Get Ready for 7 Million Chinese Tourists

National Day Golden Week, celebrating China’s National Day, is one of the country’s longest national holidays, lasting from Monday 1st to Sunday 7th October this year. Similar to Chinese New Year, it is also an extremely popular time to travel for the Chinese, with many taking advantage of the rare week-long break to enjoy a relaxing vacation at home or abroad. But what evidence is there to suggest that this year’s Golden Week will be huge, and how can travel brands prepare for and take advantage of the potential influx of Chinese tourists?

What happened with Golden Week 2017?

The success of last year’s Golden Week put the national holiday on the global map and cemented its significance. 705 million domestic tourists travelled around China during the eight-day break in 2017, around half of China’s 1.4 billion population, and tourism income reached 583.6 billion yuan (£64.71 billion). These figures represented a year-on-year increase of 11.9% and 13.9% respectively – huge results for a rapidly growing tourism sector.

In terms of overseas travel, it was estimated that around 6 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad, visiting 1,155 cities in 88 countries or regions. One of the most popular destinations was Russia, as well as Southeast Asian destinations including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. Czech Republic and Hungary were also popular destinations, and on the whole, Belt and Road countries benefitted from the holiday.

During this holiday period, Chinese travellers abroad tended to travel independently rather than in group tours, and they were looking for unique experiences rather than luxury outlets to spend their cash with, perhaps making the most of their relatively short travel time to visit essential, authentic attractions. For example, In France Chinese visitors frequented idyllic villages and museums as opposed to the traditional tourist sites, and in the US, they mainly attended shows and basketball games.

That’s not to say they didn’t go shopping; data from WeChat found that over Golden Week 2017, 52% of outbound Chinese tourists shopped at duty free retailers. Restaurant and retail spending was also staggering, reaching 1.5 trillion yuan (£166 billion) over the holiday period. Chinese tourists who travelled to the UK for Golden Week spent £29 million with retailers and £11 million in London alone. Tourists were likely drawn to the UK for its cheap pound due to the previous year’s Brexit vote.

Figures concerning accommodation bookings made during this period also shed light on the holiday’s success. Airbnb recorded a 32% increase in overseas bookings during the period, and Tujia, a Chinese online vacation rental site targeting the country’s middle to high-end travellers, witnessed a 400% year-on-year increase in their bookings, and an average per room per night spend of 557 yuan (£61) during Golden Week.

Gear up for 7 million tourists

While that all sounds brilliant, what are the predictions for 2018’s Golden Week? We’re very fortunate that this year, Chinese citizens could potentially take sixteen-days’ worth of holiday, which is more than enough time to comfortably travel to and experience an international destination. This is because the Mid-Autumn Festival, the national holiday held on Monday 24th September, gives Chinese citizens a 3-day weekend, and if the rest of the week is taken off, it will roll into Golden Week commencing on 1st October. Is there a better time for Chinese tourists to travel abroad!?

Roughly 7 million Chinese tourists will travel internationally during Golden Week this year, accounting for approximately 5% of the year’s total number of Chinese outbound tourists. The top short-haul destinations are likely to be Japan, Korea, Thailand, while for long-haul, the US, Russia and the UK are expected to attract the bulk of international travellers.

It seems like Chinese tourists really want to make the most of this extended break; 30% more Chinese travellers than last year have decided to take off the last week of September. Furthermore, despite reports that outbound travel prices during National Day have risen up-to 30% year-on-year, Chinese travellers seem unfazed by this as almost all flights for the booking period have sold out, and only economy seats remain on available international flights.

We can expect great things from Russia this Golden Week – the country has recently attracted record numbers of Chinese tourists to their shores. From January to July 2018, Russia saw a 150% increase in Chinese visitors compared to the same period in 2017. Obviously, the FIFA World Cup was an influencing factor in this, having alone welcomed 50,000 Chinese tourists.

Likewise, the UK may be a popular destination of choice as it has seen significant growth in Chinese tourist numbers over the past few years. The country welcomed 337,000 Chinese tourists in 2017, a 29% increase from 2016, and spending was up 35% at £694 million. Furthermore, Chinese tourists spent $2707 (£2060) per arrival to Britain in 2017. This is more than the average spend of Chinese outbound travellers, which about 7,300 yuan (£810), and over three-times that of the average tourist visiting the UK.

