China’s theme parks are booming [paywall] as the global restrictions on travel encourage the population to look for holiday experiences closer to home. China has around 160 large-scale theme parks ranging from international brands like Shanghai Disneyland to home-grown offerings such as Wuhan’s Happy Valley and Kunming’s Colourful Yunnan Paradise, with many more in development.
Meanwhile China’s August retail sales recorded an increase of +5% year-on-year, the first growth since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And China’s luxury market is thriving, partly driven by displacement of sales which would have taken place on overseas trips. Tiffany & Co reports retail sales up by +90% year-on-year in China in April and May. And new food experiences remain popular. New York’s lively burger bar brand Shake Shack opened its first outlet in Beijing in August and was met by queues around the block, despite pouring rain.
Quarantine rules remain in force for international arrivals, although it is expected that travel corridors are being negotiated with other Asian countries in preparation for Golden Week.
What is a global study tour, who goes on them, and why are they so vital to the future of UK inbound Tourism?
As the world emerges from the coronavirus crisis, competition to reach the top of the desirable destination list amongst Chinese outbound tourists is going to be fierce. This autumn, the whole world will be fighting for its share of this huge and lucrative market, encouraging the Chinese to return for Golden Week, Chinese New Year, the May National Holiday and, of course, Summer 2021.
The UK will be part of this race and I am sure we will do well, with our fantastic tourism products and strong China Welcome. However, there is one very important sector where we have very real potential to excel and surpass the competition if we just pay attention and understand the opportunity, and that is the global study tour market.
What is the global study tour market?
A global study tour is a trip abroad made by a school-aged child for the purpose of learning. There are four main categories of global study tour:
The most common type of global study tour involves a group of children visiting a foreign country to learn something (usually the language) with some elements of sightseeing as part of the itinerary.
‘Camp education’ is common in the States, where students stay in a camp and confine their activities to the camp and its surrounding areas. The content is around education, with most courses offering a theme; sport, art, science, technology are all popular. Many of the summer schools favoured by high-achieving students applying to America’s best universities offer campsite programmes.
A third option is the ‘School immersion’ tour, where the student has a curriculum based experience within a foreign school or university.
The fourth type is aimed at students with a clear ambition to study abroad in the future. This type of study tour aims at enhancing the actual university application and is intended to give the student the best chance of success.
How big is the market and how much is worth?
Like all Chinese travel sectors, it’s big and it’s growing. According to iResearch data in 2018, the number of people who participated in a global study tour was 1.05 million, with an estimated forecast growth rate in the global study tour / camp education market of around 20%. Of course, the coronavirus will interrupt this growth in 2020. The per customer transaction ranges from around £2,300 up to £5,800 and the estimated size of the global study tour and global camp education market in China is around RMB 94.6 billion (£10.5 billion).
The market is still relatively immature. The penetration of the study tour industry is reported to be low at around 16%, and distribution is still fragmented, with a large number of tour operators having small shares of the market. For example, New Oriental, one of the leading players in this field, has only a 1-2% market share and most of the companies in the sector are SMEs with revenues below RMB 10 million (iResearch, 2018).
“The biggest growth is forecast to be seen in the primary school sector.“
The expectation is that although the biggest sector of students undertaking global study tours is currently those at secondary school age, the biggest growth is forecast to be seen in the primary school sector. This reflects the population development of young children since the lifting of the one child policy in China.
Why are global study tours so popular in China?
The Chinese middle classes are looking beyond day to day work and family life, and seeking richer cultural experiences, self-improvement, culture, entertainment and, very importantly, education. Travel is an investment in the future of their children and is often undertaken as a way to educate further, and to check out possible options for future overseas high school and/or university education. Travel broadens the mind, but it also offers the practical purpose of competitive advantage on a university application form. And all this in the context of the child who is still unlikely to have many siblings and certainly no cousins to compete with for the discretionary spend of the doting grandparent. What better way to spend your money than investing in your grandchild’s education?
What is the opportunity for the UK?
The most popular places to travel to for global study tours are United Kingdom, USA, Japan, Australia, France, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and Switzerland (Tuniu.com, 2019 Summer Global Study Tour Trends Report). According to C Trip, South East Asia is seeing strong and rapid growth over the last two years which Zhao Yao, C Trip’s Study Tour director attributes to low prices and a proliferation of European and American teachers working in South East Asia, offering great value access to language education. South East Asia also offers the benefit of volunteer work, especially on environmental projects.
“One of the most popular reasons for embarking on a global study tour is to prepare the child for a future at an overseas university…”
One of the most popular reasons for embarking on a global study tour is to prepare the child for a future at an overseas university and, it remains the case that the USA, the UK and Australia lead the way in welcoming Chinese students at their universities. And this is the real opportunity for the United Kingdom.
According to The Guardian, in 2019, applications from Chinese students to study at UK universities increased by 30% year on year, and Chinese students are now the largest group of international students in the UK’s universities. But the opportunity is bigger still and, like many things in China, it comes down to politics.
The trade war with the USA and the poor relationship with President Trump are driving Chinese tourists and students away from America. At the same time, China’s relations with Australia are also deteriorating, with arguments over trade tariffs and anger from Beijing over Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origination and handling of the coronavirus by China.
Chinese people are hugely influenced by politics and the direction of their President. Any further breakdown in Sino-American and Sino-Australian relations leaves a path open for the United Kingdom to welcome more and more Chinese study groups and students to our shores.
What are the challenges?
