Chinese Tourism Leaders’ (Virtual) Forum 2020

On 21 October, we were delighted to share insight into the Chinese travel market with senior representatives from the UK’s leading destination organisations, transport operators, tour operators and visitor attractions at the fourth annual Chinese Tourism Leaders’ event. Hosted by China Travel Outbound and Capela China, settling around Zoom wasn’t quite the same as enjoying Peking Duck in Chinatown but it was a fantastic success nevertheless.

Vivienne Song, China Director for China Travel Outbound, and Helena Beard, Managing Director in the UK, shared the latest information on the Chinese travel market. We heard that life in China is back to normal with the only Covid-19 changes relating to mask-wearing and Track and Trace requirements. China’s domestic travel market has been the first in the world to recover, with flight bookings down only -2% in August, and 75% of China’s travel agents back at work. Post-Covid-19 revenge travel took hold for Golden Week with 637 million trips being made, and strengthening trends include small tailormade tours, self-drive, rail, and luxury and personalised service. A lust for open spaces, remote islands, and direct contact with local cultures will be an emerging trend once the market returns to our shores.

We were delighted to be joined by Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting for VisitBritain, who talked us through recent changes to VisitBritain China stats. For several years now there have been significant anomalies between VisitBritain figures for Chinese inbound tourists to the UK, and data from other sources such as number of visas issued. This issue has been discussed at length by the Chinese Tourism Leaders’ group in the past so the audience was very happy to hear that this has now been resolved.  The updated stats show a very substantial increase in Chinese inbound tourist visits to the UK with the revised total more than doubling to 860,000 in 2018. 2019 saw 883,000 Chinese inbound visits to the UK. In fact China’s £1.7bn spend in 2019 makes it the second largest inbound market by expenditure.

The timing for the return of the market was also discussed, with expectation that the first significant influx of Chinese tourists will be seen in Summer 2021. More accurate predications will be possible following Chinese New Year in February 21 when we will see how and where the Chinese government lifts restrictions on international travel. Helena Beard highlighted to the audience that the more immediate opportunity lies with international students and announced that a new student-focused product would be launched by the agency next month to service this market.

We also heard from Clive Doble of Value Retail, Bicester Village, who talked about the abolition of tax-free shopping for international visitors to the UK from 1st January ’21. This policy would make it about 20% more expensive for Chinese travellers to visit the UK and shop here. It would have a detrimental impact on international visitor figures and come as a huge blow to the inbound tourism sector which is already one of the sectors impacted most severely by COVID-19.  Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound, reassured the forum that intense lobbying continues to try to reverse this decision.

The Chinese Tourism Leaders’ group was created by specialist agencies China Travel Outbound and Capela China to share insights and best practice between the destinations, visitor attractions, transport companies and tourism brands who are at the forefront of Chinese inbound tourism to the UK.

China travel market update 21 September ’20

China’s domestic travel market is recovering strongly so far. Travel data analysts Forward Keys report that domestic arrivals reached 86% of 2019’s level in the second week of August, while domestic flight bookings hit 98%, with most bookings for travel in the same month.

Over 90% of China’s hotels and attractions are open. The Greater China hotel market is picking up at speed with destinations including Shanghai and Sanya, on popular tropical holiday island Hainan, showing a significant rebound in occupancy levels. And in further Chinese holiday island news, Macao has launched a promotional campaign to attract more mainland Chinese visitors to spur the recovery of the local economy.

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.

Hainan Airlines is operating charter flights from Chongqing to Manchester to bring new and returning Chinese students to the UK for the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.

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.

Just arrived in the UK: 120,000 wealthy Chinese tourists

As schoolchildren across the UK settle into classroom teaching for the first time since spring, and undergraduates ready themselves for a return to campus, there’s a large group of prospective tourists flying into the UK to start at or return to their universities at the end of September. Chinese students in higher education outside China are rich and influential and they’re looking for places to visit – and there’s over 100,000 of them in the UK.

So let’s look a closer look at Chinese students in higher education in the UK; who are they, and why should you be promoting your product to them?

How many Chinese students are there in the UK?

In 2018-9 a record number of Chinese students studied in the UK, with the Higher Education Statistics Agency recording that the number of Chinese students rose above 120,000 for the first time. And there’s been a steady and significant increase in their numbers over recent years; in the 5 years to 2018-9 the number of Chinese students in the UK increased by 34%.

