By Matias Thuen Jørgensen.

Chinese tourists are often portrayed as the stereotypical bumbling camera‐waving grasshoppers, jumping from one attraction to the next, while ticking off their list of must-sees. Like all stereotypes, this one holds a kernel of truth within it, albeit one that applies equally to tourist groups of most nations. And while this type of behaviour does indeed occur among Chinese tourists, the same is also true for every other tourist nationality. Like all stereotypes, this particular portrayal homogenises the characteristics of a heterogeneous group and ignores complexity.

The Chinese tourist market continues to grow: in numbers, in geographical coverage, and in its varied forms. There has been significant growth in the number of tourists from outside the main cities, who may be leaving their home country for the first time, and who may exhibit some of the behaviours described above. At the same time, there is equal growth in the number of tourists from China who have already built up significant travel experience and who leave their country to see more than just the highlight attractions. There is no doubt that the latter group are looking for more than landmarks, and increasingly this is also the case for the former.

Through interviews with Chinese tourists who have visited Scandinavia, as well as representatives of Chinese travel agents and tour operators who work with the Scandinavian market, I found that in many cases the best experiences for Chinese tourists travelling to Scandinavia are achieved not by visiting famous landmarks or nature, but from much more elusive aspects. For many tourists, the biggest reason for them to come here and the best experiences they take home with them are connected to what may be regarded as mundane Scandinavia. And I found the attraction of mundane Scandinavia to exist in the overlap between surroundings, lifestyle, habits and atmosphere.

The tourists cite the blue sky, clean water and general cleanliness of the natural environment as attractive. They also regard the greenness and closeness to nature of Scandinavian cities as a major attraction. Both of these aspects are considered in direct opposition to the tourists’ home country. The fact that Chinese cities are polluted and rarely offer closeness to nature emphasises the attractiveness of the surroundings in Scandinavia. The lack of people and perceived safety both in and outside Scandinavian cities are also regarded as attractive aspects of the Scandinavian surroundings.

Observing, sensing and participating in what they regard as the Scandinavian lifestyle is also highly valued by the Chinese tourists. The keywords to understanding the Chinese perception of Scandinavian lifestyle are liberal, clean, healthy and environmentally friendly. The tourists also explain that they generally consider Scandinavian people to be friendly, and they feel that Scandinavians have a high quality of life due to a more relaxed pace of life than the tourists are used to in China. Some of them explain how just being in Scandinavia and observing locals ‘enjoying life’ makes them feel part of this particular lifestyle.

Finally, and to my personal surprise, the Scandinavian welfare model also seems to resonate a lot with Chinese visitors. Some mention that part of the reason why they wanted to visit was to experience a place with a good welfare system. One tourist explained how he saw the Scandinavian socialist model as the future for China, rather than the more capitalist US approach, which has traditionally been the western beacon for development in China. This last point connects well with the increasing trend of Chinese tourists wanting to learn from their travels and take home more than just pictures and memories.

Notably, while these elements are all attractive for Chinese tourists, they are not enough to attract tourists in their own right. A tourist would not travel to Scandinavia only to experience a clean environment or a place with a good welfare system – they can experience these separate elements in other places as well. It is the overlap between these different elements – the totality of Scandinavian mundanity – that creates the attraction.

So what does this tell us about the Chinese market and about Chinese tourism to Scandinavia? Broadly, it exemplifies the increasing complexity of the Chinese market. A complexity that offers opportunities for those who are willing and able to seek greater understanding of the market and take advantage of the niches that it contains. For tourist destinations in Scandinavia this brings new opportunities, as it seems that the existing mundane qualities are a primary attraction. It also brings challenges, because marketing and selling mundanity – which is in many ways tacit and elusive – is not easy and therefore may be less attractive for private actors, since they may find it difficult to monetise.

Matias Thuen Jørgensen is an Assistant Professor at Roskilde University, Denmark. Image Credit: CC Susanne Nilsson.

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