Davao joins Philippine tourism promotion in Beijing

BEIJING (MindaNews/17 Nov) – The entry of Davao City as one of the top tourist destination sites for the growing mainland Chinese tourists will help shape a positive perception towards Mindanao and its huge potential in the tourism map.

Davao City joins other popular tourist destination sites in the country such as the white sand beaches of Boracay and Palawan, rich cultural heritages of Cebu and Laoag that will be featured in huge billboards around Beijing.

Dubbed as “Philippines Dream Destination” billboard campaign, Jazmin C. Esguerra, the tourism attaché, said they hope to get a chunk of the Chinese tourism market by promoting the Philippines through billboards in metro subway stations across Beijing during China’s harsh winter season.

The huge posters will be posted in at least eight metro subway stations traversing the central business district and high-end residential areas such as Guamao in Beijing from December 5 to 30.

“Davao joins Cebu and Boracay as featured sun, sand and sea destinations in the Philippines during winter time in Beijing,” Art Boncato Jr., the regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Davao, proudly posted in his Facebook account.

Esguerra said the Philippines has been trying to get a share of the growing Chinese tourism market in recent years since the DOT has established an office here in 2004.

“They are just growing,” she said.

With steady growth of its domestic economy, outbound Chinese tourists have hit a record-breaking 50-million mark in September this year from only nine million in 2000, making them one of world’s biggest travelers apart from Europeans and Americans.

Forecast shows that Chinese outbound tourists will likely reach 65 million at the end of this year, according to China Tourism Academy. China is also expected to be the world’s largest source of outbound tourists by 2020 – accounting for about 100 million trips a year.

The facts indicated that many ordinary Chinese could now afford to roam the globe for luxury purposes due to rising income. The Chinese government also eased its travel policies such as bilateral agreements with neighboring countries, granting approved destination status, and easing visa norms, which encourages the Chinese to travel.

But how to entice Chinese tourists to come over to the Philippines?

Tour operator Duan Dongdong of Southeast Asia View has said knowing the behavioral context of Chinese tourists is one of the key elements on how to capture them and make them come back to a certain area for vacation.

He said understanding the travel expectations of mainland Chinese outbound tourists, such as its lifestyle and particularly its food culture, is very crucial.

In his research paper, Xiang (Robert) Li, professor of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management at the University of South Carolina, said Chinese outbound tourists are quickly growing into a larger and more “sophisticated” group of consumers.

“When traveling overseas, they expect quality services, respect, and better cultural understanding of their wants and needs. Satisfying and meeting these expectations will require a combination of insight into culturally specific behaviors and understanding of broader cultural beliefs,” he said.

He said several Chinese complained when hot water is not served in hotel rooms. In China, people are accustomed to drink hot water every day, particularly during meals.

Duan said most of the Chinese travelers are aged between 28 and 48, and stays at least four to five nights per trip.

Shi Jianzi, a travel feature writer of Economic Observer, China’s leading business newspaper, said young backpacker Chinese “hates” hotels and would rather stay with local homes or home-stay system.

“More and more Chinese young people like to go to the local flea market, a narrow way or alley, and the small restaurant, which serves excellent dinner; they would like to go somewhere unusual, away from other tourists,” she said.

Average expenditure of Chinese tourists is about $1,300 dollars per day, inclusive of hotel stay, food, shows, and souvenir shopping, Duan claimed. He noted that Chinese tourists are considered shopaholics because imported products are costly in China due to the trade imbalance, with too much export. Thus they would rather buy luxury products abroad or during travel, Duan said.

Middle class Chinese reportedly have a strong appetite on buying Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, and Zegna, while Cartier and Mont Blanc make their favorite accessories.

Data from the Global Blue, a Switzerland-based shopping services provider, showed that Chinese tourists beat Russians as top tax-free shoppers in Europe in 2010. It said Chinese travelers spent 744 Euros on average, doubling the 368 Euros spent by Russians.

Li said many Chinese prefer a long stay in a certain location rather than hectic schedules.

“Relaxation is one of the primary motivations of Chinese outbound tourists,” he said.

On top of these concerns, the Philippines needs to boost its promotion campaigns.

“Many Chinese, particularly those in the mainland, are not aware of the Philippines,” Duan said.

He said that for the Chinese, the Philippines ranks at the middle when it comes to favorite destination sites in Southeast Asia. Topping the list are Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Esguerra said mainland Chinese tourists going to the Philippines have been gradually increasing. From just roughly 34,000 in 2004, the number of Chinese tourists jumped to 171,000 as of September.

But this number of Chinese tourists going to the Philippine is nothing compared to the over one million Chinese visiting Thailand every year.

Data from the Tourism of Authority of Thailand said they expect to receive 1.4 million Chinese visitors by the end of 2011.

Shi said Southeast Asian countries are the preferred choices of young Chinese.

“Chinese young people love to go to ASEAN (Association Southeast Asian Nations) countries. I think there are two reasons: cheap and similar traditional culture. In contrast, a tour in European countries is too expensive for young people,” she said.

“Of course, we love the sea. What fun it is to enjoy the sunshine at the beautiful beaches. Seaside wedding ceremony is very popular among young people in China,” she said, noting that Southeast Asian countries have a long coastline. Noted among them are Thailand’s Pattaya beach and those in the Philippines. “It is very difficult to find a nice beach where people can enjoy quiet and fresh air in China,” Shi added.

In 2010, ASEAN received more than 70 million international tourists, more than 10 million of them from China.

Both Duan and Shi noted that when targeting Chinese tourists, host countries should make sure they have enough Mandarin-speaking guides.

“If an investor would want to set up a tourism business catering for Chinese tourist, hiring Mandarin translators is very important,” Shi said, noting that many Chinese do not understand English and other foreign languages.

Aside from language barrier, security is the most critical factor for Chinese tourists. “Chinese tourists usually tremble for their safety on a journey,” she said.

Last year’s fiasco at Manila’s Rizal Park hostage drama that led to the killings of several Chinese tourists has left a bad taste for them. On top of this, the negative perception about the conflict in southern Philippines, and the presence of terrorist groups, are hampering the otherwise vibrant tourism sites of the Philippines.

But Esguerra was quick to say that mainland Chinese tourists have gradually moved on as indicated in the tourist arrival data, which has doubled compared to figures at the height of the investigation of the hostage drama.

Esguerra said they have partnered with at least 19 tour operators in Beijing to promote Philippines as of one the top destination sites in Southeast Asia.

This year alone a group of Beijing-based journalists were sent to Davao City to experience the beauty of Mindanao. In return, Davao City with its Philippine Eagle, Pearl Farm Resort and high hills were featured in several magazines and newspapers across Beijing.

Duan said Philippines has the edge because of its long coastal areas and islands.

“Northern people [in China], including Beijinger, are hungry for warm weather and beaches,” he said.

Philippines was even named as one of the top honeymoon destinations for Chinese couples this year. The award was given during the 2011 annual “China Travel & Meetings Industry Awards” organized by the Travel Weekly Publications.

In September this year, a maiden direct and chartered flight from Beijing to Kalibo was launched to cater Chinese beach buffs to Boracay Island.

Esguearra said several places in the Philippines have huge potentials for capturing the growing Chinese tourists

“There is really a need [for the public and private partnership] to bond together and develop our tourism industry,” she said. (Darwin Wally T. Wee / MindaNews)