Who are your Chinese tourists?

When we talk about “the Chinese”, in general the reference is to people from mainland China. However, Australia also receives a substantial number of visitors every year from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The graph below compares the number of visitors to Australia from each of the three locations which constitute “Greater China” over the last 10 years:


The growth of visitors from mainland China to Australia has been truly breathtaking, particularly when compared to Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 2006, the number of mainland Chinese tourists to Australia was double the number from Hong Kong, however by 2015, mainland Chinese visitors outnumbered Hong Kong visitors 5 to 1. The number of visitors from Taiwan to Australia barely increased between 2006 and 2012, however the last 4 years has seen this market grow by an average of 11% per annum.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2016, Australia received 219,000 visitors from Hong Kong and 130,200 visitors from Taiwan, placing both locations within the top 15 sources of visitors to Australia (9th and 14 respectively).


Place of residence

In the case of mainland China, Tourism Australia has done further research on the background of these visitors. As expected, Shanghai and Beijing are the main places of residence, with 22% and 16% of Chinese visitors polled listing these two cities as their home towns. A further 11% of Chinese tourists come from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in the south. Hangzhou and Nanjing, the capitals of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces respectively, round out the top 5 source destinations for Chinese tourists to Australia. The graph below illustrates the top 10 places of residence for Chinese visitors to Australia:


The important thing to note is that Chinese people identify strongly as from particular regions or cities. The rivalry that exists between people from Beijing and Shanghai is stronger than the divide between people from Sydney and Melbourne, or Queenslanders and New South Welshmen. Chinese tour groups to Australia reportedly split up their Beijing and Shanghai customers because the tension between residents of the two cities can be so strong that they won’t get along in the same group. One difference in particular is the local dialect, with Shanghainese being almost completely incomprehensible to someone from Beijing (or anywhere else in China for that matter). For more on differences between the two cities, ChinaLawBlog’s article on the topic is a great place to start. The highlight for me is this quote:

To the Shanghainese, the Beijingers — and all northerners, for that matter — are peasants.

“They smell like garlic,” said restaurateur Xu, voicing a popular refrain. “We Shanghai people keep ourselves and our homes very clean. We are more refined. We drink coffee. They only drink tea.”

Meanwhile, people from Guangzhou speak Cantonese, not Mandarin – and the difference between these two languages is as stark as the difference between English and German!

So, when you’re meeting your next guest from China, don’t just treat them as “Chinese”. Ask them, “where are you from in China?”, and ideally, have a laminated copy of a map of China (this one is a good one to use) that you can pull out and get them to show you where they are from. This will help them feel welcome, and over time, maybe you’ll even start to notice some differences (though hopefully not the garlic!).

In a future post, we’ll delve into the research done by Tourism Australia on the ages, incomes, living situations and employment status of Chinese visitors to Australia. UPDATE: Our post on Chinese tourist demographics is available here.

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