Tourists have long been stereotyped. The “ugly American” has been parodied plenty with white sneakers, a baseball hat and the expectation to get by everywhere in English. But, the last group of tourists drawing considerable scrutiny and criticism for their behavior abroad – even from their own government in Beijing – are the Chinese.
As the Chinese economy has grown, the country has become more open and more citizens have discretionary income, more of them headed to cities around the world. However, a number of incidents with problem tourists have gotten considerable negative publicity worldwide so Beijing is taking steps to deal with its embarrassing “emissaries” abroad. Records will be kept, Chinese citizens will face punishment back home and, a new tactic, people will be subject to public shaming.
What prompted the crackdown on badly behaved Chinese tourists? With more than 100 million people from China expected to travel abroad this year, the outrageous examples of boorish behavior have embarrassed the country. Among the items that have made news worldwide was the Chinese teen who put graffiti (including his name) on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple in Luxor, the tourists who opened the emergency door on a moving airplane, and the couple who let their two-year-old stop and poop on a sidewalk.
China is developing a national information campaign promoting appropriate behavior. They plan to send text messages to people traveling abroad reminding them about minding their manners.
Furthermore, the nation will now be tracking which of its people engage in “uncivilized” behavior when traveling, in an attempt to create an “accountability mechanism,” according to the state news agency. People would be encouraged to give authorities photos or video of Chinese tourists behaving badly. Hotels and airlines will also be watching for any signs of incivility.
For those so identified, there could be long-term effects. A senior tourism official said that airlines, hotels and travel agencies would be able to refuse selling tickets to tourists with records of bad behavior. The tourism agency would also publish photographs and videos of undesirable conduct by Chinese tourists in a public shaming effort. That new “public shaming” tactic incorporates social media in an official capacity much the same way the teen involved in Luxor was identified and publicly shamed.
The issue is not just tourists outside the country. There have been issues with internal tourism too. In fact, special graffiti areas were set up on the Great Wall of China to stop visitors, including Chinese citizens, from writing all over the wall.
The new effort is not China’s first attempt to coax their traveling citizens to mind their manners. Two years ago, a tourism law was introduced to protect tourists traveling in China. It included tourist protections from sudden price increases and forced purchases. The measure also required traveling Chinese to respect local customs.
In addition, the country’s tourism bureau published an illustrated handbook with tips on behavior expected elsewhere. For example, it encouraged readers to flush a toilet after using it.
While only an estimated 5 percent of Chinese citizens currently have passports, the World Bank reports that – given the size of population – more than 83 million tourists took off from mainland China in 2012. Far higher than even a few years ago, it is clear that the number of Chinese tourists allowed to travel abroad will continue to grow, but the Beijing government hope the numbers drawing criticism from bad behavior dwindles to none.
By Dyanne Weiss