Chinese tourists are becoming more independent
In 2017, it is predicted 135 million Chinese tourists will travel abroad, making China the world’s largest outbound travel market. This has the potential to increase to an estimated 234 million Chinese overseas travellers by 2020. However, an ever-widening gap between Chinese tourists travelling abroad in groups, who are likely to be first-time overseas travellers opting for the comfort and convenience of organised group tours, and Chinese free and independent travellers (FITs), who are willing to venture off the beaten path to uncover unique and exciting experiences, is becoming more evident.
Reportedly, Chinese FITs make up most of the growth in Chinese outbound tourist numbers in 2017. 40% of these travellers are fully independent, another 40% are semi-independent, and the remaining 20% are tourists who rely on package holidays, but do not travel in big groups.
Switzerland is currently observing a rise in Chinese FITs. Data from Swiss Quality Hotels, Switzerland’s largest hotel chain, shows a 144.5% increase in the number of individual Chinese travellers who visited the country in January and February of 2017 compared with the same months in 2016. In addition, 12% of bookings for Swiss Quality Hotels were made on the same day of arrival, which indicates some Chinese FITs are willing to flavour their travel experience with spontaneity.
Earlier this year, Skift reported 70% of Chinese outbound travellers made their own travel arrangements or purchased travel packages for their first trip abroad, but became increasingly more confident to venture out independently for subsequent trips.
Different city, different people
As Chinese travellers become familiar with a foreign destination through multiple trips, and acclimatise to its cultural differences, they begin to venture outside the comfort zone of holiday packages and organised group travels.
This reveals the differences in travel behaviour between Chinese outbound travellers living in first-tier and second-tier cities. Residents of first-tier cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai are generally more experienced with independent travel than second-tier city residents.
China Luxury Advisors’ co-founder, Renee Hartmann, claims the majority of growth for Chinese overseas group travel comes from residents of second-tier cities, such as Chengdu and Wuhan, who are mainly first-time travellers. This is mainly due to the recent introduction of direct flights from these cities to overseas destinations. France is the most popular European destination among second-tier city residents, who account for 40% of all Chinese travellers visiting the country. Also, second-tier city residents typically spend more overseas than their first-city counterparts, showing that they take advantage of their first journey abroad.
Desire for ‘better travel experiences’
China’s perception of the importance of health and wellness is a significant factor in fuelling a desire to seek better travel experiences. According to Amrita Banta, the managing director of Shanghai-based Agility Research and Strategy, China’s affluent classes are becoming more adventurous as they increasingly adopt active and healthy lifestyles. A report conducted by the firm, which focuses on high-end consumers, found that China’s top earners ranked ‘travel experiences’ as the third-greatest incentive for travelling abroad, behind shopping for cosmetics and designer clothing.
Indeed, the lure of shopping as the primary motivator for Chinese outbound travel is diminishing in favour of unique and exciting travel experiences. Hotels.com and ISPO found the proportion of Chinese tourists who travelled for shopping decreased by two-thirds in 2016, and one-third in 2017. Instead, according to a Financial Times Confidential Research survey, the Chinese are spending more on dining, accommodation, and entertainment, a rise from 31% to 44% since 2013, to satisfy their desire to experience more from the countries they visit.
Adventure tourism is on the rise
It is estimated that over the next three years, Chinese overseas adventure, polar, and road trips will increase by 52%, 38%, and 75% respectively. New Zealand evidenced a 60% increase from 2013 to 2014 of visiting Chinese FITs, primarily for their leading skydive businesses and other renowned adventure activities. Reportedly, 14% to 19% of Chinese tourists planning on visiting New Zealand are doing so because of such extreme activities. Since New Zealand’s skydiving companies are struggling to reach the high demand, this had led to a shortage of licensed instructors. With the country’s unpredictable weather, Chinese travel agents ensure two bookings slots are made for skydives to reduce the risk of alienating Chinese visitors with sudden cancellations.
Tourism New Zealand found 71% of Chinese tourists would like to go hot air ballooning when in the country, among a list of other activities including abseiling, paragliding, and white-water rafting. This is due to younger Chinese travellers taking advantage of affordable flights and relaxed visa restrictions to experience activities which have little-to-no market in China.
Likewise, Morocco is witnessing a growth in Chinese FITs. According to the China Travel Academy, since the removal of visa restrictions last year, Morocco has attracted three-times as many Chinese tourists since May 2016.
Alaska’s vast wilderness and natural beauty has also become a popular tourist destination among young Chinese people travelling to the US for the second time, exceeding visits to Los Angeles and New York. This is emblematic of a recent surge in popularity for polar tourism among Chinese FITs. This year, Chinese tourists travelling to Antarctica accounted for 12% of an estimated 46,000 annual visitors. Father Christmas also saw a fair share of attention; Finland’s Lapland measured a 92% increase in overnight stays by Chinese visitors in 2016.
Keep it real
Evidently, Chinese FITs are clamouring for niche tourism experiences. In response, a leading Chinese tour operator has warned against attracting too many Chinese groups to overseas attractions, mainly to prevent overcrowding, but also to ensure an attraction’s authenticity is not compromised as a result.
One of the key appeals of overseas travel for Chinese tourists is the ability to share their unique experiences with friends and family back home through social media. The majority of Chinese FITs use social media and travel review sites, such as Ctrip and Mafengwo, for travel recommendations, and they depend upon user reviews to inform their own overseas travels. As a result, Chinese tourists are becoming increasingly enticed by attractions which appeal to fewer visitors than your typical tourist traps.
The Chinese outbound adventure tourism market is growing at a rapid rate. With China due to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, and with Chinese President Xi Jinping attempting to convert 300 million Chinese people to winter sports, the push for adventure tourism among Chinese travellers has never been more dramatic.
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt, COTRI, told guests at the Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Dinner in London this month that the Chinese are looking for unique experiences that they cannot find in China, such as stargazing, mushroom and blueberry picking, and a slice of authentic daily life and culture. The passion among China’s FITs to seek out authentic experiences has certainly created exciting opportunities for international tour operators.
If you are involved in adventure tourism and you want to attract more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.
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