There is some evidence suggesting the UK may have a great Golden Week this year. According to Ctrip, the average prices for UK packaged tours during Golden Week fell 20% year-over-year, and the majority of tours were fully booked a month before.

Other destinations are making a considerable effort to prepare for and reap the benefits of Golden Week. Tourism Toronto has launched a Golden Week campaign with Alipay allowing Chinese users to redeem special offers via the app for participating retailers and attractions in the Canadian city.

Surely, from these statistics, we can expect great things from Golden Week for these destinations. But only time will tell…

How to prepare for Golden Week

Golden Week is a fantastic opportunity to show how ‘China Ready’ your travel brand is, and your eagerness in accommodating the rapidly growing Chinese market. If you’re a retailer, Chinese tourists will expect to be able to pay for items abroad using mobile payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, so introducing these services may entice them to spend more with you. Mandarin shopping directories, Chinese-language restaurant menus, and Mandarin-speaking staff will go a long way to improving your ‘China Welcome’, and word will get around quickly on Chinese social media about your efforts to accommodate Chinese visitors.

With the pace Chinese global tourism has been growing recently, we can only hope for another thriving Golden Week!

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

Parks and gardens? Really? Surely it’s all about landmarks and outlet malls? Well, no. As it turns out, a mulberry tree can be just as appealing as a Mulberry handbag.

Venturing outdoors to the countryside, to see elegant botanical gardens and unrivalled displays of natural beauty, is becoming a very popular Chinese travel trend. It provides a change of scenery from world-famous landmarks that lure droves of tourists annually, while still allowing visitors to experience a country’s unique culture and natural environment.

This article aims to uncover the rising appeal of outdoor, rural, and natural spaces among Chinese travellers, exploring why it has become a trend, and highlighting the need for tour operators to introduce outdoor-themed itineraries.

Why is this a trend?

China’s air pollution is a growing concern

Many of China’s cities are notorious for being the most polluted spaces on our planet. Beijing is infamous for its air pollution – the thick smog poses long term health risks to its citizens, and data claimed breathing its air for a day was more harmful than smoking forty cigarettes a day.

When we ask our office in Beijing about the weather, the response often includes the ‘red light’ on the air quality monitors in everyone’s apartments. And it’s not just Beijing. Shanghai and Guangzhou, China’s trade and manufacturing hubs, have recently recorded higher levels of air pollution than the capital. This has prompted the Cordis Hongqiao, a newly opened luxury hotel in Shanghai, to boast its superior ‘air filtration’ system as a luxury feature. This is an attractive offering to its Chinese guests; each room is fitted with pollution monitors and sealed double-glazed windows to contain the fresh air indoors.

Rural tourism is on the rise

Perhaps this constant exposure to polluted air encourages citizens of Chinese cities to escape to the countryside when given the opportunity. Indeed, rural tourism has witnessed sharp growth in the past few years; around 2.1 billion trips were made to the Chinese countryside in 2016, creating jobs for 6.72 million rural people.

In 2017, China’s government invested $550 billion yuan into the development of rural tourism, as they expect it will help alleviate poverty and boost economic growth. This investment will provide better tourist services for travellers, but it will also consolidate rural tourism as a key preference for overseas travel.

Furthermore, China’s forest tourism industry has witnessed staggering growth in recent years. In 2017, around 1.39 billion trips were made to China’s forests and wetland parks, comprising of 28% of trips made in China that year. The industry, worth 61.8 billion in 2012, saw a rise in revenue to 140 billion in 2017. Clearly, more Chinese travellers are seeing the value in visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Garden and flower tourism is b(l)ooming

One incentive for countryside escape is to see beautiful flowers. There are many ‘flower tours’ held throughout China every year, especially in the Yunnan, Guangdong, and Sichuan provinces. The idyllic countryside village of Huangling recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its Flower Town program. This floral-themed experience, which provides visitors with scenic views of rapeseed flowers and peach blossoms, alongside flower tours and other cultural events, attracted 200,000 people globally in April and May 2017, an increase of 67% from the previous year. Evidently, escaping to the countryside is a popular travel trend.

