise in global hotel prices in the first half of 2013. There’s obviously lots of room for growth in China’s tourism spending, which is encouraged by government as part of its efforts to increase the contribution to economic growth supplied by consumption, which currently accounts for only 35 percent of China’s GDP, compared to a 71 percent contribution to American GDP.

Three destinations continue to lead as destinations for tourists leaving the mainland: Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea. Yet Malaysia and Thailand have also emerged as favorite destinations, along with Singapore, which has ramped up its online advertising presence here, building the most-visited micro-blog presence among overseas tourist promotion boards in China. 

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