China Tries to Fight 'Bad Tourist' Stereotype


Chinese residents are traveling a lot more now. But some fear too many of them are leaving their manners at home. (Photo: Thinkstock)

It seems that the harder China tries to shake off its “bad tourist” reputation, the harder some of its tourists work to confirm it.

The latest embarrassing headline: A passenger on China Eastern airlines opened the plane’s emergency exit door — deploying the emergency slide in the process — soon after the plane arrived at Hainan’s airport. The boneheaded move led to a two-hour delay and reportedly cost the airline $10,000.


Airport staff deflate the emergency slide deployed by a clueless passenger. (Photo: Daily Mail)

According to the Daily Mail, when asked why he’d opened the emergency door, the passenger said he “wanted to get off the plane quicker.” He hadn’t listened to the in-flight instructions and didn’t know he couldn’t use the door.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail ran pictures of another unfortunate incident. A Chinese woman on an AirAsia flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Nanjing, China apparently threw a cup of scalding hot noodles on a flight attendant. She reportedly was upset that she wasn’t able to sit next to her companion (who, in the ensuing fracas, allegedly threatened to blow up the plane).


AirAsia flight attendant after alleged scalding incident (Photo: CEN)

In fact, recent months have seen a near-parade of embarrassing reported travel fails involving Chinese vacationers: a Chinese teenager etched his name into a 3,500-year-old stone sculpture at Egypt’s Luxor Temple; tourists in Hainan inadvertently killed a stranded dolphin as they tried to take pictures with it; and locals from Bali to Singapore accused some of their Chinese visitors of loud, sometimes drunken behavior.

The problem has gotten so bad, the Chinese government is taking action to compel its citizens to be better guests abroad. While visiting the Maldives back in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked his fellow visitors not to litter or damage the coral reefs. Last year, the Chinese vice premier complained that loud talking, spitting, and other bad behavior by some Chinese tourists was hurting the country’s international rep.

While visiting the Maldives, China’s president implored other Chinese visitors to mind their manners. (Photo: AP)

A clause in new Chinese rules affecting the tourism industry directly addresses the problem. It says: “Tourists shall respect public order and social morality in tourism activities, respect the local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, take care of tourism resources, protect the ecological environment and respect the norms of civilized tourist behaviors.”

What’s with the surge in bad behavior? Some analysts say China may be the victim of its own success. Many Chinese citizens are just now becoming wealthy enough to travel, and some feel that many of these new travelers are unfamiliar with the rules of the travel game (such as “leave the plane’s emergency exit door alone”).

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“It is not a mature market,” says Dr. Jingjing Yang, a tourism development lecturer at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom who has done extensive work in the field of overseas Chinese tourism. In an email to Yahoo Travel, Jingjing says: “Travel is still viewed as a prestige by some [Chinese] tourists, and they expect their requests and needs to be responded [to] immediately, since they have paid money for the service. Sometimes when their requests cannot be responded [to] as they expect, tension/conflict happens.”

Jingjing also thinks bad behavior can be a common side effect of the travel bug. “When they are in an unusual environment, people are more relaxed and lower their self­-discipline and self­ control,” she says.

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At the same time, Jingjing has an issue with media suggestions that hordes of badly behaved Chinese tourists are descending upon the nations of the world. “The number of Chinese outbound travelers is expected to be over 100 million in 2014, and the majority of Chinese outbound travelers behave appropriately and respect the local regulations and culture during their travel,” she says. The “Chinese behaving badly” news stories, Jingjing argues, “are just isolated incidents: The Chinese tourists involved cannot represent the whole population of Chinese people. The misbehavior in such incidents should not be labeled as ‘Chinese tourist behavior.’”

Jingjing has a point. Bad tourist behavior knows no nationality; we Americans have plenty of our own examples. That whole “deploying-an-emergency-chute-to-get-off-the-plane” stunt that guy in Hainan pulled was practically invented by an American. You say a Chinese kid etched his name into a 3,500-year-old sculpture in Egypt? We’ll raise you two American adults who intentionally toppled over a 200 million-year-old stone formation in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. And no one wants that student who got himself stuck in a vagina sculpture in Germany last June to become the poster boy for American tourists. America may be home of the brave. But it, just like every other nation in the world, is also home to many bad travelers.


We Americans may never live down this student vs. German vagina sculpture travel fail. (Photo: Instagram)

Still, when was the last time Washington had to pass a law warning American tourists to stay out of anatomically correct artwork while traveling overseas? It’s clear that Beijing, through its new rules, hopes to crack down on stories of its citizens acting up abroad. If they succeed, they can create a legion of seasoned, well-behaved travelers. And then, as a bonus, maybe Beijing can tell the rest of the world how they did it.

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