Walking in Their Shoes

Rome was brimming with tourists – many of them from China and all keen to see historic sites. At the top of the list is the Colosseum – over 10,000 a day go through. The entrance is nothing short of a bunfight. With a guide the experience is faster, however a Chinese group with a guide endured a two-hour queue only to find at the end that they were in the wrong line! The ticketing people were very rigid and unhelpful and one can only question the bonafides of the guide who ought to have known the rules.

Travelling to other countries is a feast for the senses – amazing views, taste sensations, walking in the footsteps of the ancients, and getting friendly with the locals – all challenging one’s communication capabilities. All mediated by translation.

Language is Key

I’ve spent a month in Italy without much Italian Language, I’m sad to say – well except the important words like spaghetti, prosecco and cannoli, that is! It made me realise how important language is to one’s experience.

For anyone dealing with foreigners it really is essential homework to experience life as a tourist – preferably somewhere you don’t speak the language – only then can we really understand what is important to visitors. We can then make their experiences better.

Language is always going to be the key – whether we get our information off the internet, a guide book, from a human guide, or by word-of-mouth, we are experiencing and learning everything through translation at some point.

Tours – the Importance of Quality Tour Guides

I had a number of guided tours on this trip in English, and, as always, you get good and bad guides. Vanessa appeared to be ‘reciting’ her spiel and didn’t appreciate questions which meant a ‘rewind’. Maria, on the other hand, wanted us to “take home a little bit of her country in our hearts”. Tour guides all displayed official badges and were highly qualified – many with degrees in subjects like archaeology, vulcanology as well as tourism and language. Vanessa was able to parrot off in English and German but couldn’t elaborate; Maria and Sarina, on the other hand, welcomed questions and we learnt a lot more – they ‘tailored’ the tour to our interests. Marco pre-organised a fantastic lunch of home-cooked Sicilian dishes up a mountain. None of them took us shopping. I saw groups of Chinese tourists at many tourist sites and my observation was that they were getting a ‘Vanessa’ style experience – large groups, disinterested and poor or incorrect information being conveyed.

I contrasted our experiences with what we hear in Australia about tour groups: the selling of over-priced products on shopping stops, detours around the main shopping strip to special ‘stores’, buffet style meals in very ordinary restaurants, wi-fi which is not free, unfriendly tax-refund and customs officers at airports, and so on. Admittedly things improved under the Approved Destination Scheme (ADS) for Chinese tourists. Nevertheless it is a good reminder to walk in a tourist’s shoes every now and then.

New Research highlights Chinese Tourist Motivations

A report on the subject of Better City Life Through Tourism, by World Tourism Cities Federation and Ipsos China, “Market Research Report on Chinese Outbound Tourist (City) Consumption”, put some compelling numbers on feedback from Chinese tourists looking at their motivations and expectations, behaviour and benefits – the aim of which is to provide a better experience to them and attract more visitors. “Outbound travel has become an essential part of the lifestyle for Chinese tourists … [who] will continually act on the desire to travel more” That is great news, so what can we do to help?

Well let’s look at some of the problems highlighted in the research

Chinese tourists are mainly worried about language barriers, personal health and property safety as well as cultural differences before setting off for overseas destinations (Language barrier is number one with over 74% citing it as a concern).

Nearly 80% of respondents expect the industry to build up channels offering more information for their visit. Over 50% of respondents suggested providing more detail and professional guidebooks in Chinese.

On the list of preferred destinations outside Asia, Paris, London second and Rome score high. Paris drops down the list following a visit, because the Chinese perceive that the locals are not very friendly. An increasing number of foreign hotels and shops are really trying to do everything to cater to Chinese consumers. For example, Harrods in London revealed that it had hired 70 Chinese speaking staff and installed over 100 Unionpay point of sale systems. In Paris, Galeries Lafayete did that too, but if the staff aren’t helpful or friendly they will be marked down.

That brings me to the next point:

The top two problems for Chinese outbound tourists when they dine in tourist cities are

  1. The menus lack Chinese translation
  2. Waiters cannot speak simple Chinese; in addition
  3. No easy pay options;
  4. Also, free wifi is vital so that diners can share their experiences.

Research reveals that hotels lack Chinese labelling/signage, tourists cannot watch Chinese television channels or boil a kettle; there is a lack of language help for transport – public transport, roads, etc; tourist sites have no Chinese language content and no Chinese-speaking guides. The same problem exists with shopping and they are big spenders – on average, Chinese tourists spend $9000 each on shopping.

So there is a lot at stake; the advice is to distribute Chinese information to tourists at transport hubs to help with cultural difference, laws, customs, emergencies, etc. In addition, Chinese labelling, signage and information regarding transportation, roads, hotels, attractions, restaurants, entertainment and shopping malls, as well as free internet access are all vital and will drive more visits if you get it right.

Many Chinese travel several times each year. Mostly they travel through agencies with nearly 40% in groups, 32% travelling by themselves, and there is a growing market for ‘semi-independent’ travel too. In Europe they spend the most per capita with their travel budgets focused on shopping.

As outbound tourism evolves, it is gradually shifting from mere sightseeing to more in-depth tour experiences. More and more Chinese tourists are drawn to cities with great historical, cultural and architectural features, such as landmark buildings and museums.

Word of mouth is relevant to which city Chinese tourists will choose as their tourism destination. Nearly 50% of Chinese tourists take advice from their relatives and friends before making a decision on a tourist destination.

Tourists travelling to cities in Europe, the United States and Australia will research into transportation, local customs and practices and security. Over 80% of Chinese tourists search for tourist attractions online, high on the list also is lodging, food and shopping.

Tourists traveling to cities outside Asia also obtain information through promotional activities organized by the cities, from the official websites of travel agencies in cities and from foreign tourism websites. Group tourists obtain their information through travel agencies; independent tourists learn through domestic tourism websites, social media and relatives and friends.

So it is very clear that Chinese tourists will consult websites in Chinese, social media, and they want thorough, detailed information – over 43% reported that existing information was not thorough and not practical.

Chinese outbound tourists have been increasing dramatically. In 2004, there were merely 29 million outbound travellers, reaching 155 million before the pandemic. The rapid development in China in the past decade has created a large population of middle class, who want to explore foreign countries.

While faster visas and lower or no fees are important to encourage visits, and speedier and more tax refunds appeal to over 50% of Chinese visitors; the most leverage will come from language and culture.


As a provider to tourists here are the important things to consider:

  1. Employ qualified tour guides who speak the language and can go ‘off the page’
  2. Free wifi – not only as a service but to help visitors blog about you
  3. Translate (and if possible host in China) your website in Chinese – essential for tourists to find you
  4. Offer outstanding service so people will want recommend you on social media like WeChat and Red
  5. Make sure restaurant menus are appropriately and creatively translated and it helps to have staff conversant in Chinese
  6. Signage, help and instructions at tourist sites in Chinese please.

Contact one of our friendly tourist-centric staff and we’ll be able to help you.





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GPO Box 2231, Melbourne 3001

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F. 03 9670 0766


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