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Chinese tourism boycotts cause ongoing damage, study shows


Having Chinese tourists boycott your country can cause significant ongoing damage to your economy, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Brunel University London and partner institutions in the UK and USA looked at seven Chinese boycotts launched over the past decade to determine the short- and long-term impact on the boycotted countries. They found that a tourism boycott can cause substantial long-term damage, although the intensity of damage largely depends on the circumstances of the boycott, such as whether it was politically led.

The seven boycotts included in the study ranged from those launched as a result of a severe political dispute, such as against South Korea in response to the country deploying an American missile system, to non-political cultural boycotts, such as that against the Maldives in 2013, in response to hotels removing kettles from rooms so Chinese tourists couldn’t make their own instant noodles.

Based on World Bank data, the report – Tourism boycotts and animosity: A study of seven events, published in the Annals of Tourism Research – shows that, on average, 12 months after a boycott event the number of in-bound Chinese tourists had dropped 36% on expected levels.

In more severe cases, such as the boycott of the Philippines following a 2010 Manila bus hijacking, tourist numbers can still be 45% down on expected levels a year later.

Those boycotts launched as a result of a political dispute had the greatest effect, with Chinese tourism to politically boycotted countries being on average 64% lower after a year than if the boycott hadn’t occurred.

China is the world’s largest source of tourists, with 9% of all cross-border travel undertaken by Chinese nationals. A 2017 report from the World Bank estimated the total amount spent by Chinese tourists at $292 billion annually.

The researchers say the report demonstrates that tourism boycotts are a ‘key risk factor’ for destinations that receive high numbers of Chinese tourists.

“Boycotts triggered by political animosity are more detrimental than other boycotts – this is proven by the data,” said Dr Dorothy Yen, a reader in marketing at Brunel, who co-authored the paper with colleagues at the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University and Philadelphia’s Temple University. “We could only suggest some possible assumptions as to why this might be, however.

“For example, since political boycotts are to do with animosity triggered due to political hazards, national-level conflict such as territorial disputes, historical wars and political ideology, they are often backed up by the Chinese government. This may lead to travel warnings, which can cause an immediate effect on any possible travel to the destination, thus having a more detrimental effect than others.

“Another possible reason could be the cultural collectivism, wherein people are likely to work together and support each other’s actions in exchange of in-group membership and loyalty. National ideology is highly respected by most Chinese people and deemed unchallengeable. Such value is deeply held as part of their belief system. This may explain why boycotts associated with political animosity are likely to have a more serious effect from the Chinese perspective.” 

‘Tourism boycotts and animosity: A study of seven events’, by Qionglei Yu, Richard McManus, Dorothy A Yen and Xiang Li (Robert), is published in the Annals of Tourism Research.

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Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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