So what does the UK need to do to maximise on this opportunity? Our team in Beijing has been speaking to two of the major players in this market and you can read the full interviews here. In summary, the agents are willing to hear from the UK and believe in the destination. They identify the most important priorities are to increase the options for study beyond the pure language courses, to focus on the promotion of our cultural heritage in order to compete with more famous attractions of the USA, to expand our promotion of the regions, universities and cities beyond London, to find ways to compete on price with the States, and to improve communication of product, benefits and tours to the Chinese travel trade, through marketing, sales missions, roadshows and trade communication. It is also important for our top museums and attractions to create bespoke tours and products which can be offered flexibly as part of the study tours, and that they have Mandarin speaking staff who are able to deliver educational tours to the children on-site. If our attractions can make it easier for the Chinese tour operators to work with them during the summer months, and can deliver a really world-class service to these study tour groups, the demand from the Chinese travel trade is real and valuable.
It is clear that the United Kingdom has some way to go in terms of product development and communication of our study tour offering, but the opportunity is real and ours for the taking. I hope the pause that has resulted from the Coronavirus crisis will offer our museums and attractions an opportunity to redevelop their offering, communicate with the Chinese specialist operators, and prepare for the inevitable surge in interest for Chinese study tours arriving next summer. It is an opportunity they would be foolish to ignore.
The recovery of the domestic tourism industry is accelerating in China. According to The Beijing News, more than 22 provinces and cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have now resumed local tourism operations with travel agencies starting to organize trips to neighboring cities as the novel coronavirus outbreak subsides.
This year, China’s May Day holiday has been extended to five consecutive days over a long weekend, and is expected to deliver the next big spike in tourism in China. China’s biggest online travel agent, CTrip, has reported that the number of trips booked for the May holiday has increased by 353% since April, and some 3,8600 scenic sites have now opened ticket reservations on CTrip. This number is expected to exceed 4000 for the May holiday. These are outdoor attractions such as mountain walks, national parks and, of course, the Great Wall. Indoor attractions and museums such as the Forbidden City, will remain closed.
Although it is widely reported that the coronavirus outbreak has been largely brought under control in China, it is clear that tourists are still concerned about transmission and further outbreaks. This is affecting their transport decisions, and they are taking to the roads, intending to drive to their chosen attractions. CTrip reports that, so far, the number of car rental bookings has reached 70 percent of the same period last year which is a strong performance given the tourism downturn.
During the Qingming holiday in April this year, the travel review platform, Mafengwo, shared data showing that the first bookings leading the recovery of the domestic market were in short-distance self drive and day trips. In the week before the Qingming holiday, searches for the keywords “nearby self-drive tour” in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou increased by 85.7%, 51.2% and 132.8% respectively. The China Tourism Academy reported that, during the Qingming holiday, tourists to scenic spots mainly came from within the same province, that urban one-day tours and suburban tours are recovering, and the proportion of self-drive tours increased, with most tourists travelling together as a family.
China Tourism Academy data: 41% of tourists will choose self-drive as mode of transport when COVID-19 ends. (Image: CGTN)
Self Drive was increasing even before Coronavirus
According to the China Tourism Academy, the Chinese made 580 million self-drive trips across domestic destinations in 2018, which represented a year-on-year increase of 35.6%. Around 70% of domestic road trips in 2018 were two to three day excursions with a driving distance of no more than 200 kilometres. However, the number of long-distance and outbound self-drive trips also grew in 2018.
In 2019, Chelun and Tuniu launched a report about self-drive travel, which showed that, in the first half of 2019, 82.6% of car owners enjoyed a self-drive trip, with nearly 80% of them choosing a short road trip and nearly 60% opting for a long-distance road trip. Industry experts believe that with the strong support of national policies and the increasing view that self drive is more environmentally friendly than air travel, self-drive will be more and more popular.
Are self-drive tourists valuable?
This year, due to the effect of the coronavirus, naturally more people will choose self-drive to avoid gathering on planes, trains and coaches. Self drive offers easier access to the kinds of attractions which are likely to be the most popular, such as national parks, natural scenic spots and campsites, allowing people to get close to nature and away from crowds. As people will not be travelling in guided groups, there will be a demand for more public tourism services, such as visitor information, signs, guidance and advice. Self-drive tourists are also considered to have a very strong purchasing power which can be highly beneficial to local economies and artisan industries, having a more leisurely approach to shopping for goods and souvenirs and prioritizing local shops and craft souvenir stores over shopping malls.
What does this mean for international travel?
As with all travel trends which start domestically in China, the passion of self-drive in domestic tourism has also extended to outbound tourism.
According to a 2018 report by Zuzuche, China’s outbound self-drive tourists reached 9.14 million, a 65-fold increase over six years from 2013 to 2018. The report also showed that over the past three years, 63% of self-drive tourists were 28 – 38 years old, but the number of tourists aged 40 to 49, and over 50 years old also displayed growth, showing that self-drive was also growing in popularity across varied age ranges.
What is the attraction of self drive for the outbound Chinese tourist?
As with many areas of travel and tourism, the popularity of self-drive comes down to cost and convenience. Public transport in some foreign countries is relatively expensive and complicated to book. Private car bookings are popular, but, compared to taxis and chauffeured vehicles, the cost of self-drive car rental is clearly more economical. For the top 10 self-drive destinations for Chinese tourists in 2019, the average car rental cost was worked out to be only about RMB 100 per person per day (Zuzuche, 2019). This low cost reflects the fact that Chinese tourists tend to travel in small groups, with four or five people in the car, making this a very cheap alternative to public transport.
