Teaching tourism the University of Technology-Sydney, it may come as a surprise to many eTN readers that the majority of my post-graduate students are not Australian but Chinese and my experience is common to most Australian universities teaching tourism. However, as China develops as a global tourism superpower, it is hardly surprising that many young Chinese are keen to acquire the skills and knowledge to become tourism professionals in their own country as tourism rapidly develops into one of the leading industries in China.
There is no question that the coming decade leading into 2020 is set to become the Asia Pacific decade in tourism. This year (2012), according to UNWTO forecasts, will be the first year that international tourist arrivals will top the 1 billion figure globally. However, the big news is where that growth is coming from and heading to. It is fair to say that until the 1990s international tourism was largely the preserve and privilege of the Western world. However, times are changing rapidly.
According to World Bank figures, in 2011 over 60 million Chinese travelled internationally compared to 40 million in 2007. Growth in international tourism departures from India has increased from just under 10 million in 2007 to over 14 million in 2011. Japan and South Korea both boast well over 10, million international departures of their citizens and this trend is rapidly spreading to other parts of Asia. The high Australian dollar helped incentivise 7.5 million Australians to travel internationally in 2011 (one third of the population).
While Europe still remains both the most visited destination region (51 percent of global tourism arrivals) and the leading tourism generating region in the world in 2012, its reign is not expected to last long. In 2011, 23 percent of international visitors came to the Asia Pacific but the growth rate is 13 percent per annum (double that of Europe). A high proportion of the travellers departing from Asia are traveling within the Asia Pacific region and by 2020, China is expected to attract more international visitors than France which is currently the most visited country on earth.
While the statistics are not surprising news for tourism professionals who follow global trends, the challenge for the global tourism industry is how to manage the changes. As more people from the Asia Pacific travel the world, do the destinations they visit have the trained staff and infrastructure to properly host them? Many countries welcome the prospect of increased visitation from China, india Japan, Korea and other Asian countries but many destinations are ill-prepared to host them.
The challenges include sourcing and training guides who speak the various languages. This especially applies to the Chinese languages which include Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Schechwan. Many tourism professionals wrongly believe that China is a one-language country but this is far from the truth. China has well over 100 cities with a population exceeding three million people so which parts of china do destination marketers target? There are also the issues of hotels and restaurants having the sort of food that Chinese visitors will eat. While many Chinese travellers will happily try the local foods of the destinations they visit, many more will seek a taste of home. On the other side of the equation how well prepared are the Chinese outside key gateway destinations such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou able to host foreign visitors.
Asia-Pacific destinations, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, are attracting an increasing number of international visitors and the challenges of maintaining sustainable tourism development in all these countries is massive. The charm and attraction of all these countries is their cultural distinctiveness. However, there is a real threat from commodification and cultural erosion as many governments aspire to encourage the development of standardised global resorts, hotels shopping malls and urban blight in the interests of short term economic gain.
It is to the credit of trans-national tourism organisations in the Asia Pacific region such as PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association), ASEAN (Association of SE Asian Nations) Tourism and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Tourism that there is awareness of the potential social, economic and political problems which could arise from the unchecked growth of mass tourism to the region. This is matched by a determination of the many enlightened tourism industry leaders in the region to focus on developing both a sustainable and a culturally authentic tourism infrastructure.
There are many universities and travel training institutions throughout the Asia Pacific region which are devoting significant efforts to develop a commitment sustainable tourism practices to the travel industry leaders of the future throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Developing and maintaining a successful tourism industry has clearly become a major element in the economic and social development of many countries in the region. Whether we talk about Fiji, Singapore, China, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam or Singapore, tourism is a major employer for many citizens of all these countries but if managed sensitively can also present opportunities to nurture and showcase the cultural distinctiveness of each country in this vast and dynamic region.
The author is a senior lecturer in Tourism at the University of Technology-Sydney