An influential Chinese state-owned newspaper recently reported that Chinese tourists were having second thoughts about traveling to New Zealand thanks to suggestions that its government might bar Huawei Technologies from the country’s next-generation wireless networks. (Wellington now says the door isn’t closed to the company.)
This is no idle threat. As countries from Palau to South Korea have learned the hard way, the Chinese government isn’t afraid to divert its tourists and their thick pocketbooks whenever it wants to make a political point. The economic consequences can be devastating for tourist-dependent economies. The good news for New Zealand and other scenic countries is that this not-so-secret weapon might not be so much of a weapon much longer.
Of course, some Chinese travelers may decide on their own not to spend their yuan on certain countries, even without government coercion. But, the younger, richer and more educated demographic has proven itself to be more independent in its consumer choices than prior generations.
Millions of independent Chinese tourists continued to visit South Korea after the politically-charged Approved Destination System bans and they returned more quickly than groups after the strictures were lifted. Nor would an official appeal to patriotism necessarily work: Chinese consumers have increasingly resisted calls to boycott products associated with political adversaries, as evidenced by the well-publicized and failed effort to boycott high-end jacket maker Canada Goose Holdings Inc. for Canada’s role in arresting a top Huawei executive.
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