The passion for the great outdoors among Chinese travellers extends beyond their own country, with many tourists travelling abroad to witness world-famous displays of natural beauty. Jing Travel recently interviewed Cai Wanza, a popular Chinese garden traveller who organises “world garden tours” and promotes “the garden lifestyle” in books and on social media. In 2018, Ms. Cai added routes covering California, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the Maldives to her garden tour themed itineraries.

Indeed, Ms. Cai’s garden tours give Chinese travellers the opportunity to see more of a destination they initially didn’t take seriously. While many Chinese travellers would stop off in Belgium for only a day or so before transferring, on Ms. Cai’s garden tour, the group spend fourteen days there since it has 200-plus private gardens.

Other Chinese social media influencers and KOLs have made their name through their enthusiasm for gardens and flowers. DACAI (@大菜微博), a popular food and floral travel blogger, has over 700,000 followers on Weibo, and according to Jing Travel, the second-most popular question posted on Mafengwo’s forum in 2017 was “What places in China can you recommend for roaming through a sea of flowers?”.

Chinese tourists are becoming more interested in travelling around Europe to see gardens and flowers. An article on the UK’s “most popular lavender fields” was recently published on Red Scarf (Honglingjin), a lifestyle website targeting young Chinese people living in the UK, and has over 180,000 views (as of June 2018). The article features lavender farms in Yorkshire, Somerset, and the Cotswolds – places renowned for their stunning natural beauty.

Isparta in western Turkey, known as the ‘Land of Roses’, welcomes thousands of tourists to its annual harvests. According to the Culture and Tourism Provincial Director, Osman Çot, the rose gardens have become an “attraction center” for tourists, with most of them coming from the Far East.

While flower and garden travel may not yet be as popular as sightseeing, it does support the narrative of Chinese travellers seeking unique experiences offered only by outbound destinations. Thus, tour operators should begin to have a more open mind and monitor developments in this trend to determine if it’s worthwhile introducing more garden product. As Ms. Cai said herself, “if tourism officials assume Chinese are not interested in their gardens, they miss a big opportunity”.

Outdoor attractions rank highly on Chinese review sites

Attractions in the great outdoors or in the countryside appear to rank highly on China’s influential review sites. Two of the top five attractions in the Netherlands, according to Mafengwo, are the historic neighbourhood of Zaanse Schans, known for its traditionally Dutch houses and windmills, and Keukenhof botanical gardens, among the world’s largest flower gardens. They respectively have 355 and 245 reviews on the platform.

Mafengwo’s listings for the most popular attractions in Germany also shed light on this trend. Ranked first is Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th century palace overlooking vast areas of greenery and quaint Bavarian villages from its hilltop, which currently has 746 reviews. The runner-up is Königsee, an alpine lake in the heart of the countryside, with 288 reviews. Obviously, these destinations have had a huge impact on Chinese travellers, with many commenters describing the attraction for unassuming travellers, sharing advice on the best times to visit, and recommending other places to explore nearby.

Chinese travellers visit destinations purely for the countryside

Many destinations attracting Chinese tourists can attribute their success to the great outdoors. One such example is New Zealand – known for its vast landscapes of greenery, it has been attracting Chinese tourists for years to its outdoor adventure activities. The Antipodean Explorer, dubbed the “world’s best moving hotel”, is a new venture aiming to attract luxury-oriented Chinese travellers. It transports them between Auckland and Queenstown, past New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes.

Some destination marketing organisations are beginning to realise the potential of promoting the ‘escape to the countryside’ theme to Chinese tourists. Recently, a China Readiness workshop was hosted by I Love NY state tourism and the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association (SCVA) to improve understanding of Chinese traveller’s needs to 50 representatives of local businesses. SCVA represents the Catskills Mountains, a scenic country getaway located 90 minutes from New York City. In delivering overviews of the difference between the domestic and Chinese tourism markets, and how to effectively use WeChat to market destinations to Chinese travellers, this workshop encouraged local businesses to embrace change and begin to “think globally”.

