Are Chinese tourists the new adventurers?

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. 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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China’s footballing future: the rise of a new soccer superpower?

It’s perhaps not quite as a big a shock as Leicester City winning the Premier League, but British football fans will be surprised to learn that football was invented not in the UK but in China. Yes, China. While FIFA recognises that the contemporary history of the sport started in England in 1863, when rugby football and association football went their separate ways, it cites as the very earliest form of football the Han Dynasty sport of Tsu’ Chu. In the 2nd century BC.

Perhaps this early Chinese version of today’s game is part of the motivation behind China’s stated aim of becoming a world football superpower by 2050. Certainly ardent fan President Xi Jinping’s football masterplan is in full flow. Its objectives are for China to have 50mn football players by 2020; to build or renovate 6,000 stadiums or pitches; and to create 50,000 football schools within the next 10 years. Football became a compulsory part of the Chinese national curriculum earlier this year and private football academies, often with European coaches, are booming. Real Madrid has been working with Guangzhou Evergrande on their football academy since 2011. President Xi has made clear, through statements and funding, that the state will support private enterprise to double the size of China’s overall sporting economy by 2025. The ultimate prize is a US$800bn sports economy –and for China to host the FIFA World Cup.

The Chinese Super League’s record transfer fees

It’s true that China is not yet quite in the major league when it comes to international football. FIFA’s July ’16 international rankings place the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at 81, just behind St Kitts and Nevis (population: 55,000). The PRC has made it to only one World Cup final, in 2002, and failed to score a single goal before bowing out. But if any nation can power and invest its way into football’s top flight, it’s China. Especially with avowed state and private backing.

Like the J-League before it, at first the Chinese Super League was most tempting to ageing stars looking for their last (lucrative) big playing gig in pastures new. But latterly the players making the move East have been far from today’s early ‘90s Gary Linekers; rather, they have been bona fide stars at the top of their (ahem) game. Perhaps the first time the wider world noticed this trend was in January when Brazilian midfielder Ramires moved from Chelsea to Nanjing’s Jiangsu Suning and his compatriot Alex Teixeira followed – in preference to a move to the Kop. Chinese Super League clubs spent a record US$365mn in the January-February ’16 transfer window.

Chinese investment reaches into Europe

China is extending its reach into European leagues too. President Li Xinping included a visit to Manchester City last year during his visit to the UK, sharing a selfie with Sergio Aguero and a (photobombing?) David Cameron. Not long afterwards the club benefitted from £265mn Chinese state-backed private investment.  Chinese investment in European clubs is already substantial. Atletico Madrid is 20% Chinese-owned. Silvio Berlusconi has agreed to sell AC Milan to a Chinese consortium; its rivals Inter Milan are already under Chinese ownership. An interesting trio of West Midlands clubs – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion – are or soon will be Chinese-owned. Even Leeds United are rumoured to be near to a Chinese takeover.

President Li Xinping’s exhortations to invest in the game are seeing support in other areas of business too. Alibaba’s Tmall hosts online stores for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and Alibaba Sports Group was set up in 2015. Alibaba’s Jack Ma, of course, is also co-owner of Guangzhou Evergrande, commenting at the time, “We’re not investing in football, we’re investing in entertainment”. Wang Jianlin, owner of Dalian Wanda, bought a Swiss sports marketing company in 2015 and is the owner of that 20% of Atletico Madrid.

Growing Chinese football tourism

Chinese families are increasingly interested in football too, partly because team games offer the opportunities for teamwork and camaraderie that being an only child does not. And the family interest in sport is rising along with the blossoming of Chinese football tourism. Manchester City became the first UK football club to offer tours in Mandarin this year and demand has been high, fuelled by the launch of the first direct flights from China to the North with the inauguration of Hainan Airlines’ Beijing to Manchester route in June. In fact Manchester is becoming even more of a footballing hub, home not only to the National Football Museum (tours available in Chinese) but also the recently-opened Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs venture, Hotel Football.

As far back as 1999 a Manchester United game in Shanghai welcomed 60,000 fans. These days Manchester United has more than 100mn fans in China, and the evident disappointment when the Manchester derby failed to take place in Beijing this July shows that Chinese fans can be just as passionate as local ones. A January ’16 survey of digital media presence in China put Man Utd in 2nd place and Liverpool 3rd, both trailing Bayern Munich.

