7 Key Takeaways from the 2016 Chinese International Travel Report

Unless you’ve been to China, you likely don’t know what it’s like to live there. As international travelers, we know even less about them. Strict visa requirements have kept Chinese within the walls of their proverbial garden for decades. But now, as the world has seen, all that has changed.

In 2014, China outpaced the United States for most outbound travelers and the most spent on international travel in the world, a record $164.8 billion. In 2015, Chinese travelers made roughly 133 million foreign trips and spent more than $200 billion on tourism related activities. That number is expected to reach a whopping $422 billion by the year 2020 — roughly equivalent to the GDPs of developed countries like Portugal and Ireland combined.

To help make sense of the future of Chinese international travel, Resonance produced the 41-page Chinese International Travel Report, exploring the preference of Chinese travelers for different categories of attractions including:

  • Sightseeing
  • Culture
  • Shopping
  • Sports & Adventure
  • Food
  • Entertainment

Here are 7 key takeaways from the report:

1. INDEPENDENT TRAVEL NOW DOMINATES

In 2011, the share of independent travel and group travel was split evenly 50/50. In 2014, of the 109 million total outbound trips, independent travelers made 77 million of them — a 20 percent increase from the previous year. FIT (free independent travel) is now in the majority, and growing. Booking sites like Ctrip, Qyer, Qunar and Elong have enabled a youth population of educated, tech savvy and globally-minded travelers to organize their own trips and create their own adventures from scratch. Independent travel has spurred new activities that weren’t available during the years of guided bus tours. Now young travelers seek out adventure sports, sightseeing, local food and various aspects of intangible culture that they can share on social media.

2. MOBILE LEADS THE WAY

The number of Chinese using mobile apps to book their travel has more than doubled each year since 2013. Last year, 50 percent of Chinese travelers turned to mobile to book outbound travel. The Chinese are early adopters of technological trends. The country has more than 648 million online users, a 30 percent increase from 2013. Its rising middle class and population of eager young travelers have not only adopted online booking, but are using new platforms to share their experiences where the previous generation never could. Hotels are also catching on. Marriott installed AliPay terminals in many of its Asian locations to allow Chinese guests to make purchases through their smartphones. Hilton is also following suit.

3. TRAINING IS KEY FOR HOSPITALITY

Top hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott are attracting Chinese travelers with amenities and services that make Chinese guests feel at home. Hilton’s Huanying program (“Welcome” in Mandarin) offers a full Chinese menu, tea kettles in rooms, welcome notes in Simplified Chinese upon arrival, 24-hour Mandarin interpretation service, jasmine tea, slippers and dedicated Mandarin-speaking TV channels. The program has served more than a million Chinese tourists since its inception in 2011.

4. SIGHTSEEING REIGNS , BUT CULTURAL EXPERIENCES ARE CATCHING UP

The younger, more independent and socially aware Chinese tourist is here, but like their parents, they still rank Sightseeing as their number one activity while on vacation. The lure of historical sites like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sydney Opera House, Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour and Bangkok’s Grand Palace continue to attract Chinese travelers as they check historical sites off their list. However, intangible Cultural Experiences are catching up. Adventure Sports are on the rise, like hiking, skiing/snowboarding, water sports, luging and skydiving. The 2022 Olympic Games in China will further excite this adventurous group of travelers.

5. NATIONAL HOLIDAYS CREATE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE WEST

The Chinese national holidays that occur in April and September and the New Year celebration that typically occurs in February have a major impact in determining peak outbound travel. These months are considered either low seasons or shoulder seasons of travel in the west. 2.9 billion trips are expected throughout China between February and March 2016 as part of the country’s New Year festival. While Chinese travelers continue to gain experience as international travelers, a portion of the number of these trips will begin to make their way oversees to many western destinations, creating a mass influx of Chinese travelers during the west’s typical low season.

6. SHOPPING TRANSCENDS GENERATIONS

All Chinese travelers, regardless of age or of the current economic situation, have an eye for shopping while on vacation. Up to 40 percent of Chinese buy abroad for the purpose of reselling in China for profit, and more than 50 percent of all luxury goods purchased in Europe eventually find their way to Mainland China. The average spent by Chinese shoppers in Europe processed by Global Blue, a Chinese tax refund service, over the first six months of 2015 was $1,112 USD, a seven percent increase from the previous year. And while luxury shopping is as popular as ever, young independent travelers are also using their phones to enhance the shopping experience by taking pictures and communicating with friends and family back in China.

7. HALTED ECONOMY HASN’T SLOWED TRAVEL DOWN

While China’s strong economy hit a bump in the road, it didn’t slow down outbound travel trends or dampen interest in future travel or projections. Rural Chinese cities are expanding, and their citizens are adding to the population of eager, curious, tech savvy and globally minded travelers. The middle class is well established, and disposable income exists for citizens not only in Beijing and Shanghai, but in Chongqing, Shenzhen, Hefei and Chengdu. Hotels have begun recognizing they need a brand presence within China; in early 2016, Hilton opened its first hotel in the city of Dali — its fourth in Yunnan province, and Marriott added to its Chinese portfolio with the opening of the tallest skyscraper in the city of Changzhou, as well as the Zhuzhou Marriott Hotel in Hunan province. China has 12 cities of more than five million people. The US has eight, India has seven, and Japan and Brazil have three. The wave of outbound Chinese travel begun years ago. Now we’re looking ahead to see where it goes.

Get the full 2016 Chinese International Travel Report by Resonance Consultancy

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