“Zero-dollar” tourism has been popular among Chinese travelers looking to save money, especially in some Southeast Asian destinations like Bali and Thailand. These all-inclusive package tours are inexpensive – usually less expensive than independent travel – but they come with a catch: tourists are taken on many shopping trips and encouraged, sometimes required, to buy overpriced products. The tour guides and drivers get a kickback from the shopping excursions, offsetting the loss on the tour’s initial expense.
Among locals, the concern is that the money spent on the shopping expeditions doesn’t stay in the country, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. In some cases, the shops are Chinese-owned and run by a local proxy – the money tourists spend is then diverted back to China. And with more shops utilizing mobile payments via WeChat Pay and Alipay, the payments don’t even get converted into local currency, thus avoiding foreign exchange fees to local money changers.
Thailand has attempted to crackdown on the practice as it believes such tours taint the country’s image, according to the South China Morning Post. The crackdown, which started in October 2016, has had little effect on “zero-dollar” tours, however. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Chinese tourists to the country are classified as “free, independent travelers (FITs).”
Bali has seen a growing problem with “zero-dollar” tours as it claims that nearly 70 percent of the almost 1.4 million Chinese tourists – the single largest tourist market for the island, recently surpassing Australia – are on such tours. Bali Tourism Board chairman Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana told The Sydney Morning Herald, “Chinese tourists, of course, they benefit Bali. They are staying in Bali’s hotels, restaurants; they still pay for the tour packages. [It’s] just the shopping that we are missing out [on].”
He added that some of the traditional products popular among Chinese travelers on these tours aren’t even made in Indonesia, thus further reducing the impact on the local economy.