More than 350 million Chinese regularly watch Premier League games. Not wanting to miss out on this vast market, Arsenal signed an exclusive content deal with China’s most popular TV football show Total Soccer in January.  And Arsenal already offers stadium tours in Mandarin.

Chinese football fans…want travel agencies to be able to book football experiences as part of their holiday.

Chinese football fans are setting up supporters’ clubs, buying merchandise and engaging with their teams online. They are increasingly keen to visit their teams, not just to have a photo taken, but to immerse themselves in their favourite clubs. To do so, they need to be able to read about stadium tours and museums and book match tickets and packages in Mandarin. They want travel agencies to be able to book football experiences as part of their holiday. And some are even choosing their universities based on proximity to their favourite Premier League clubs.

With state backing, massive private investment, presidential favour and growing interest from Chinese consumers, football in China is unquestionably on the up. Our relationships with the Chinese travel trade and media can help you promote your tourism offering to your Chinese fan base to increase tour and museum visits and ticket and merchandise sales. Contact us now for a chat about China’s growing passion for The Beautiful Game.


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The business of sport in China

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The business of sport in China

China’s success at the Rio Olympics will be welcomed not only by the general population but also – and especially – by China’s political leaders whose attention has recently turned to growing the country’s sport economy. In Beijing in 2008, for the first time ever, China won more medals than the USA, capping a games which had been designed to underline China’s position on the world stage as a global economic and political superpower. Of course China is a sporting superpower too, though strong historically in some of the more overlooked (in the West) sports such as table tennis. The breath-taking extravaganza of the Beijing Olympics certainly had all eyes upon it but there has been patchy success at leveraging the Olympic legacy in China, resulting in renewed state support for sports development in 2014 in the form of a State Council Guiding Opinion. Similar to football’s masterplan, this sets out objectives for China’s sport economy and has kick-started China’s further investment in sport.

The sporting plan for 2025

China aims to have 500 million participants in sport by 2025. This participation goal is part of a package of objectives designed to raise China’s game over the coming decade. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sports industry was valued at 400 billion yuan (US$61 billion) in 2015 and is planned to reach 3 trillion yuan by 2020, rising from 0.7% to 1% of GDP. With strong state and political backing, this is an achievable goal. By comparison, the USA’s sports industry contributes around 3% towards GDP.

Dragon boat racing and China’s early version of football date back at least 2,000 years. China boasts a long association with the martial arts and popular recreational sport includes table tennis, badminton, billiards, snooker and (increasingly) football. Indeed, traditional Chinese culture prizes physical fitness. Prior to the 1990s, Chinese sport was effectively government-funded within the command economy, but in 1994, at a time of growing marketisation, football was the first sport to be professionalised. Other sport, including table tennis and badminton, followed. This was the first platform for sport to be turned into a business in the country.

Table tennis and a clean sweep of medals at the Beijing Olympics

It seems likely that table tennis began in the latter part of the 19th century as a parlour game in the UK, although debate around the origins of table tennis/ping pong/wiff waff remains, in table tennis circles at least. Whatever its roots, the game has long been widely-played in China and the PRC completed a clean sweep of medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In London in 2012, China won all medals open to them after a rule change was made to avoid one country (China) taking all medal positions. Intensive training, individual practice and early nurturing of talent in specialist sports academies are some of the contributing factors to China’s domination of the sport.

Table tennis has played an important part in China’s political history too, with matches between the USA and China the lever which prised open the door to Nixon’s ground-breaking visit to the PRC in 1972. This series of events later became known as Ping Pong Diplomacy.

Martial arts and Kung Fu Panda

China is home to several hundred different martial arts, the origins of which lie in military training in ancient China. Later aligned with Maoism, partly to discourage any connections with potentially subversive ideas of self-defence, martial arts have held a central place in popular Chinese culture for the last century. Wuxia or martial arts fiction came to international attention in film form in the 1970s with Bruce Lee’s global hit Enter the Dragon, and Jackie Chan later picked up this mantle and maintained a multi-billion dollar business from it, largely through success in Asia until the late 1990s. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the use of martial arts with CGI in The Matrix marked the genre’s return to the big time and martial arts have been popular in Hollywood action movies in more recent years, perhaps reaching their peak in Tarantino’s Kill Bill. And Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda.

