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Posted March 25, 2019

Chinese Travelers

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Travel experts are running out of adjectives to describe China’s sustained growth in both inbound and outbound travel. The numbers tell the story.

China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) is forecasting an 11% increase in travel this year, bringing the total outbound trips from Mainland China to 180 million (49% to Greater China and 51% to other parts of the globe). And that 180 million is estimated to reach 260 million by 2030. Euromonitor International’s Megatrends Shaping the Future of Travel report found that more Chinese residents will travel internationally than people from any other country.

Writing about China’s future as “the world’s top destination for tourists” for the World Economic Forum, Kate Whiting reports China will also be “the biggest inbound market by 2030,” adding, “there will be 6.7 billion domestic trips by 2023, up from 4.7 billion in 2018.”

Impact Of Chinese Millennials
Millennials continue to significantly impact China’s growing travel market. In an interview with Jennifer Li, Chief Business Officer at Tujia, Jill Menze recently wrote for Phocuswire.com, “There are more Millennials in China than there are people in the United States, and many of those Millennials are traveling for the first time.”

Chinese are higher users of mobile internet and they want individualized mobile experiences. “China currently has more mobile internet users than there are Americans — over 700 million and growing,” writes Steven Schwankert for skift.com.

As eMarketer.com notes, Millennials are the key to China’s continued growth. Chinese, “Millennials are the largest group booking digital travel fare.”  In its most recent report, Global Digital Travel Sales 2018: Ease of Mobile Payment Options Boost Online Bookings, eMarketer said, “Growth in China is expected to be so rapid that the country will nearly catch up to the US in [mobile] sales by the end of the forecast period [2022]”.

Evolving Outbound Preferences
McKinsey & Co. surveyed 2,000 Chinese citizens for its Chinese Tourists: Dispelling the Myths report. Describing Chinese outbound tourism “as the biggest tourist segment in the world,” the report dispels the notion that Chinese tourists travel to shop. McKinsey found “tourists have a more open mind and want local experiences (61%), whether it’s taking in local culture and art or visiting niche destinations.”

A growing number of Chinese tourists are making their own arrangements and traveling independently, without a tour guide. A report released by China Luxury Advisors and Coresight Research cites 26.8% in 2018, up from 20.7% in 2017. Hotelmarketing.com  notes, this puts “independent travel ahead of package tours as the second-most-popular option after group travel.”

And Chinese travelers are also using more homestay services. According to Tujia’s Li, “45% of outbound tourists say that they once lived in overseas homestay, family inns or vacation rental homes. Increasing demand to choose shared homes has brought the proportion as high as 68%. In the first half of last year, Tujia’s overseas orders increased 10 times.”

Chinese tourists’ access to some mobile services, like Google and Facebook, is restricted when they’re outside China. The “Great Firewall” has led to the rise of Chinese apps that help travelers find the services they need. Yext lets brands post a description, their location and hours as well as a website link—in Chinese.

“No longer are travelers only going to Hong Kong or Southeast Asia,” says Todd Arthur, Vice President, Sabre Travel Network Asia Pacific. “Chinese travelers are doing exactly what we’ve seen in very mature markets – traveling around the world – and as a result they need access to content that previously would not have been available in China.”

Attracting More Inbound Travel
Not only is Chinese outbound tourism increasing, inbound is too. Speaking at the World Travel Market in London, Caroline Bremner, Euromonitor International’s Head Of Travel said, “China [is] set to overtake France as the leading destination worldwide by 2030.”

The World Economic Forum’s 2017 index moved China “up two places to be 15th in the rankings, with its exceptional natural and cultural resources to thank, as well as its increased international openness.” Wouter Geerts, author of Euromonitor International’s report notes: “The country is changing tack, and is looking at conservation, diversity of cultures and the natural environment as important aspects of a cohesive tourism offering.”

The increase in popularity of China as a destination, for both international and domestic travelers, is a key reason why WEX has added Chinese Renminbi (CNH) to the list of 22 billing currencies available. This allows customers to pay Chinese travel suppliers, including hotels, in this currency avoiding mark ups, fees and exchange rate fluctuation risk.

Understanding The Chinese Traveler
What can travel companies and destinations do to attract these travelers? As with any market segment—know your audience.

Wolfgang Georg Arlt, COTRI Founder & Director said, “The self-consciousness of Chinese travelers has increased a lot. They know they are the biggest source market, and they spend the highest amount of money. And they are demanding that world tourism is organized according to their needs and demands and behavior.”

Tujia’s Li explains that the company saw that Chinese travelers “find it difficult to live in a shared house with strangers, thus Tujia’s homestay resources are mainly entire houses.”

Chinese outbound tourists have their own digital platforms, and it’s critical to understand how they work in order to reach this market. For example, Ctrip offers users more than just booking. As Todd Arthur explains, they’re “connecting the traveler with unique opportunities to book certain restaurants or to have a SIM card or to provide services or experiences completely throughout the journey.”

Posts on social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo help Chinese travelers “identify destinations and suppliers that have taken steps to accommodate their needs,” writes Phocuswire’s Sorrells. Arlt adds, potential tourists “will look at what people are saying, and if they name a hotel and say they know how to deal with Chinese people, they will go there. They will not look at 20 [hotels],”

McKinsey & Co. predicts “long-haul destinations such as Australia, Europe, and the United States will take significant market share from destinations in greater China, eventually representing about half of the outbound travel market.”

And many other studies and reports predict the same – even with talk of a possible chill in the strength of China’s economy. Arlt explains: “The top 10% of Chinese society, they are the ones with passports. These are the rich guys. When they spend money on travel, they aren’t using their salaries; they are using their wealth – money from the stock market or from buying and selling real estate. Therefore, this economic downturn is not really making it impossible for them to spend $5,000 on a trip.”

Travolution.com’s Lee Hayhurst encourages travel companies to “be adaptable” and regularly adjust strategies because of the rapidly changing Chinese market. “The kind of marketing content that may have worked well two years ago probably won’t get the same results today, as consumers look for an increasingly interactive, personalized digital experience. As the Chinese outbound tourism market matures, travelers are increasingly independent and interested in more niche experiences.”


Richard Cogswell

Richard Cogswell

Richard joins us with 20 years B2B payments and electronic invoicing experience. Richard is originally from the UK and has been based in Singapore for 6 years with wide ranging experience across APAC. Richard will be helping to lead the expanding WEX APAC team and go to market strategy, focusing on travel and corporate payments in the region.


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