Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chinese tourists head for the shops in Bali

On the Indonesian resort island of Bali, the growing influx of Chinese tourists is not just changing the dynamics of the tourism market, it is also changing the face of God.

From the kerbside stalls of Kuta beach to the upscale galleries in Ubud, most of the popular wooden and stone statues and figurines on sale are now carved with the face of Guanyin, the Chinese Buddhist goddess of mercy.

Just a few years ago on this predominantly Hindu island, such carvings almost all depicted Hindu gods like elephant-faced Ganesh or Vishnu riding a winged horse.

"Chinese tourists are the future for Bali and we have adapted many things to cater to their tastes," says Adhi Wijaya, a local tour guide.

Despite the global economic crisis, the number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad rose 5.2 per cent last year to 42.2m, up from less than 7m in 2001, while total spending rose 16 per cent from 2008 to about $42bn (€35bn, £29bn).

More than two thirds of the Chinese travellers went to Hong Kong or Macao, two separately governed Chinese territories. But big-spending, camera-toting Chinese tour groups can now be seen all over the world. Their growing presence is drawing inevitable comparisons to the waves of Japanese tourists who burst on to the global travel scene in the 1980s.

Analysts say the almost overnight emergence of the Chinese tourist is the most significant thing to happen to the global tourism market for a generation. Before 2003, the only destinations outside the Asia-Pacific area to which the Chinese government allowed its citizens to travel for leisure were Turkey and Egypt.


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