As the Chinese market matures, the desire for more experiential holidays and to travel beyond the beaten track grows. Self-drive offers a convenient way to explore a country, visiting its more remote, non-urban sites and the national parks, scenic and coastal regions with the fresh air and natural beauty yearned for by the Chinese. Self-drive requires a certain level of confidence which was perhaps less prevalent in previous generations of Chinese tourists. Now China’s millennials are so used to travel, they are well educated (often abroad), and speak second languages. Hiring and driving a car is less of a challenge than it would have been for their parents.
How should the car rental industry prepare for Chinese tourists?
Comfort, safety and reliability will also be important in this market. Chinese tourists are reluctant to ask a lot of questions and are generally risk-averse when it comes to booking travel, preferring to book via the travel trade and well-known brands. International car hire brands, such as Hertz and Avis, have an opportunity to do very well in this market, but there are also great opportunities for car rental brokers or smaller specialist brands (such as self-drive minivans serving more remote places like the Scottish Highlands, or all weather vehicles in ski or mountain regions) to promote their products in China to the FIT market. This can be done via social media, PR or, very effectively, through the existing distribution structure of the Chinese travel trade and China-specialist DMCs.
It will be very important that the booking and collection processes are simplified and clear, and that there is no hint of overselling of unnecessary extras, and the service delivery is exemplary. Chinese tourists will spend freely on a great experience, but in return may have high expectations and will be quick to turn to social media if they feel they have been poorly served, ripped off, or disrespected. Transparent pricing, high quality service, and good directions and assistance will all be valued highly in this market.
The popularity of countries such as USA and Australia over the past decade also feeds into the growth in the self-drive sector. Many Chinese tourists will have enjoyed flydrive holidays in Florida, California, or throughout the Australian states. These countries lead the self-drive market globally, with open roads, long distances, plenty of parking and easy navigation. Europe is still catching up and VisitBritain figures, for example, show that public transport still far outweighs self-drive. However, in the 2019 figures from Zuzuche, the UK came in as the 10th biggest self-drive destination for Chinese tourists behind USA, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France. It seems likely that once we start living in a post-coronavirus world, European car rental companies, destinations and the hospitality and travel industries should prepare for an upsurge in demand from China for self-drive holidays, and should prepare themselves within their recovery plans with a clear sales and marketing strategy for China, and a product development plan which includes consideration for the Chinese driver.
China is finally starting to emerge from lockdown and take its first steps to restart travel and tourism throughout the country. Can Europe learn anything from China’s experience as we look ahead to a time when we too can think about reopening our museums, lifting travel restrictions, and welcoming visitors once more to our national parks?
Wuhan is where the story began, and 80 days after lockdown started, the city is now finally beginning to lift some restrictions, and open borders. The metro is running again and retail businesses and shopping centres are being reopened in a staged approach from this week, to try to reinvigorate some spending among residents. However, as far as travel goes, there are strict regulations still in place. Visitors to Wuhan are required to report how they have travelled and their reasons for coming. Hotel guests are having their temperatures checked twice a day for signs of the virus. They are required to show a code on a smartphone app which tracks their health status and where they have travelled. If you want to board a bus, you also have to show your smartphone health code to a volunteer. Tracking via technology is a vital part of the city’s strategy in coming out of lockdown.
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport has also reopened following a 76-day closure. According to the aviation data platform, Variflight, Chengdu, Guangdong and Hainan are the most popular destinations for flights now departing from Wuhan. It’s all about the domestic market and will be for some time.
According to the government, Hubei province, including Wuhan, has opened more than 40 natural outdoor attractions to the public since the beginning of April. To try to control spread of COVID-19, all attractions have adopted e-ticketing with tickets available via WeChat as well as Online Travel Agents. Tourist flows are controlled through time slots, with daily flow limits in place. Tourists are required to socially distance to 2 metres and to wear a mask during their visit. Tourist attractions which focus on indoor visits remain closed for now.
National holiday boosts domestic tourism
The Qingming Festival is a three day holiday which took place over the first weekend of April. It is an important festival in the Chinese calendar, when people pay tribute to the deceased and visit the graves of their ancestors. It is a popular weekend for domestic travel and getting together with friends and family. During this year’s festival, more parks and scenic attractions reopened across the country amid tight restrictions. Visitor limits were set (and quickly reached, leading to the closure of some attractions). Temperature checks were made on every visitor and health codes shown.
Some early data is now emerging in China on domestic tourism statistics. Qunar and Trip.com are reporting signs of recovery in the domestic market and an increase in booking volumes for transportation tickets, hotels and scenic attractions. According to the ‘2020 Qingming bank holiday market recovery report’ issued by Fliggy, bookings for train tickets and scenic spots during the Qingming holiday were up 100% during the week. Hotel bookings are also starting to show recovery as are city tours and high speed trains. Liang Jianzhang, co-founder and chairman of Trip.com Group has been expressing cautious positivity, saying
“I am optimistic about the recovery of domestic tourism. People have accumulated a strong desire to consume”
According to the China Tourism Academy, during the Qingming Festival there were 43,254 domestic trips, and ticket sales on attractions on Trip.com increased by 114% vs the previous month. These are not large figures, but they are a start. Unsurprisingly, short tours, and self drive were the most popular methods of travel.
What can we learn from China?
At this point, it is important to watch and learn. As attractions open up, it is inevitable that we will see mistakes being made and successes being delivered. It was widely reported that, as soon as Huangshan National Park in Anhui Province opened its gates over the Qingming Festival weekend, it was inundated with visitors and forced to close as social distancing rules could not be adhered to. The attraction had offered free entry in order to stimulate demand. On reflection, probably an unnecessary and potentially damaging decision.
