The world’s most populous country has become one of the world’s most influential markets of travelers. Thanks to rising incomes, more flexible tourist visas and an increase in direct flights from different parts of the country, Chinese residents are traveling outside their home country more than ever before.
The economic and political barriers Chinese travelers faced when planning international travel made the prospect of visiting faraway destinations very intimidating. However, once they take their first international trip, it appears that taste of travel is enough to spark interest in bigger, longer trips. This trend has forecasters projecting that destinations in North America and Europe will take some of the market share from destinations in and around the Chinese mainland.
Over the last decade, the number of nights spent in Europe by Chinese travelers has more than tripled. The Chinese market’s rate of growth vastly outpaces other major economies over this time period, and Chinese travelers now make up nearly 6% of total nights in Europe spent by non-EU nationals.
For now, however, the top destinations for Chinese travelers are understandably the ones that are close to home. Thailand is number one, with Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia rounding out the top five.
Rethinking Chinese Leisure Travel
Research suggests that long-held beliefs about Chinese travelers are also no longer accurate. This is partly due to the emergence of free independent travelers, or FITs. Defined as travelers who plan their own experiences and travel in groups smaller than 10, FITs stand in contrast with the idea that Chinese leisure travelers only experience new destinations with large guided tours.
This approach to leisure travel allows vacationers to go on trips in line with their own unique interests. While large tour groups are still popular, the emergence of an independent market of travelers opens up new possibilities for revenue and is compelling North American destinations to change their marketing strategies.
U.S. travel brands are attempting to persuade China that extended trips are worth taking since a large number of world-class destinations are relatively close by once travelers get to the west coast.
While some travel industry professionals believe that shopping is the biggest motivating factor for Chinese leisure travelers, recent years have proven that experience-based travel is in high demand, much like it is in North America. Nielsen has found that uniqueness and beauty top the list of qualities that Chinse travelers are looking for, followed by safety, ease of visa procedures, and the friendliness of locals to tourists.
This trend towards experience-oriented travel is promising because of shareability. One of the more common stereotypes about Chinese tourists is their love of taking pictures, and while this is certainly a generalization, travelers who thoroughly document their trip with photos typically do so for a reason.
Whether the photos are taken to remember unique experiences or to show loved ones how great of a time they had, taking pictures can directly lead to more trips. Preserving these memories with pictures may inspire travelers to revisit a destination years later, and can convince their friends and family to visit the destination themselves.
For destination marketers and experience providers of all kinds, this shows the importance of providing experiences that are worth photographing and sharing with friends. Natural scenery is particularly popular among Chinese experience-seekers, with 65% of respondents in a McKinsey survey saying this is something they want in a destination.
Women Influencing the Market
Of course, much like with any other large country, the population’s travel needs vary wildly depending on age, class, gender, and many other factors. Chinese women, in particular, have become much more likely to travel over the last few years.
More and more women are interested in taking trips by themselves, with 34% of respondents in a J. Walter Thompson survey saying they have been on a trip like this, and 41% saying they are interested in going on one. The majority of China’s free independent travelers are now women, and women are also spending 14% more on travel than their male counterparts.
With women in China becoming more financially independent, western destinations have an opportunity to directly target this increasingly lucrative segment of the traveling population. This also reflects a global trend of women becoming a force in the travel market.
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