As the global economy recovered in 2010, a report from the World Tourism Organization shows international tourist arrivals rose 6.6% worldwide. In Asia, international arrivals increased at twice that rate (13%), a clear indicator that the world is shifting its focus to the East.
Asia is a patchwork of customs and cultures, and the unwritten rules of etiquette are rapidly evolving as tourists and business travellers pour in. Essentially, there are no hard-and-fast rules about paying gratuity in a region that almost always offers service worth tipping. But here’s what to do in a few countries frequented by business travellers:
At one time, tipping in China was frowned upon, but that changed as the country catapulted into the 21st Century and rapidly assimilated many Western customs. In larger international cities like Beijing, Macau and Shanghai, it’s now common for travellers to tip skycaps and bellhops. For taxi drivers, it’s usually appropriate to round the fare up to the nearest dollar. Tipping is much more common in Hong Kong; most hotel porters expect it and a 10% service charge is added to restaurant bills, but it’s customary to leave even more for outstanding service.
The practice of tipping is nearly non-existent in Japan, which is a relief to visitors since it’s also one of the world’s most expensive countries. Hotel personnel, who are almost universally courteous and prompt, are trained to politely refuse tips. Servers in bars or restaurants are known to chase after customers to return money that was “mistakenly” left on the table or bar. When in doubt, don’t leave a tip.
The practice of tipping in the Philippines is a world away from many of its Asian neighbours. In Manila and elsewhere, tips are welcomed and expected, especially in areas frequented by tourists. In fact, it’s appropriate to leave an additional tip, even when a restaurant includes a service fee. Locals advise travellers to tip taxi drivers for simply turning on their meters.
Tipping is explicitly prohibited at Singapore’s Changi Airport and in taxicabs and is discouraged at nearly all hotels and restaurants where a standard 10% tip is always added to the bill. However, for extraordinary help with unwieldy luggage, a bellhop will likely accept a few Singapore dollars.
In most restaurants, a 10% to15% service charge is customarily included in the bill; an additional tip is not necessary or expected. At large, Western-style hotels in Taipei, tips for bellhops or other personnel are never expected, but will rarely be refused. As in most other Asian cultures, it’s common to tell cab drivers to “keep the change”.
Tipping in Thailand is a mixed bag. At most Western-focused establishments in and around Bangkok, tips are frequently left by foreigners, but rarely by locals. At upscale restaurants and bars, a 10% service charge is typically added to the bill, and most Westerners will leave a few extra baht in addition to that. Tipping is uncommon and not expected at smaller neighbourhood or family-owned restaurants. When paying for cabs, which are metered in Bangkok, round the fare up to the nearest 5 to 10 baht.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel