Friday, May 2, 2008

The Chinese Tourist Dollars – Is Kenya Prepared For Them?

Revival of the tourist industry is in top gear after the blow the sector received from the post election violence that hit the country at the beginning of the year. It seems any paying tourist will do. Kalonzo Musyoka recently tried to woo the tourists from China, and with good reason. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, the Chinese tourist market could be very lucrative. Hitting it may mean hitting some big money. But a few home truths about our future guests is in order especially for hotel operators. It will go a long way in psychologically preparing for them the day they finally arrive.

The Chinese have a unique approach to hygiene, etiquette, and other social graces. A contingent of Chinese guests will bring with it manners never before witnessed in our usually quiet tourist hotels. First of all they travel in large tour package groups. A large group of rude pushy bumpkins can be intimidating even to the most seasoned tour operators and hotel staff. With little regard for such graces as queues, it’s near pandemonium when they descend at the hotel lobby or other business premises like curio shops, all talking loudly at the same time and pointing fingers at attendants.

Loud chattering aside, polishing their shoes with hotel towels and bed linen is not too big a deal to these people. Neither is spitting in hotel rooms and leaving the toilets un-flushed. They’re certainly not thieves but sometimes they feel entitled to take souvenirs like pillows out of the hotel room when they leave. And you know that feeling you get when you try to walk on a perfectly manicured flower bed? That it’s not right? They feel no such thing and will comfortably walk anywhere, all the while spitting on anything and everything. The real bad cases will not hesitate to hock up some disgusting loogey and spit it in the hotel lobby or on the pavements. Mercifully this breed is not too common. At least not as common as the regular spitters – not that the regulars are any pleasant either.

It is said that the Chinese tourist packs enough instant noodles and dried fruits to last their whole stay. The only thing they will ever require from the hotel in terms of feeding is hot water in which to soak their meals. And you can’t charge guests for water now can you? So hotels don’t count on the thousands of shillings you make from the strange names on your menu. Just bed occupancy. But they will visit the dining room occasionally and display their characteristic slurping around of food. Don’t be surprised if they come in there in their pyjamas. Or stripped to the waist.

And you may not want to admonish them for all these. Irk them enough and they could stage a noisy sit in at the hotel lobby and belt out their national anthem. That’s the Chinese tourist for you.

China knows about this dubious reputation and they’re not taking it lying down. They have tried running campaigns to educate the population in etiquette and good public manners via state run news agency Xinhua. With a population as huge as they have, it may take some time for the results of this campaign to be seen.