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While traveling in Thailand I have seen a lot of groups of Chinese tourists. But one thing is very confusing to me, every group has someone who was carrying a some sort of banner, and those banners were not unique. What does those banners mean? Why do the tour groups carry them? enter image description here

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    When I took a tour of NYC, our tour guide carried a light sabre. – James McLeod Dec 22 '19 at 9:48
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    I've seen this happen in Amsterdam and other large cities. Primarily by large, Asian groups but others are picking it up as well. – Mast Dec 23 '19 at 10:54
  • Picking it up? I remember traveling with a group of Dutch people in the 1980's where one of the group wore a knitted cap that was long enough to sit on and when people in the group were missing in a crowd he would stretch it upward so all could see it from a distance. And he was not the only one with an easy to recognize item to stick in the air. – Willeke Dec 24 '19 at 17:07
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It's like that everywhere for guided tours (not just Chinese people)

It makes it easier to follow the guide.

The guide tour leader will carry a flag so that if/when people get lost they can spot the flag;

This is especially the case now because most guides have radio systems so that people can be further away from the guide and still hear her/him.

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    Sometimes a folded umbrella. – A E Dec 21 '19 at 19:13
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    "This is especially the case now because most guides have radio systems so that people can be further away from the guide and still hear her/him." - while you're right having a flag or an umbrella is quite common everywhere for tour guides, I have to say that I feel this last part is actually very specific to Chinese groups. When in noisy environments (such as tourism hotspots with many simultaneous guided tours), in plenty of places I've taken tours in, the reaction is to stand closer to the guide. I have seen almost only in China that instead, tour guides simply try to be even noisier ... – O. R. Mapper Dec 21 '19 at 22:42
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    ... than all the other groups by using a microphone (which, even without the surrounding noise, often makes the guides' English incomprehensible to me due to static noise and distortion). – O. R. Mapper Dec 21 '19 at 22:43
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    @AE I remember that from the 1970s. – RonJohn Dec 23 '19 at 5:47
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    Seeing this in Japan a lot. I rarely saw it in Europe with Europeans. I tend to believe it's especially an Asian thing. But that's completely based on my personal experience. – steros Dec 23 '19 at 8:22
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For the same reason that Western and Near Eastern militaries have been carrying "colours, standards (and) guidons" for 7,000 years: so the troops know where the commander is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_colours,_standards_and_guidons

In military organizations, the practice of carrying colours, standards or guidons, both to act as a rallying point for troops and to mark the location of the commander, is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt some 5,000 years ago.

The ancient Chinese certainly had something similar, because flags are an obvious solution to the problem of letting troops in battle (and tourists in a crowded area) know where the leader is.

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    The military aspect is deprecated, however, as the flag also lets the enemy sniper(s) know where the commander is. – aroth Dec 23 '19 at 7:45
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    @aroth Now they're just used in parades and PT. – RonJohn Dec 23 '19 at 8:25
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    While there is the humorous notion of tourists "invading".... you think that is their actual intention now? :) – rackandboneman Dec 23 '19 at 11:40
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This is very common in China. You might have a number of tour groups simultaneously at a busy tourist site and the use of a flag (and stickers on the participants) helps keep them together and is very much necessary. Sometimes the tour leader will dress in minority costume as well (for example in Lijiang), which also helps them stand out from the crowd.

It's probably not as necessary in Thailand where it is unlikely a whole gaggle of similar groups will converge on one spot, but the participants probably feel more comfortable having the security of seeing the flag and having a travel company sticker.

Photo below (without arrows) from the SCMP.

enter image description here

Imagine maybe dozen tour groups, from many different tour companies, simultaneously at a single crowded site (say on a mountainside with a single spot where scenic photos of one or two people are preferred). Everyone is milling about and/or waiting their turn at the photo spot, buying food or souvenirs from the vendors, and it would be very easy to get separated from your tour group.

Chinese mass-market tours also tend to cram as many items as possible into their itinerary.

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    Emphasis: Crowded. Sometimes China can get really crowded, there's lotsa people there. – axsvl77 Dec 22 '19 at 6:23
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    @dotancohen Jarjar? My only contact with Jarjar was an incredibly obnoxious animated singing Star Wars animatronic toy a friend bought my son (just to be irritating). If it's a joke, I guess it went over my head. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 22 '19 at 15:58
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    The previous commenter decided that "lotsa" is a word, the comment was aimed at him. – dotancohen Dec 22 '19 at 20:45
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As others said, you'll see those everywhere, not only in Thailand. Each tour guide has a stick with some special identifying items, most often flag or stuffed animals, to make them visible in a crowded area. It's also useful for tours that tourists join individually and arrive at the meeting point on their own. European tourist companies more commonly use umbrellas, especially on free-walking tours.

I don't know why you said it's not unique but you don't usually see 2 guides with the same flag, even when they both use company flags and come from the same company because in that case they'll choose different ways to hang on the stick

In Vietnam and China you'll also see tourist companies giving each tourist a bright color hat so that the whole group can stay together, and one can find the group easily when they lost their way. It's also good for advertising the company

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