Shanghai Disneyland is now expected to reopen on 15th April moving the date forward from June. This follows a phased reopening of certain areas which has been going on for a number of weeks, which started with resort hotels, shopping and dining areas with reduced opening hours and a limited capacity. This phased approach may be adopted by many major attractions around the world and theme park executives will be watching closely to see how things progress in Shanghai.
There is clearly a pent up demand in China for travel, tourism and entertainment. But caution and concern over health and safety will continue for some time. In Beijing, indoor attractions remain closed, but restaurants and shopping malls are open again. But that has not marked a return to normality. The restaurants are quiet, with people reluctant to sit near each other or to socialize as they would have done before coronavirus. Tourist attractions throughout the world can learn from China. They must be bold, and willing to face up to what might be an unwelcome reality of consumer behaviour for the next year. However much we might want to enjoy domestic and international travel once again, we will require reassurances, hygiene policies, effective visitor management and reliable health screening checks, in order to return to attractions with confidence.
China has struggled with pollution in the past, but arguably the extent of this pollution has been exaggerated by the media in other parts of the world. For example, images of a heavily polluted Beijing that were shared extensively via the media throughout the earlier part of last decade. Famously, in 2014 The Daily Mail published an article claiming that the pollution in Beijing was so bad that people were having to watch the sunrise on a giant LED screen in the middle of Tiananmen Square. This article was accompanied with a grainy image of a dystopian, smog-soaked Beijing where a handful of people were watching the virtual sunrise emerge. The article went viral, and a number of other prominent news outlets including Time, CBS News, and the Huffington Post published the same story. A week later technology news website, Tech in Asia, furiously disproved this story, explaining that the sunrise was actually part of an advert for tourism in China’s Shandong Province, and had nothing to do with pollution.
Similarly, when some media outlets have written about Chinese tourists, their environmental impact has also been a point of focus and concern, with Chinese tourists sometimes being portrayed as irresponsible. For example, there have been tales of excessive waste, with viral stories of tourist groups overfilling plates at all -you- can-eat buffets and then leaving piles of uneaten food. Other articles have complained that Chinese tourists act in an uncivilized manner and disrespect the environments that they visit. For example, there was the famous incident in 2013 of Chinese teenager, Ding Jinhao, defacing an ancient Egyptian temple, sparking outrage and a backlash against Chinese tourists for their misbehaviour abroad. Despite the fact that isolated incidents such as this do not reflect Chinese tourists as a whole, if you Google ‘Chinese tourists’ you will be met with numerous articles and videos which name Chinese tourists as ‘rude’ or ‘unruly’.
It seems the singling out of Chinese tourists by some media outlets has, at times, created an unflattering and negative stereotype of the Chinese traveller, and this includes their impact on and regard for the environment.
In a recent Oliver Wyman survey entitled, ‘The Changing Face of the Chinese Traveller’ the author lists four common beliefs about Chinese tourists which include ‘They spend indiscriminately’ and ‘They are always in groups’. These beliefs have ignited concerns around over tourism and over-consumption. However, there is evidence to disprove these images of the Chinese traveller. In recent years the Chinese have expressed their desire to improve sustainability and reduce their impact on the planet both at home and overseas, and action is being taken in order to make these desires a reality.
Increasing demand for sustainable tourism
In November 2019, Gillian Tans, the chairwoman of Booking.com reported to CNBC that the demand for sustainable tourism and responsible travel alternatives was drastically increasing amongst Chinese tourists. A study conducted by Booking.com found that 79% of Chinese customers would be happy to change their selected holiday destination if they were offered an alternative that was better for the environment. Furthermore, Tans expressed how Chinese tourists are beginning to opt for alternative and more sustainable accommodation choices such as home sharing, which now accounts for 20% of Booking.com’s overall revenues. This kind of accommodation is more flexible as well as environmentally friendly, Chinese travellers can cook their own food, which will subsequently produce less waste. It also allows them share in large groups for a cheaper price, an arrangement which suits large multi generation family travel groups. These kinds of choices made by cost aware and progressively savvy Chinese travellers are setting new trends for future Chinese tourists. Furthermore, these statistics show that a growing number of tourists are veering towards making sustainable decisions when travelling.
Shopping locally and travelling small
For a long time, the Chinese have been known for their love of shopping, with discounted fashion destinations such as Bicester Village considered to be a prime UK destination spot. In 2018 alone, the global spend by Chinese tourists came to $277.3bn, the highest in the world. However, over the past couple of years there has been a shift in terms of what Chinese tourists want to spend their money on. Gillian Tans highlighted the growing trend amongst Chinese tourists for shopping locally and eating locally produced foods when abroad, she explained that these decisions are made as a way of knowing what kind of impact they are having on the destinations that they travel to.
This desire to ensure that they are making a positive impact on tourism in the local market reflects how travelling and shopping habits amongst some Chinese tourists are changing and becoming more environmentally motivated.
In addition to this, many young affluent Chinese travellers are now favouring other activities besides retail. There are more Free Independent Travellers (FITS) than ever before, and this category of traveller favours cultural experiences and private personalised tours that they can share across their personal social media platforms i.e. WeChat and Weibo. As a result of this, the traditional tour style of travelling in large groups on a hop on hop off tour bus trip complete with extensive shopping excursions are declining in market share. Instead, many Chinese travellers prefer tours at cultural hotpots in smaller, more intimate groups. This is highly beneficial for popular wildlife destinations such as Scotland, which is known and favourited by the Chinese for its natural beauty, as it will prevent these areas becoming too overwhelmed by large groups of tourists. Furthermore, the decrease of interest in material goods is positive in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of Chinese tourists.