Basketball and the Yao Ming effect

Thanks to a long history, and more recently the star effect of Yao Ming, China’s most successful basketball player of all time, around 300 million Chinese play basketball. Yao Ming’s retirement in 2011 prompted over 1 million comments on Weibo and he was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year. More Chinese players have since followed in his footsteps into the National Basketball Assocation (NBA) across the Pacific, and the NBA in turn is spreading its reach in China. The CBA Dongguan Basketball School, an NBA training centre designed to foster elite young basketball talent in China, opened in 2011, and joint training camps between the NBA and Yao Ming have been taking place since 2014.

China is the NBA’s largest market outside the USA by some chalk, and will no doubt be further boosted by China’s men’s national team’s appearance at the Rio Olympics.

The 3 trillion yuan opportunity

As household incomes rise, increasing numbers of Chinese parents are keen to provide their (only) children with a more balanced childhood and education than that produced by an emphasis on intensive schooling and piano or violin lessons. Parents are also recognising that sport can provide an experience of teamwork not easily found in a one child family – and for the 500,00 families whose children went overseas to study in 2015, most of them to the USA, sport can act as a great cultural bridge into an unfamiliar society.

And with rising global influence in China, teenagers and young people also see in sport an opportunity for self-expression and individuality. Trainers are perhaps as highly regarded as status symbols as they are in the UK or USA, and have recently become a common reward for high performance in exams.

Advertising, sponsorship, manufacturing and more

China is the largest sporting goods manufacturer in the world – but the big profits in sport lie elsewhere and especially in sponsorship, advertising and entertainment. Chinese sports sponsorship is slowly taking off. The sponsorship of the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament by Chinese electronics giant Hisense was the first such UEFA sponsorship by a Chinese company. One of China’s largest sports manufacturers, 361 Degrees International, is an official sponsor of the Rio Olympics – but opinion is divided as to whether this kind of deal will help home-grown manufacturers pick up the pace against global brands such as Nike. An interesting side-effect of Yao Ming’s high profile in the NBA has been that such sports megabrands need no longer rely exclusively on local stars to promote their goods, introducing more consistency and cost efficiencies across markets for the global brands, and perhaps disadvantaging local brands even more.

On the domestic front, there is increasing money to be made from the business of sport in China. 5-year sponsorship rights to the Chinese football Super League were sold last year for a record 8 billion yuan (about US$1.25bn); the previous 1 year’s rights had sold for just 60 million yuan. The NBA has an official store on Alibaba’s online shopping site Tmall, and its licensing deals in China include a partnership with beer brand Harbin. It also has a 5-year partnership from 2015 with (major ISP) Tencent which guarantees the NBA US$500 million.

In 2015 Chinese athletes won 127 world championship titles in 25 sports, and Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022.  There is no other market in the world which could declare a target of 500 million people to play sport by 2025 – and stand an excellent chance of achieving the goal. Sport is becoming big business in China, and the rewards are only going to increase with time.

So how does China’s increasing focus on sport affect its outbound travel market? Purchases of sports merchandise are on the rise as global brand sports superstars with big sponsorship deals extend their reach into the PRC. Over 350 million Chinese watch Premier League football matches and their enthusiasm for seeing UK clubs during pre-season tours is joining with their plans for overseas holidays; fans want to visit their team’s stadiums and see them play live on home turf or take stadium tours. Wealthy Chinese football fans are seeking exclusive experiences, such as the VIP tour options offered by the UK’s top football clubs. There are also opportunities to promote event spaces and conference facilities to the MICE market.

We specialise in promoting tourism brands to the Chinese travel trade and media, and, through cooperation with our tour operator partners, we can help ensure your club’s Chinese fans include a visit to your home ground within their European holiday itinerary. Contact us now for a chat about how to raise your profile and encourage more visitors from China.

Image: Xu Xin by Doha Stadium Plus. Licensed.


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