Speaking of ‘thinking globally’, we’ve done a fair amount of work to promote UK botanical gardens in the Chinese travel market. Back in March, we took Kew Gardens on a sales mission to Beijing, arranging meetings with key tour operators, including Ctrip and Caissa Touristic, to sell the Kew Gardens product. In May, we also arranged a visit to the beautiful RHS Wisley Garden for the influential Chinese travel blogger, Liu Huan (Queenio欢儿欢), who took stunning photographs of the gardens and displays for her followers to enjoy.

Listen up

It seems as if there is a subsection of Chinese tourists who travel both domestically and abroad to see the countryside, picturesque gardens, and rural towns. There is evident demand here, and since many tour operators assume Chinese tourists only want to see a country’s must-see attractions, the forward-thinking have an opportunity to step in and make some hay whilst the sun is shining.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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Watch and Go – How do TV and film influence Chinese travellers?

Image: Malin Head, Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Appeared in the latest Star Wars franchise films.

Is it really a travel incentive?

Travelling abroad to visit film and television locations is an often-overlooked tourism incentive. Since Chinese tourists are beginning to favour authentic travel experiences over shopping and organised group tour packages, travelling to see film and television shooting locations, often in remote areas of countries steeped with history or natural beauty, plays right into this narrative.

Despite the blind-eye turned to articles and reports concerning this subject, it is hardly a recent phenomenon. I am guilty myself of reserving particular days of my holiday itinerary to visit iconic film and TV locations, such as Tokyo’s Park Hyatt Hotel, famously featured in Lost in Translation, and the city walls of Dubrovnik, which double as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones (more on this later). I’m certainly not alone – the Making of Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Bros Studios in Watford was the most-booked attraction through TripAdvisor last year.

This article hopes to uncover how and why film and TV location tourism is an important trend tour operators should consider when developing products for Chinese tourists.

Lights, Camera, Action

A recent webinar co-hosted by Mafengwo revealed while Chinese people watch films or TV for its content and characters, they also pay close attention to shooting locations. According to Mafengwo, 25% of Chinese FIT travellers will visit a film or TV shooting location during their next domestic or international trip. 42% of these FIT travellers are from the post-90s generation, meaning this is a hugely popular travel experience among young people.

Reality shows, TV series, and animations have more influence over FIT travellers than any other genre. Nicholas Tse, a famous Chinese chef, recently visited New Zealand to film his reality show Chef Nic, which has received over 1.04 billion hits across Tencent and iQiyi since 2014. China is “New Zealand’s second largest international visitor market”, meaning Chef Nic may help attract Chinese travellers to New Zealand.

Among the most popular destinations to visit due to film and TV shooting locations are Northern Ireland, Turkey’s Istanbul, Morocco’s Casablanca, Iceland, and the Koh Chang ‘Elephant Island’ in Thailand. Elephant Island is the filming location of the popular Chinese reality show Chinese Restaurant, which invites Chinese celebrities to open and run their own independent restaurant. Following the success of the show’s pilot episode, broadcast in July 2017, Elephant Island witnessed a 547% increase in visitors.

The ‘Lost in Thailand effect’

This was not the first time Thailand had welcomed international visitors to its shores for its filming locations. Film enthusiasts have been visiting the country’s northern city of Chiang Mai in droves since December 2012 when the Chinese comedy, Lost in Thailand, became a surprise blockbuster hit. By early January 2013, the film had grossed over RMB 1 billion, becoming China’s most successful homegrown production.

Lost in Thailand’s success was a driving factor in Thailand, welcoming 4.7 million Chinese visitors in 2013. The growth in tourism numbers to Thailand continues to be outstanding, with 8.8 million Chinese tourists visiting the country in 2016. On Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce website, travel agencies continue to offer Lost in Thailand-themed activities, such as crossing rivers on elephant back.

Seattle has seen similar success with the 2013 Chinese romantic comedy Finding Mr Right, known in China simply as Beijing Meets Seattle. The film’s popularity helped attract more than 75,000 Chinese visitors to the seaport city in 2013.

