China’s outbound tourism–already booming–is actually just getting started. The Chinese government estimates that a stunning 700 million trips will be taken by nationals by 2022. To ignore these numbers would be detrimental to any destination. For example, Japan, a popular destination for Chinese tourists, estimates that, while a quarter of their tourists are from China, they account for nearly half of tourist spending.

Not all destinations are equipped to understand the Chinese traveler, though. The vision of the Chinese tour bus, while still a reality, is no longer the norm. Tools like Google Translate, social media, and the internet have allowed the self-directed traveler to explore the world according to his or her own itinerary. However, translation tools, while sufficient to understand the basic gist, leave much to be desired, especially for Asian languages. While English has spread globally, Mandarin is slowly trickling out. Trends show that this is likely to change in the long run as nearly 100 million non-Chinese are studying Mandarin, which should overtake Spanish as the most learned second language within ten years.

Despite this, it is not language that causes destinations to lose opportunities among the Chinese traveler.  It is the differences in culture and upbringing that most destinations are not prepared for. Here are five examples:

The Chinese Internet Is Different 

What most other countries to do not realize, is that all of the West’s present-day tools, from social media to web search to certain blogs and news media outlets, are different from those that the Chinese have access to in their home country. The great experiment in parallel evolution, China’s Great Firewall, has led to a Chinese equivalent of Google (Baidu), WhatsApp (WeChat), Venmo / Paypal (WeChat Pay / Alipay), Uber (Didi Chuxing), Twitter or Facebook (Weibo), Amazon (Alibaba), and so on.

While there are many similarities between the Chinese version and the “rest-of-the-world” equivalent, there are also many differences, which makes it much more challenging to understand and connect with Chinese travelers. Asking a Chinese traveler to look at your Facebook page or to follow you on Twitter is not a feasible request; brands are now creating their own WeChat and Weibo accounts to be where the target customers are.

Shopping Is Not by Credit Card

Chinese consumers love to shop but are also much more discerning and demanding as there are many fakes, scams, and unsafe goods floating around China. The government estimates that nearly 35 percent of consumers have been scammed online. Therefore, while a customer might be a bit more demanding, the return may be two to three times more than a typical customer, because the Chinese set aside a whopping 60 percent of their budget for shopping while traveling.

Chinese shoppers love expensive products including fancy watches, designer clothes, high-end liquor and luxury handbags. However, in order to maximize their purchases, retailers need to understand payment processes in China. Like the Chinese internet, the Chinese payment systems are also different.

Most Chinese do not have American Express, Visa or MasterCard, but instead, if they even decide to have a credit card at all, use UnionPay issued by the People’s Bank of China. Most Chinese do not like to use their credit cards as ubiquitously as the West does, since spending RMB 1000 (about $146) could land one on a government watch list. Thus, the payment method of choice is cash or a mobile payment platform like WeChat Pay or Alipay, where transaction limits are $10,000 and $30,000, respectively.

Numerology Matters

The West agrees that the number 13 is considered unlucky. Yet in Chinese culture the number 4, which sounds like “death,” is unlucky, with many Chinese going out of their way to avoid it. A Chinese traveler would frown upon being issued a room on the 4th, 14th, or 24th floor (which most Chinese buildings and hotels do not have), buying something at a cost of $44, or accepting a gift of four of anything. Even checking in on April 4 is exceptionally unlucky. On the other hand, 8 and 9 are very lucky numbers. For example, the Beijing Olympics, which were purposely not bid on for 2004, started on 8/8/08 at 8:08:08 pm. 

Welcome the Whole Family

Chinese culture emphasizes the collective over the individual (family names are spoken first in names) and features a heavy focus on parents and elders. Separate words exist for an older or younger brother or sister, and aunts and uncles are referenced by birth order (e.g., second aunt) in order to determine the level of authority and respect commanded. This focus on family and filial piety leads to more inter-generational travel, where many members may be traveling together. Thus, while a young family may have modern desires, they may have an elder with them who requires novelties that are only available in China. Furthermore, many of the younger Chinese speak various levels of English, but the elder Chinese most likely do not.

Expect Clashes of Culture

Many destinations and attractions have experienced aggressiveness among Mainland Chinese travelers. Line-cutting, pushing, spitting, using flash or even taking pictures at a location clearly designated as “no photos,” and other behavior have been reported. In addition, in China it is more common for travelers to flaunt their wealth. While these behaviors might not be tolerated in the West, it is the norm in the crowded, competitive, and limited-resource environment in China. However, Chinese practices are slowly turning, for example, the Beijing Olympics tried to create anti-spitting campaigns (to emphasize manners as opposed to the supposed cleansing action). Further, despite challenging standards of domestic living, more Chinese, especially millennials, are exposing themselves to other people and cultures, developing empathy and understanding.

China has literally been an isolated country on the “other side of the world” for years. However, modern technology has brought the world together through transportation and information. Despite this, cultural differences are the biggest challenge to overcome. But if destinations are able to understand the Chinese traveler, they stand to reap the largest benefits.

Roger Wu is CEO and co-founder of sponsored travel content marketplace Cooperatize. Cooperatize is leading the charge to sign on more Chinese language influencers and bloggers to help destinations in the West attract more Chinese travelers through storytelling and photography. He is based in New York City.

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