The theme of CNN’s On China show this month was the growth in Chinese tourists travelling overseas. Jane Sun, in charge of one of China’s largest travel agents, asked CNN host Kristie Lu Stout to guess how long it took for Ctrip to sell all the spots on a $200,000-per-head 88-day luxury world tour.
Stout guessed 8 minutes. The answer was 17 seconds. Of course, that sounds like rather an exclusive group of travellers. But had they waited a few days longer to film, CNN would have come across another staggering statistic – the spending binge racked up by a 7,000-strong Chinese tour of California.
The tourists were vendors of the direct-selling company, Wan Mei (which translates as Perfect). Their 10-day holiday was a reward for employees that hit the Guangdong-based firm’s sales targets.
Company vice-chairman Xu Guowei was delighted to discuss the size of the delegation. “We have taken 86 flights, stayed in 26 hotels, and according to UnionPay, our group attendees have spent $10,000 each this visit. We are making history,” he told Jing Daily.
Offers of holidays as rewards to top salespeople are not uncommon – direct-seller Nu Skin’s China division is reported to have sent 14,500 of its vendors on a 10-day jaunt to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in April. But destinations are now bidding to host similar groups from China. Californian tourist bosses beat Dubai to get Perfect’s tour, even arranging for a mall on the trip to accept bank cards connected to China’s UnionPay network.
The tour is said to have generated more than $85 million in business for the Anaheim area of southern California, Jing Daily also reported.
But news of the trip didn’t play as well back home. For example, a mass rendition of the Chinese national anthem by the tour group outside an Anaheim conference centre was soon being criticised as “vulgar” and “uncivilised” by netizens, while the visitors spending habits were also rebuked for being unpatriotic.
“They are just throwing their money away to the Americans,” fumed one of the killjoys on Sina Weibo. For others there were suspicions that the trip was more about self-promotion for Wan Mei and that news of their employees big spending was designed to persuade others to join its sales network back in China (lured by the idea of becoming similarly affluent).
“Isn’t this just a massive PR event?” wrote one netizen, while another asked if anyone had even heard of Wan Mei before its Californian tour. He then expressed concern about how direct-sellers do business. “Doesn’t anyone else find it suspicious that we don’t know how these companies work?” he asked.
According to its website, Wan Mei was set up in 1994 with investment from Malaysia. Similar to better-known Amway, it mainly sells cosmetic and health products – flogging its wares in Malaysia and Singapore as well as in China.
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