According to The Guardian, in 2014, more than a third of homes priced over $1 million in exclusive parts of Seattle and in its suburbs were “being bought by Chinese owners looking to move to America”. The success of these films in China has made tour operators realise the potential in attracting Chinese travellers to destinations featured in popular films and television series.

Europe is also benefitting

Europe has also tasted the fruit borne from this trend. In 2015, popular Chinese travel website Qyer attributed the popularity of Czech Republic, Switzerland and Turkey to the phenomenon of hit films and TV shows. Czech Republic witnessed a 119% increase in spending by Chinese tourists in 2015 – the country benefitted from the success of Somewhere Only We Know, the first Chinese film to be set in Prague. Like Seattle, direct flights from Beijing to Prague were introduced, seven months following the film’s Chinese release in mid-September of 2015.

The lasting influence of Somewhere Only We Know is still evident – over 491,000 Chinese tourists visited Czech Republic in 2017. The steps of the Rudolfinum, featured in the film’s finale, are still a popular place for Chinese tourists to gather and take photos.

Why international co-productions are important

Many countries have attempted to capitalise on the success of Chinese productions filmed abroad to improve their own tourism numbers. In 2015, following Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s, visit to China, three deals were made to create India-China co-productions, one of which was directed by a star of Lost in Thailand. China also made cooperation agreements with Russia and Spain in 2017 in the hope of rolling out their domestic films overseas. With regards to the China-Russia agreement, between Russian Film Group and Chinese film company Yangtze, the two countries plan to collaborate on three feature films planned for theatrical release, investing around $50 million each.

However, co-productions aren’t always a stable bet. The Great Wall, released in 2017 and starring Matt Damon, is the most expensive China-US co-production to date, but it fell short of box office forecasts, despite becoming one of China’s highest grossing films. The difficulty with co-productions is “finding films and stories that can work both in China and international markets”, but if done correctly, these films can gain mass market, international appeal – drawing more eyes to the locations shown on-screen.

Closer to home

The UK’s film and television history also contributes to its popularity. Our recent article on the EU-China Tourism Year explored some of the UK’s key film and television-related attractions that appeal to Chinese tourists – from Castle Howard to Dover Castle. While these particular locations are well-known for their cultural heritage, their appearance in popular British dramas and Disney musicals attract hundreds of thousands of overseas tourists every year.

The HBO fantasy drama Game of Thrones, most of which is shot in Northern Ireland, has become surprisingly popular in China. When the first season aired there in 2014, it was heavily censored by China Central Television, which removed all traces of violence and nudity. In this form, Asia Times described the show as like “watching a documentary of European castles on the History Channel”.

Since then, the rise of online video platforms in China like Youku, and WeChat mini programs like Tencent Video, have allowed viewers to watch uncensored versions of the show with Mandarin subtitles.

Ctrip discovered that Game of Thrones is putting countries like Croatia, Northern Ireland, and Iceland on the Chinese map. The online travel agency reported that the number of Chinese tourists who booked a visit to Croatia through the website in the first half of 2017 increased by 300% compared with 2016, while Iceland saw its tour booking numbers increase by 148%.

In August 2017, Tourism Ireland ran a promotion to remind Chinese fans that Northern Ireland is “one of the main filming locations of Game of Thrones”, which was estimated to be seen by 14 million people across Chinese social networks, film review sites, and Tourism Ireland’s social media accounts.

This was followed by the news that Northern Ireland is expecting over 2.3 million visitors in 2018 because of China’s emerging market. The recent announcement that Cathay Pacific will launch the first direct flight between Hong Kong and Dublin this year will help achieve this, helping to expand Northern Ireland’s visitors to the 100 Chinese nationals living in and around the Chinese city. Clearly, an international phenomenon like Thrones can incentivise travellers to visit places previously overshadowed by more popular destinations.

Show me the money

It looks as if film and television shooting locations are becoming a significant draw for Chinese tourists, and are a key incentive for them to travel abroad. The importance of film and television in travel of tourism should not be understated, and tour operators and DMOs should closely monitor Chinese productions set to film abroad so they can pounce early on any opportunities to promote their tours and destination.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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