Chinese tourists in South-east Asia/March of the Middle Kingdom - Indonesia

Big groups and big tips

Ms Nur Alfianti at the souvenir store in Jakarta where she has worked for a decade. She said tourists from China typically come in big groups, spend hours browsing, talk a lot and then buy a lot too.
Ms Nur Alfianti at the souvenir store in Jakarta where she has worked for a decade. She said tourists from China typically come in big groups, spend hours browsing, talk a lot and then buy a lot too.ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

Visitors from China are giving Asean countries a tourism boost, travelling to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. What's the draw for them? The Sunday Times takes a look

Sales assistant Nur Alfianti has been selling jewellery at an upmarket souvenir store in Jakarta for a decade, but it was only recently that she learnt pearl is zhen zhu and coral is shan hu in Mandarin.

A Chinese tourist had shown her pictures of the precious gemstones on his mobile phone, while she in turn used Google Translate to find out what the Chinese words meant in Bahasa Indonesia.

"We communicate using technology. Google Translate is for talking, and calculator is for counting," the 30-year-old said, with a laugh.

"They come in big groups, spend two to three hours browsing, talk a lot and then buy a lot too. They buy full sets of everything - necklaces, earrings, bracelets," she said, adding that each item costs at least S$100.

Tourists from China top the list of foreign visitors to Indonesia, with more than 1.4 million visiting last year, thanks in part to a waiver of visa fees introduced in August 2015 for Chinese travellers. This, however, fell short of the 1.7 million target set by the government for last year. In November alone, Chinese nationals accounted for 13.1 per cent of one million foreign arrivals, according to data from the Central Statistics Agency, ahead of those from Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. In comparison, Chinese tourists made up only 7 per cent of foreign arrivals in December 2012 and 2013, and around 9 per cent in the same month in 2014 and 2015.

 

"Chinese tourists tend to come in big groups, and their sheer volume makes them an attractive market to us," said Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association chairman Hariyadi Sukamdani. "They usually spend three to seven days in the country, staying in three- or four-star hotels. They enjoy going to the beaches in Bali and shopping in Jakarta. They bring their own tour guides."

Mr Eko Susilo, 29, a sales assistant at an antiques store in Jakarta, said Chinese tourists visit daily and some have deep pockets. He said: "Once, a Chinese tourist came to buy 10 vases from the Ming and Qing dynasties, each costing anywhere from 18 million to 81 million rupiah (S$1,900 to S$8,550). He didn't even look at the prices... He gave me a big tip too."

The Tourism Ministry hopes to draw 2.4 million Chinese tourists from China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Big groups and big tips'. Print Edition | Subscribe