Awareness and protection of wildlife
The Chinese are quickly becoming more concerned about protecting animals and wildlife, both at home and overseas. In 2015, Northwest China’s Qinghai Province was given approval to build the Sanjiangyuan National Park, it was one of the first provinces in China to trial the national park system. In August 2019, the first forum on national parks was held in Xining and 450 representatives from regulatory agencies, experts and scholars from China and overseas attended. They discussed topics such as construction and management of nature reserves, biodiversity protection, and the future of natural heritage sites. The aim of this is to attract people from all over the world to come and see China’s national parks in order to learn about its wildlife and experience its natural beauty in a way that will still protect biodiversity.
There are also cultural shifts occurring in light of the actions taken by conservationists to protect wildlife. Shark fin soup, once one of the most famous Chinese delicacies, is now becoming frowned upon by many due to its wastefulness and impact on shark species. For some time, sales of shark fin soup have been decreasing, back in 2014 the Guardian had already reported a 70% drop in sales. The dish, which was often consumed during special occasions such as weddings and high-class events, was banned by the government from being served at state events in 2012 as part of an austerity campaign. Since then, a number of other factors have contributed to the reduction of this once highly successful business. For example, the awareness created by conservationists that 100 million sharks were being killed each year, leading to the decline in some shark populations by as much as 98%. Additionally, high profile celebrities have spoken out against the shark fin business, most notably former basketball star Yao Ming, whose awareness campaign on the impact of the shark fin industry has greatly influenced the decrease in consumption of this dish. Celebrity influence is China is strong, and it is very positive that high profile Chinese celebrities like Ming are using their status to influence the minds of the Chinese people, who frequently respect the celebrity opinion above others.
Overseas, a portion of Chinese tourists are beginning to take their impact on nature into consideration when making holiday decisions. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 13 percent and 26 percent reduction in elephant rides taken and shows watched by Chinese tourists across destinations in Thailand, respectively. This was discovered by a survey conducted by the World Animal Protection (WAP) in August 2019. The survey also revealed that 77% of Chinese tourists interviewed from 15 main tourist counties in Thailand said they would rather see animals in the wild, and 84% said wild animals should live in the wild rather than in captivity. This data reflects how wildlife friendly tours are steadily becoming more favoured by Chinese tourists which is an environmentally positive development in Chinese outbound tourism. According to China Daily, WAP released survey results in May 2019 showing that more than 90% of Chinese travellers participating in overseas wildlife tours said they would reject activities that could be harmful to wildlife. Again, celebrity influence and the media are highly accountable for driving these decisions forward. The 2017 documentary, Black Elephant, by Shanghai director Zhang Chaodao has now been viewed millions of times, the film exposes the brutal cruelty and mistreatment of elephants in Thailand for the sake of tourist entertainment, and has played a role in the decline of this activity.
The newfound interest in Antarctic vacations amongst affluent Chinese tourists in 2019 was also accompanied with awareness around the impacts of tourism on even the most remote of environments. An article published by Lifestyle Inquirer in November 2019 followed the experience of a Chinese traveller, Yu Tong, on her trip to Antarctica for her 30th birthday. Throughout the trip, the tour guides made everyone aware of the wildlife and all visitors had to disinfect their shoes and stay at least five metres away from any animals. Yu Tong came away from this adventure with more awareness and understanding of environmental protection, and consequently applied this to her day to day life. For example, she began taking public transport more often and buying less luxurious products. This kind of media angle is becoming more frequent in terms of encouraging more awareness amongst Chinese tourists regarding sustainable travel.
The positive lifestyle changes taken by Yu Tong after her trip reflect how with the right kind of education and approach from the media, Chinese tourists can share this knowledge and inspire others to make environmentally conscious decisions.
These outcomes show how progress is being made and actions are being taken amongst the Chinese to improve sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint. We know that the initiative and willingness to make a difference is already there but there are certainly improvements to be made, so how can we also help to influence further change? For certain, China is a collective society and following the lead of influencers is a huge part of Chinese consumer behaviour. Celebrities and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can make a difference to trends, opinions and ultimately, action. A prime example of this is Chinese superstar, model and actress, Angelababy, who has been speaking out against the excessive trafficking and killing of Pangolins across Vietnam and China. For a long time, Pangolin meat was considered a delicacy in China and their scales were used as a medicine for chronic conditions such as cancer. Around 100,000 Pangolins are poached each year. Since 2016, Angelababy has been an ambassador for WildAid and has used her celebrity influence to put a stop to this cruel trade and raise awareness of its consequences. With a Weibo account of over 60 million followers, she is China’s equivalent to the Kardashians in terms of her status. This means that her ability to influence is extremely powerful. Since 2017, all Pangolins have been fully protected from cross-border commercial trade under international law. This would not have been achieved without the influence of Angelababy and shows how involving a high-profile celebrity in animal and environmental protection campaigns can cause a great impact and bring about drastic changes in attitude. Whilst government initiatives will always be the best way to enforce change, involving celebrity faces in future campaigns to promote sustainability will result in further positive changes in consumer attitudes and actions.
When our clients ask us how to influence Chinese tourists’ destination choice, we often recommend working with KOLs or Key Opinion Leaders. If they have bigger budgets, we suggest that they work with a celebrity ambassador. And sometimes we joke that, if they really want to put their destination on the map, perhaps they can persuade President Xi to come on a state visit.
