Brace yourself, Chinese tourists are getting FIT

Posted on August 3, 2015

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The results of the recent Phuket News online poll are interesting, to say the least. As the poll was cast in English, it obviously received responses from English-literate persons only. But the results also give critical feedback on the current state of play of Phuket’s English-speaking community with the burgeoning Chinese and Russian tourist markets.

Of note, the respondents to the poll credited Chinese with only 2 per cent of the votes as their “most preferred tourist”. Russians scored just 3%. (See story here.)

But of all irony, many of the first Westerners to set up shop in Phuket had their shop signs and shop names in English, mainly because it represented who the shopowners were and, wittingly or unwittingly, who they were appealing to as their customers.

Why would the logic change when appealing to the Chinese or Russian markets? Many Thai business folk are recognizing this fact. They don’t need to speak English when appealing to Chinese and Russian tourists.

But what many people may not realise is that the Chinese market is changing. They are breaking away from the traditional destinations, including Phuket, and heading for Phang Nga, Krabi and elsewhere nearby. They are also breaking away from the standard package tours with options.

They are becoming the free, independent travellers (FITs) that the plethora of small business owners in Phuket cater to – except they likely speak very little English.

A TAT marketing database report filed by the TAT Guangzhou Office pointed out as early as 2013 that Chinese travellers were now interested in golf tours, diving, coming here for their honeymoons and even muay thai training camps. Even medical tourism was on the rise.

Young generation Chinese and white collar groups were enjoying “soft adventure” tours, such as ziplines, rifle shooting, ATVs, snorkelling and trekking, and hitting the shopping malls and restaurants. Higher-end Chinese tourists and executives were heading for the beauty, health and wellness services.

Yet the same report highlighted how Thailand was still not fully prepared for this shift, including the inability to communicate effectively in Chinese. Further, and looking to the future, the report highlighted how there was no deep penetration to retail ends, no new social media usage to target this burgeoning market, and no second and third-tier cities sales.

Perhaps the wise local business owner would be best prepared for this change, and address the critical issues listed above, because like it or not, the FIT Chinese are coming.

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