All over the world, lip service is paid by tourism leaders for a move from quantity to quality in tourism and hospitality. However, in the attempt to reach as fast as possible the 2019 arrival numbers again, the reality often looks very different. Thailand for example has allowed the return of zero-dollar tours from China to be able to boast about the first million arrivals in less than five months after China opened the borders again.
For many destinations, the post-pandemic restart of China’s outbound tourism is presenting a choice between a Highway to hell and a Highway to heaven, as recently discussed during the Himalayan Travel Mart Conference in Kathmandu.
Before the pandemic, Nepal saw an influx of small-scale Chinese investors, taking over many of the hotels, shops and restaurants in the former hippie areas of Thamel in Kathmandu and Lakeside in Pokhara. In 2019, 170,000 arrivals from China were reported after reaching 120,000 arrivals already in 2014.
The post-pandemic demand shift of China’s outbound tourism is certainly in favour of Nepal: outdoor acivities, authentic experiences, value for money, friendly host communities, a mixture of exotic and familiar, new destinations to be discovered – all such requests can be easily fulfilled in Nepal. Visas are issued on arrival free of charge for Chinese and a brand-new airport in Pokhara offers the possibility of additional air routes between China and Nepal.
As for many other destinations, two developments are possible:
Concentration on quantitative growth
· Many visitors, competition on price, very low margin
· Visitors not very interested in local culture
· Visitors not careful with local infrastructure and nature
· Few management jobs for host community
· Damage of Brand image
· Previous source market visitors stay away
· Top-level Chinese travellers shun destination
Concentration on qualitative growth and special interests:
· Slow growth of number of visitors, but unique offers commanding higher prices, good margin
· Visitors very interested in local culture and situation, providing income for local communities
· Visitors feel as part of the destination, more careful and respectful towards local infrastructure and nature
· More control and management jobs for locals
· Enhanced Brand image
· Previous source markets visitors not annoyed
Nepal can become the benchmark for Chinese Meaningful Tourism for countries around the world.