This year, Greece did exactly that as the Chinese President touched down in Athens to discuss trade and investment with Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Historically, destinations boom following a successful state visit. After President Xi drank a pint of beer with David Cameron in a British pub and had a selfie taken with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City in 2015, Chinese tourism to the UK really took off. We have seen state visits as a catalyst for tourism arrivals to many other countries too, such as Fiji and New Zealand in 2014. We can assume that the positive PR surrounding this visit to Greece, and the huge support for China-Greece relations expressed by Mitsotakis, will be well received in China, catapulting Greece into the consideration set for a summer holiday.
Once the keywords start being tapped into Mafengwo and Qyer, it won’t be long before aspirational Chinese FIT travellers realise that Greece has got it all.
From the ancient history of Athens, Olympia, and Delphi, to the stunning scenery of Meteora and the Mani to the crystal waters and sundrenched, whitewashed villages of the Greek islands, you have the perfect ingredients for a Chinese tourist’s dream; a multi-centre, experiential holiday, with history, beauty, and some very shareable back drops. Not to mention some of the most famous mythological stories and delicious dishes in Europe to feast upon.
But apart from the ensuing publicity generated by a state visit, improved air transport links are also a common result of such visits, and this one seems to be no different.
The most important factor here is the opportunity presented by codesharing. Greece has a unique geographical make up with a huge number of delightful islands, secondary towns and cities, and other areas of natural beauty and historical significance. In order to bring tourists and citizens to all corners of Greece, the country has a very large network of internal flights operated by Aegean Airlines. Once these domestic flights start to link up with international flights coming direct to Athens from Beijing (and potentially other airports in China), suddenly the whole of Greece becomes accessible to the Chinese tourist. And that is what the two leaders’ Memorandum of Understanding will provide for. If all goes to plan, a codeshare agreement could be adopted between Air China and Aegean Airlines, meaning passengers from Beijing will be able to reach major Greek tourism destinations such as Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, Corfu, and Halkidiki much more easily.
The MOU will also allow for an increase in the number of flights between Greece and China. At present, there are only three direct flights per week from China into Athens, flying from Beijing on Air China, although up to 14 are permitted. Once the new agreement is implemented, airlines will be allowed to operate up to 35 flights per week. And, with the codeshares in place, there could be enough demand to justify the increases.
In the first nine months of 2018, Chinese arrivals to Greece grew by 22%, making China the fastest growing market for tourism to Greece. It is expected that similar growth will be seen once the summer figures emerge for 2019. Whilst reported numbers are still relatively small at around 200,000 per year, it is widely agreed that these figures are understated due to the large number of people entering Greece on a visa to another EU country as part of a multi-centre tour.
The most famous island is the picturesque, romantic Santorini, widely photographed and admired by honeymooners and bloggers alike, but other islands such as nearby Mykonos and Greece’s largest island, Crete, are also popular and gaining traction on the major travel platforms and within itineraries. Of course, Athens and the wonderous Acropolis, will also feature on the itinerary.
We expect to see a huge upturn in interest for Greece from China next year. Its popularity with honeymooners also provides an additional opportunity for Greece’s luxury resorts, as Chinese honeymooners are allowed to take a longer holiday, giving plenty of time to explore and stay. And the Chinese national holiday, Golden Week, in October also presents a great opportunity to extend the summer season, especially for those islands like Crete and Kos which remain sunny and warm well into mid-October.
If you are interested in finding out how China Travel Outbound can help you promote your Greek region, resort, attraction or hotel to the Chinese, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Effective PR is essential in order to be successful in the outbound Chinese tourism market.
Forming great working relationships with the Chinese media and Chinese KOLs is a complete game changer in terms of promoting a destination to the outbound Chinese tourist market. Both the Chinese media and KOLs have the power to connect with a wider Chinese audience in order to market a destination so that the appeal of that destination will grow significantly.
But how do you really work with the Chinese media? And who are the main media outlets in China for travel?
In this video Vivienne Song, the Manager of our Beijing office, sits down to discuss some top tips on Chinese PR and working effectively with the Chinese travel media.
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The UK is one of the most popular places in the world for Chinese students seeking education abroad; in fact, it is estimated that there are around 130,000 Chinese undergraduates and postgraduates studying in the UK, with numbers growing every year.
So what draws Chinese students to the UK? What do they like to do here and what places to they like to visit?
We sat down with University of Sussex student, Joanna, to discuss what it is that brings Chinese Students to the U.K, how they like to travel and what student life is like in a foreign country.
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From the fresh air, fjords and fish platters to the endless summer days and early winter nights; this intriguing northern culture continues to entice Chinese travellers from all over the country to satiate their curiosities and embrace the welcome culture shock that awaits them in the land of the Vikings.
Although Scandinavia may not currently sit at pole position on their general holiday wish list, the number of Chinese tourists flocking to the wintery north is on the rise. According to Ctrip, China’s number 1 travel booking agency, the number of Chinese tourists who booked trips to Nordic countries through its website soared by 82 pct in 2018. Naturally, due to its colder climate, Northern Europe will experience its high season between May and September when the weather is warmer. However, this is not to say that winter is an unpopular season, as many Chinese tourists visit at this time to experience the snow, the skiing and of course, the breath-taking Aurora Borealis (Northern lights).
This escalation of Chinese attention hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Nordic lands as the Scandinavian peninsula recognises the prosperity that the Chinese market would bring. Recently, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden jointly kicked off a tourism campaign to offer more distinctive travel experiences to Chinese visitors. They’ve collectively invested time and resources into discovering how to cater to the Chinese tourist and develop and formulate more appetizing and accessible travel experiences to this prosperous market. This is a tactic that is evidently paying off.
