Destination desolation

Updated: 2014-10-04 07:48

By Erik Nilsson(China Daily)

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Destination desolation

A Thai food festival in Bangkok in July attracts a huge audience. GAO JIANJUN/XINHUA 

Southeast Asian countries continue to lure Chinese tourists. But fewer are answering their call. Erik Nilsson reports.

The relative decline of Chinese tourists to Southeast Asia is to an extent a story of paradise lost-but is perhaps more so a testament to new paradises found.

Outbound Chinese travel to the region has plummeted this year-by nearly 40 percent in Singapore's case.

Discussion surrounding the startling drop-the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' five-year tourism development plan is aimed toward Chinese and Indian visitor influxes-has largely honed in on a new, perceived undesirability of old favorite destinations.

Media point to territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam; the disappearance of flight MH370; Thailand's instability; and Singapore losing influence as a gateway to aforementioned destinations.

That's all true.

But insiders explain the bigger picture is the otherwise changing dynamics of China's outbound tourism.

The United Nations World Travel Organization's Asia-Pacific director Xu Jing calls the widely reported view of a decline of Chinese tourists to the region a "misconception".

"There's a slowing of growth rates to some destinations," he says.

"But if you're talking about sheer volume, it remains large. Southeast Asia is still a big slice of the cake. It's still a very attractive destination. Take the natural beauty with the cultural component of travel-Southeast Asia will remain a major destination for Chinese."

Xu believes the relative reduction is more about the outbound Chinese market's maturation and new countries better courting it.

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