Written by Hilary du Cros.

What do the young Chinese from the People’s Republic of China and their peers in Asia consider travel mementos and souvenirs? Does it make a difference whether a youth tourist comes from PRC or somewhere else in Asia in this area of inquiry? Research in Hong Kong has showed a trend towards some differences that could be worth following up in future studies.

Hong Kong is known as a popular destination for tourists from China and elsewhere in the region. It is a prefect laboratory to study this issue, because it is short haul destination for many Asian countries and PRC tourists can enter on independent visas. In 2012, when this research was largely undertaken, the city attracted 48,615,113 arrivals. Of these, tourists who travelled to the Hong Kong from China comprised 34,911,395 (73 percent). Independent visas were held by 66 percent of this total.

Tourists from elsewhere in the region made up an additional 19 percent. Less than ten percent therefore arrive from outside Asia. The key points of origin for Asian short-haul tourists to Hong Kong are Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. The number of Asian visitors who stayed overnight in 2012 was 579,244 or approximately 63 percent.

The study looked at only fully independent (of family and tour package decision-making) youth tourists (15-29 years), whose personal growth and education has been from living in Asia. In order to ensure some level of cultural distance from Hong Kong, all subjects were chosen from places beyond Guangdong and Macau (Southern China), which are neighbours of Hong Kong (and have a high number of Cantonese speakers). Overall, 271 subjects were interviewed with a short semi-structured questionnaire in English and Chinese (Mandarin).

The emphasis was on novice travelers (four trips or less in the region). Out of this group, 58 percent were in paid full-time employment. There seems to be three income groups in this sample: high (above 2,000 USD pm), middle (2,000-300 USD pm) and low (300 USD pm or less).  The highest income group accounted for 13 percent, the middle 60 percent and low (27 percent). However, because these are mainly young tourists, the high and low income groups may have more in common than one would think when other factors are taken into account, possibly due to access to parental or study-related financial support.

Overall, the most common type of souvenir purchased, when looking at the whole sample, was either a food souvenir/gift (37.7 percent) or something small, cheap and plastic (e.g. fridge magnet)(19 percent). While not many bought handcrafted or locally made non-food souvenirs, local books and comics were popular with some and appeared in the ‘other’ category. Some non-traditional types, such as mundane items, also appeared in this category. However, over 21 percent said that they did not buy any souvenirs.

Souvenirs: PRC/mainland Chinese versus Other Asian Youth Tourists

After statistical analysis, it became clear that Other Asian tourists prefer food gifts (41 percent) and plastic souvenirs (24 percent) foremost with a lesser interest in handicrafts (10 percent), nothing (16 percent) and other types of souvenirs (9 percent). Meanwhile, PRC/mainland Chinese favoured food gifts (36 percent) or nothing at all (27 percent) to buying plastic souvenirs (13 percent) and handicrafts (13 percent). Factors at work here could include: price sensitivity/ availability (mass produced souvenirs versus designer, arts and authentic items), preference for taking photos over purchasing tangible mementos (see du Cros 2014), disposable income, gender, and familiarity/strangeness issues. Tourists from the highest income bracket for both segments and genders all bought some kind of souvenir, while the other two income brackets (middle and low) included similar ratios of souvenir purchasing to buying nothing at all.

Other configurations were tried in the number crunching, such as occupation and income, and not much difference was found in the results from the above for both segments. However, gender did make a difference amongst the PRC/mainland Chinese youth tourists in that more females than males were buying food gifts souvenirs (38 percent versus 32 percent) and souvenirs overall and more males were buying nothing (35 percent) or non-food gift souvenirs (33 percent).

Male Other Asian youth tourists, on the other hand, appeared more interested than their PRC peers in buying all kinds of souvenirs, including food gifts, as only 21 percent did not make purchases. Forty percent of the female Other Asian tourists bought food souvenir gifts compared to 37 percent of their male peers.

Accordingly, two aspects jump out as possibilities: the value placed on food gift souvenirs versus other kinds by different genders; value placed on destination linked souvenirs (whether food or not) versus nothing at all by PRC’s versus Other Asians.

Meanwhile, how does this pan out when travel frequency and first time trips to Hong Kong are taken into account as a possible factor in souvenir choice in order to explore whether cultural distance had a role?

Not surprisingly, even with the filter of no Southern Chinese youth tourists in the sample, the Other Asian segment still outnumbers PRC/mainland Chinese tourists for first time visits to Hong Kong (74 percent to 64 percent). Accordingly, the reverse is true for Hong Kong being the choice for a first trip anywhere for PRC novice youth tourists outside their home country (41 percent versus 29 percent).

Conclusion

This result indicates that despite the difference in dialect more PRC Chinese youth tourists were choosing Hong Kong for their first independent trip overseas than were Other Asians. On the other hand, despite the difference in dialect, more PRC Chinese youth tourists were choosing Hong Kong for their first independent trip away from home than were Other Asians even though they were both flying a few hours to reach the city. So, are these first time/first trip youth tourists for both groups the ones most likely to buy souvenirs as mementos or at all? More research is needed to say for sure.

Finally, what is the situation with gender versus cultural influenced souvenir choice here? Which is more important? That too could benefit from a closer look using a mixed methods approach at some point.

Dr Hilary du Cros is an honorary research associate within the Faculty of Business at UNB Saint John. She is the author of ‘The Arts and Events (Routledge)’ and ‘Cultural Tourism (Routledge).’ Image Credit: CC by Sheila/Flickr.