In this blog series, we will investigate each of the five Nordic countries, some of their most popular tourist destinations and consider what makes them so desirable to the Chinese tourist.
As one of the three member countries collectively referred to as ‘Scandinavia’, Norway charmingly merges elegant, urban modernity with its rustic, rural culture. The country boasts a sparkling winter wonder with its diverse, emphatic landscape whose lengthy terrain reaches far into the Arctic circle.
As more of Europe is opening up for China, Norway is now more accessible for Chinese tourists than it has ever been before. Not only does China have an efficient transit to the country through Helsinki, but now Hainan airlines has made available a direct flight route between Beijing and Oslo, the first direct route between the two countries.
The Chinese marvel at how the awe-inspiring scenery fits synonymously with a local culture that is filled to the brim with history and tradition; a culture which owes much to the landscape it originates from. Norway is certainly not lacking on reasons for its touristic appeal; whether it’s to bear witness to a natural environment which seems almost fictional with its beauty, to experiencing the modernised food, shopping and efficiency that Scandinavians are so proud of, or even to visit the sites of the many films that were shot or based there, such as Disney’s Frozen, the highest grossing animated film of all time and one which brought in just under $50,000,000 in its first year in China.
Whatever the reason for visiting, inbound tourism is unquestionably on the rise for the Norwegians and in recent times, the Chinese have found themselves on the growing list of countries exporting thousands of travellers there each year. According to Bente Bratland Holm, travel director for ‘Innovation Norge’, “The Asian market is growing the most… Norway now has the most overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Scandinavia.”
Norway clearly has a wide variety of cities and sites that draw in a large number of visitors each year, so let’s have a look at five of Chinese tourists’ favourite Norwegian locations and reflect on what each one offers that makes them such must-see destinations.
Whenever you see an aesthetic poster or wallpaper of the magical, endless Norwegian fjords and mountains, wondering whether such a mysterious and ethereal environment could possibly exist … there’s a very strong likelihood that that photograph was taken somewhere on the Lofoten islands.
Lofoten may not necessarily be the biggest hub for tourism in Norway, it is certainly accessible and the Chinese travellers who do make the northern trip to the islands will be incontestably glad that they did. Most tourists will opt for the aerial route due to its speed and convenience; flights will typically connect through Oslo to either Bodø or Svolvær airports and will need a subsequent, short transfer over to the islands. Many other Chinese tourists may prefer a longer and more scenic route and the marathon train journey between Oslo and Bodø rewards the traveller with a window view of all the sights and sounds that the Norwegian terrain has to offer. Despite its more remote location, tourists of the world are still willing to spend the extra time and money to pay this wonderland a visit and the Chinese are no exception to this.
So how can the Lofoten islands cater to the Chinese tourist industry? Contrast to its relatively small population, Lofoten provides a hugely diverse range of activities and experiences that interlace wonderfully with its environment. The islands are filled with local fishing villages that allow tourists the opportunity to venture out onto their own fishing expeditions as well as producing some of the freshest seafood dishes in the country. Those looking for a more educational visit will appreciate the historic background of the islands and will surely visit the Lofotr Viking Museum and other Viking exhibitions; the Chinese love museums so this will be a key tourist hub for Lofoten. For the more adventurous traveller, the Chinese tourist will seek the many tours on offer, ranging from kayaking or horseback riding down the fjords or hiking trips through the mountains to bathe in the summer’s midnight sun or be awestruck by winter’s northern lights.
The Chinese tourist market is vast and expansive, naturally this results in many different travellers with many different tastes. Lofoten has made sure it will always have exciting adventures available for whoever visits its islands.
With its long, winding river path sandwiched between the imposing, vertical cliff faces that may have been carved out by the Aesir themselves; The Geirangerfjord sees countless Chinese adventurers sailing down its banks each year. Featuring tours, caves, hikes, hill tribes and a commitment to cultural and environmental preservation; Geirangerfjord has truly earned its place as a UNESCO world heritage site.
There are two primary means in which Chinese tourists come to visit this world-famous fjord. Frequent flights operate to Ålesund airport followed by a transfer to Geiranger, along with trains departing from both Oslo and Trondheim bound for Åndalsnes and connections to either Ålesund or Geiranger. The most popular option of travel, however, is by sea. Many cruise operators take tourists up to and into the fjords in the summer months, transforming the transportation element into the destination itself.
The Chinese love cruises, in fact, China is facing the potential to become the largest cruise market in the world. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that cruise liners are the most favourable method of exploring this Asgardian landscape. Cruises allow tourists to leisurely drift down the stream of the fjord, entirely immersed in the natural marvel that surrounds them on all sides. Additionally, cruises make numerous stops at various key sites and villages, encouraging tourists to step out and discover the local crafts, trade and cuisine. With such a keen love of photography and foreign culture, the Chinese will feel particularly enriched by this element of the fjords
Outside of cruising, the area of Geiranger provides travellers with an abundance of methods of experiencing the fjord’s beauty. From hikes, bike rides, picnics, kayaking and camping; Geirangerfjord maintains its capacity to cater to all shapes and forms of Chinese tourism and its diverse demands, now it just needs the right promotion in China to continue to do this.
Welcome to the Arctic circle. Tromsø is one of only a few large cities that sit within this polar region and notwithstanding its typically icy temperatures, it still manages to draw in a considerable level of inbound Chinese tourism each year. Tromsø doesn’t suffer from its arctic location; actually, it owes a lot of its touristic success to it, with many travellers looking to experience more sights and sounds that are off the beaten path in such a polar environment mixed with having access to the facilities and amenities one would expect from a modern and well-developed city.
