It’s entirely possible that when members of the world’s first international package holiday reached their destination in 1855, amused Parisians cried at them “Regardez les canards!”…
Lines of visitors - led by a strained-looking guide, holding aloft a balloon, umbrella or nowadays Ipad - often resemble little waddling queues of ducks.
Bobbing curious heads… Anxious or bored or rapt faces… Some walking too fast, some too slow…
…Annoying the locals by blocking the traffic, their guides repeating the same phrases every ten minutes, and the little ducks not spending any money in the residents’ shops. Allegedly.
Nok in Thailand surprised us at her restaurant by saying exactly the same thing, unprompted.
And when we asked our receptionist Tracey in Hanoi whether she’d heard about duck people, she had.
And very often, now, they mean one nation’s holidaymakers in particular : the Chinese. These ducks seem particularly keen to stay physically close to each other, while exploring SE Asia. And there are a lot of them.
China sends more than 120 million tourists out to see the world these days.
They’re going to swell enormously the number of people visiting China’s back yard : Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
So South East Asia is expecting to almost double the number of visitors to its sights, up to about 200 million people in the next ten years.
The hosts know it means big money. SE Asia earned 300 billion dollars from tourism in 2015. And that’s expected to rise by about 6% a year from now on.
Source : WTTC
“The Chinese come to Chinese hotels, get Chinese drivers and go to big souvenir places the Chinese own. They don’t pay tax - they don’t care about us!”. "At least you ask us questions - too many", he adds.
That’s the perception, anyway, and we hear it a lot. The same could have been said of American and European travellers and hospitality firms over the years. But the cultural thing is interesting.
I asked a lot about the curiosity of their new friends from the North. And the suggestion is that Chinese visitors are here for a change of scene, to gawp at architecture and talk as little as possible to locals.
The language barrier is a big obstacle. There’s a reluctance to speak any Chinese language, and the average sort of tourist coming to SE Asia from China does not speak English or any local language.
We’ve been here before.
A nation’s first holidaymakers tend to be few in number and wealthy. Able to spread the money about a bit and indulge themselves by immersing themselves in (what they choose of) the local culture…
Think Britons on their Grand Tours of Europe around the 18th century.
“Where’s the Forum?”
Then travel becomes more affordable…
Think Britons desperate to escape the August rains by going to Spain in the 1970s.
“Where’s the chips?”
And then travel becomes more diverse and niche…
“Where’s that delightful organic vineyard that Natasha told us about?”
Nok told us how impressed they were with the first Russian tourists when they arrived after the fall of Communism. Big spenders. Polite.
“Now you see sign on hotels : No Russians!”
“No money… Fighting…”, says Nok.
In Britain the stereotype of the Duck People has changed a lot over the years. From the camera-swaddled Americans once, to the Japanese later. Now it’s more varied.
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And for the moment it seems that it’s the ‘high-end’ Chinese traveller that can afford the punishing price of travelling to and holidaying in Europe.
Indeed I’ve seen across Europe in recent years small discrete family groups of Chinese visitors. Attentive. Polite. Spending money. Speaking a little to locals.
These patterns of tourism will shift and settle down, shift and settle down again. It’ll be good to see more of each other. And with other industries struggling - the money will be useful too.