May 1, 2006｜China
Director, Tourism Research Centre, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Over the last 20 years, the Chinese tourism industry has come a long way. China, which truly has undergone profound changes since the time when it used to be an obscure “junior”, has now joined the ranks of the world’s great tourism destinations. The interest of the international community in China has also changed, moving away from the previous focus on “visiting China” and towards “visitors from China”. This makes Chinese people feel proud and happy, assuring them that “China needs the rest of the world, and the rest of the world needs China”.
However, this author has recently noticed a worrying situation. As if by common consent, when the world turned its focus to China’s tourism market, neighboring countries have encircled continental China and built a dense “forest of casinos”. It goes without saying that Macau is well-known as a “gambling city” and has a long history as such. Over the last few years, as a result of an expansion in the scope of gambling, there has been an immense influx of money into both inland areas and outlying islands, leading to a boom in the construction of new casinos. It seems that the gods of various casinos have descended to earth.
According to statistics, by the beginning of 2005, more than 200 casinos – large and small – had been constructed in the area surrounding continental China. Various casinos are distributed over a wide area, from Russia in the north to Vietnam in the south. Casinos have been opened in the ROK as well, and casinos have also opened in a number of Japanese cities. Such far-off countries as Australia and Egypt are important tourism destinations for Chinese people, and fairly sizeable casinos have already opened there. Recently, it was announced that an enormous sum of money would be invested in the construction of a large-scale casino in Singapore, to which Chinese tourists flock in comparatively large numbers. From what I have heard, these countries impose very strict regulations on gambling by their own citizens, particularly civil servants and those appointed to public office. However, as can be seen from various mass media reports and fancy commercials, these casinos are demonstrating their willingness to take continental China as an important, major target market, and they are targeting the wallets of Chinese people.
I do not intend to interfere in the policies of neighboring countries. It is up to them to make their own judgments. It is just that I am a little perplexed by this trend. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but let us analyze the situation by looking at some examples. For instance, I want people not to see all Chinese people as gamblers, and not to think that the principal aim of Chinese tourists in going overseas is to gamble. In fact, the main objectives of the growing number of Chinese tourists going overseas are to broaden their horizons, see more of life and experience other cultures. They also want to get away from their usual environment for a while, rest their bodies and enjoy a relaxing holiday.
It is true that, in the China of old, among those who held positions of power in the government or companies were some who made use of their own power and loopholes in state supervision, freely spending vast sums of money at will in casinos. However, as the Chinese government has taken decisive measures and reinforced both education and the legal system, the opportunities for such people to act in this way will probably disappear gradually. Before those casinos that had been betting on such people flourished, they had been in decline; this fact may set alarm bells ringing for the new investors in this industry.
Moreover, attention should be paid to the fact that changes are also occurring in the international gambling industry. A number of casinos have become interested in the development of the culture industry and have striven to change the image of their cities, increasing the elements related to culture, the arts and recreation, and diminishing the appeal of risking one’s neck through gambling. Local governments that advocate the construction of casinos generally want people from outside the area to come and gamble. However, one cannot ignore the adverse impact that the expansion in the scale of casinos has on the local community. One must not seize opportunities to procure economic benefits on the basis of increasing social costs. The gambling industry is a traditional industry that has existed since time immemorial, and the existence of people who like to gamble is not unusual. This industry is certainly a lucrative one. However, for the sake of the sound development of human society, rather than actions aimed at a momentary lapse of reason by a minority of people, we should use our knowledge to enhance human welfare and for the same of the continuous development of mankind.
I would like others to believe that Chinese tourists can be calmer and more rational. It is certainly not wise for casinos to gamble on the opening up of China’s overseas travel market. This entails a considerable risk. As a sensible researcher, I would like to warn those investors who are intent on building casinos that, rather than concentrating on setting traps and digging their own graves, they should devote themselves to good deeds and build a paradise for the sake of the well-being of humanity. After all, does not the old proverb say “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”?