Along with the arctic circle, Tromsø also falls within the cultural region of Sápmi, a territory that encompasses northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sápmi is home to the Sámis; a traditional, remote people specialising in coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding and most significantly, reindeer herding. The Sámis offer a deep insight and education into a whole new, foreign way of life and are a considerable factor in bringing culture-hungry tourists to Tromsø.
As one of Norway’s biggest cities, tourists will have no difficulty in making the journey up to Tromsø. There are many domestic flights to Tromsø airport each day, though flying internationally from China, travellers will typically have a transfer at Oslo before heading up. Several popular Scandinavian cruise tours will make stops at Tromsø, again giving Chinese holidaymakers a (somewhat brief) opportunity to meander through this snowy metropolis and contribute keenly to the city’s tourist income.
There is an abundance of options for new arrivals to Tromsø to pick from when it comes to tours, shopping and entertainment; though the number one activity on most people’s bucket list is to chase the Aurora Borealis. Tromsø is one of the best locations to see the Northern lights in the country and the locals know this; offering a plethora of different tours and guided routes to tourists and recognising the prosperity and profits that the Chinese market could bring them with the right targeted promotion.
Snowshoeing, dog sledding, fishing, whale watching and arctic buggy riding will also be on the peripherals of the adventurous traveller, while others may prefer the slower pace of the arctic museums, a warm drink at a kaffebutikk (coffee shop) or a visit to the extra-terrestrial looking Arctic Cathedral standing proud to the east of the city.
The tourist infrastructure is definitely in place in Tromsø, therefore bringing in a further flux of Chinese tourism will continue to benefit the city long into the future.
Known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’, Norway’s second largest city is one of the most culturally diverse in the country. As a UNESCO world heritage city, Bergen acts as the meeting point of the new ways and the old and while it is large in scope, Chinese visitors will still find themselves succumbing to the small-town atmosphere and charm that the city emits. Tourists appreciate the blending of Oslo’s modernity with the historic value that one would expect from more rural locations, ensuring that all who step foot within the city of the seven mountains, young or old, active or laid-back, will find themselves at home in Bergen.
Having already referred to China’s love for cruises and tours, Bergen’s nickname does well to open itself to the Chinese market. A bounty of tours and voyages will set sail from the port and float down one of the many branching fjords nearby. Travellers also opt for the local-based tours that allow the pulsating colours of Bergen’s architecture to be taken in from the seas. Tours are not limited to the water and Ctrip (or Trip.com) offers a variety of walking tours to get up close and personal with some of Bergen’s top sites.
China experiences a vast amount of inbound tourism searching for culinary exploration and foreign tastes, something which is mirrored by its outbound tourism too. Chinese ‘foodies’ will fail to miss the warm allure of the fresh Norwegian pastries lining the shelves of the local bakeries or the pungent musk of the stockfish, the traditional unsalted cod hanging from wooden racks and drying in the cold, Nordic air. Tourists love to book themselves onto food tours in which sightseeing, and food sampling are conveniently rolled into one.
The Chinese also love a photo opportunity and the mountains that encase the city provides a golden opportunity to do this. The cable cars running up the mountainside take tourists to a wonderous aerial location which perfectly frames all of Bergen’s best features into one image; an image that will likely find its way onto a Weibo post to induce envy onto all who see it.
A nation’s capital should always be one of its most prized possessions. Oslo connects Norway to the rest of the world and connects the rest of the world to Norway. Wherever the final destination maybe be, there is a near certainty that a Chinese tourist visiting Norway will end up in Oslo at some point of their trip, subsequently meaning that the capital receives the most inbound tourism from China in the country each year.
Ease of access isn’t the only factor attributed to Oslo’s popularity; the city embodies everything one associates with Scandinavian elegance, design and progressiveness. Modern Norwegian and Nordic architecture is an area of fascination for the Chinese, in fact, they love it so much that they’ve recruited the Norwegian group, Snøhetta, the company behind the Oslo Opera House, to blueprint the designs for the Shanghai Grand opera house in China. Every element of the city centre has been intricately crafted and outlined to cater to visitors and locals alike. Oslo regards itself as a walking city, something which is favourable among Chinese tourists, though a frequent and convenient transportation network is also available for those in a rush and willing to spend a bit extra.
There aren’t many cities in Europe where you can thrive within a metropolitan hamper of museums, international food markets and high-class shopping brands in the morning and take a short train ride to the mountains for skiing and hiking in the afternoon. Oslo will never be short on options with regards to tourism and the city is the epicentre of Norway’s modern culture, something which the patriotic locals are always willing to demonstrate to visitors. Many of China’s favourite holiday pastimes can all be found in Oslo, meaning the capital could potentially stand to gain the most from establishing itself on popular Chinese travel sites.
Oslo benefits from being an all year destination; that is to say that the capital’s appeal is just as prominent in the winter as it is in summer. Its ‘low-season’ is far from being considered a low season. Such a consistent level of inbound tourism combined with the right promotion to the surging Chinese market will only continue to propel Oslo’s rapid development even further in the years to come.
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Norway is certainly a hotbed for touristic attraction and has one of the highest potentials for expansion into the China market in Europe. If you would like to see how PR and promotion on Chinese platforms can boost tourism for your brand, please find our contact details here: https://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/contact/
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to look out for the next blog in the series: Why are the Chinese going Nordic? – Part 2: Finland (Coming soon)
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