China Travel Trends; a Shift in Focus

china travel trends

A whopping 130 million mainland Chinese travelled abroad in 2017; almost 10 percent of the population. The general assumption that Chinese tourists are focused solely on big European group tours, and using their precious vacation time only for shopping sprees in the major metropolises of the United States is not totally wrong. Yet, the more one travels, the broader the horizons one seeks. Is there a shift in the Chinese psyche that is moving away from rapid consumption?

Hong Kong based Post Magazine estimates Chinese tourists spend double the international average when travelling; USD$6,300 per person being another estimation provided by the Yangtze Evening Post. To put it simply, every country in need of a major economic boost wants to attract the Chinese. For this very reason, the world is paying close attention to where recent and possible future travel trends are taking the wealthy of China.

Long gone are the days when Hong Kong and Macao topped bucket lists. There is a new wave of traveller who not so long ago was transfixed with Saks Fifth Avenue, and now desires… wait for it… nature. These soul-seeking-millionaire millennials are seeking exotic locales such as Morocco. In another example, the annual Spring Festival celebration of 2017 saw families flock to the glamping excitement of safari Africa, instead of traditional group destinations such as Australia. Thanks mainly to the influence of major motion picture Operation Red Sea, Africa is now a hotspot!

According to the Yangtze Evening News, African nations are taking large steps in order to attract the Chinese tourism market. Even places as off the radar as Rwanda and Angola have lifted visa requirements for Chinese nationals. Countries such as South Africa and Namibia have begun catering to the demographic by offering traditional Chinese dining options, alongside continental breakfasts, hot water dispensers, even going so far as to import Chinese tea to be made available in guests’ rooms.

Even with all these efforts and despite a shift in travel destinations, Chinese tourists remain firmly focused on high-end, photo-worthy experiences.

Clients booking a camping expedition expect to be sleeping in an actual bed with hot water readily available. While the Chinese are daring to venture outside of the standard European vacay, they are bringing their same glamorous expectations with them. Zoe Zhou, Bespoke Travel Operation Manager for DTG Travel Club, belonging to DTG Business Travel Group, talked with The Nanjinger, and believes that her clients are mainly in the middle to high-end budget range.

The wild landscapes in locales such as Tanzania and Kenya do not seem to ignite an interest in adventure travel; a term referring to a niche of tourism where travellers engage in risky physical activities. As a matter of fact, it seems to be almost non-existent, as far as Zhou is concerned.

Such a broad-stroke statement that Chinese tourists travel to relax and take photos seems to be confirmed by the bookings Zhou makes for her clients, who request safe, internationally-known chain hotels and luxury-package deals.

When asked if Chinese travellers make bookings for high-adrenaline activities, Zhou said, “They will try the bungee in Macao, but actually they like to find a beach to relax or go to Australia to experience the koalas”. While she notes that there is a growing market for “FIT”, a term she uses to refer to “Free Independent Travelers”, custom-tailored tour groups and business class bookings are still the primary market for Chinese tourists.

Chinese people remain fully confused as to why one would want to travel alone at all. Teaching assistant in Nanjing, Nicole (surname withheld) says, “I think travelling in a group is safer and easier. I would rather pay more money and be safe and not lonely than on my own”. Perhaps, while the Chinese are beginning to step into lesser visited landmarks, they have yet to buy into the idea of going it alone.

Looking to the future, the One Belt One Road Initiative is already showing signs of driving tourism to the area, particularly regarding travel to Kazakhstan for corporate travel. The initiative aims to build railroad and shipping routes that link China to 70 countries for trade partnerships. The effect of this plan on the travel industry for business travellers has the potential to be a gold mine.

So, while the shift from Saks Fifth Avenue takes Chinese travellers to more exotic destinations, a demand in luxury and quality highlights the difference in the concept of vacation and travel in the eyes of the Chinese that still mean the same thing. For a country that only gets 2 weeks holiday per year, who can really blame them for wanting the best that they can get? After all, these days, when the Chinese come knocking, everyone’s happy.