The growing chatter in Mandarin begin to increase as hungry Chinese tourists briskly move toward the buffet line to scan the day’s menu before taking the food that they choose to feast on. It is organized chaos, with customers circling the dishes arranged neatly in front of them while restaurant and kitchen staff working like machines in an assembly line quick to replenish food items that are halfway to being consumed.
This has become a familiar scene in the restaurants of Saipan’s seven major hotels and other food establishments that offer lunch buffet. From 11a.m. to 2 p.m. they are packed with families, friends and other groups that travel to Saipan. Forecasts and current data indicate a rosy tourism outlook for the Chinese market, a region of thousands of islands scattered in an area of 2.9 million square miles.
In Koror, the capital of Palau, more Chinese restaurants have sprouted to cater to the market. In 2016, Chinese tourists posted arrivals of 64,990 compared to the historic 87,058 in 2015. For the past years, Chinese tourists are dominating Palau’s tourism market, a market share of 38.44 percent in overall 2016 arrivals. But mass tourism in Palau is not something embraced with warmth by the local community. Some accuse the Chinese visitors of having “no regard for their island environment, culture and history.”
With an economy heavily relying on tourism revenues, industry forecast predict China to emerge as the third-largest source market for Guam by 2020. The same report from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) released in 2016 also projected arrivals from China to Asia Pacific destinations to reach 150 million within three years. China continues to dominate as a source market, spending more than $200 billion in tourism activities in 2015, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.