But will Chinese students come to the UK for their studies during the time of Covid-19?

Any worries that Chinese students may not return to the UK for the start of the 2020-1 academic year seem unfounded. While the US is suffering from its current political tensions with China as well as a negative perception of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK continues to be regarded favourably, not least thanks to its handling of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) challenge earlier this year. The cancellation of the IELTS tests put in doubt access by Chinese students to under- and post-graduate study in English-speaking countries including the UK, USA and Australia. But UK universities reacted quickly and showed great flexibility in recognising the results of other English language tests in order to maintain the access of Chinese students to higher education here.

The British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, released a survey in June showing that only 3 percent of students currently enrolled at UK universities had cancelled their study plans. And major universities are telling us that the level of cancellations at this stage is no higher than would be seen in a ‘normal’ year.

Plus, UK universities are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that hygiene and safety measures are in place on campus, and that travel to the UK is seen to be safe. Queen’s University Belfast, which has around 1,200 Chinese students, has even been planning a to charter a jet to fly its new and returning students to Northern Ireland from China.

Why promote your tourism product to Chinese students in the UK?

So there are over 120,00 Chinese studying in the UK (2018-9 figures), but why should you promote your tourism product to them?

Chinese students have lots of money to spend

Wealthy Chinese students studying abroad have annual allowances in the tens of thousands of pounds, making them a massive target for brands. Stories of Chinese students chartering private ‘planes to travel to and from university abound, and some calculations put Chinese students’ average disposable income at around £28,000.

At a time when high-end retail is suffering, Chinese students continue to provide a rich source of shoppers for luxury outlets and gift shops at visitor attractions.

And they’re not just in London

Three out of the top ten universities by share of Chinese students are in the North, with the University of Liverpool alone hosting nearly 5,000 Chinese students in total. Nearby the University of Manchester hosts a similar number while the University of Sheffield welcomes around 3,700. Meanwhile Cardiff University is home to 3,500 Chinese students. With a national spread, all but the most remote of tourism providers can benefit in investing in activities to attract this cohort.

Chinese students like to travel 

China Travel Outbound’s research with Wonderful Copenhagen carried out in early 2020 found that more than a third of surveyed Chinese students in the UK had already been on a city break while studying here. And 25% planned to take another international city break during their time here. In fact, the average number of overseas city breaks already taken was three, with an average length of stay of 6.2 nights. 

And they will actively be looking for places to visit over Christmas and Easter

Limited flight capacity between the UK and China, and the possible requirement of quarantine on return to their home country, will encourage Chinese students to remain in Europe over the university holidays. So they’ll actively be looking for places to visit.

Chinese students are great advocates for your product

Studies show that Chinese students overseas continue to use Chinese social media such as Weibo, WeChat and Little Red Book rather than migrating to Instagram and Twitter. Our research with Wonderful Copenhagen found that fewer than 1 in 5 students used Instagram and fewer than 1 in 20 used Facebook. And the nature of the Chinese digital landscape and online connectedness of Chinese students and Gen Z means that those visiting are great advocates for your product, with influence far beyond these shores to their fellow netizens at home.

Chinese students can help you maintain a presence in Chinese digital channels when Chinese outbound tourists, including China’s Key Opinion Leaders, are in short supply, and help influence destination choice when outbound travel from China fully starts up again.

Chinese students often stay in the UK after graduating

Since the UK brought back the two-year post-study work visa in 2019, graduating overseas students have been allowed to stay in the UK for to work, or look for work, in any career or position of their choice for two years after completing their studies. With the chance to work overseas a big draw in studying in the UK, your chances of repeat visits, especially with visiting friends and family, make Chinese students an even more profitable prospect.

And the UK is now the number one choice for Chinese students who would like to study overseas

A July ’20 study by New Oriental Education, one of China’s largest educational firms, found that 47% of Chinese students would choose the UK to study abroad, with 37% choosing the US. This is the first time that the UK has overtaken the US as the top destination for Chinese students in this survey.

With China the single largest country of origin for international students worldwide, with over 600,00 Chinese studying overseas in 2018, the prospects for UK tourism to benefit from the patronage of Chinese students has never been brighter.

Contact us now for a no obligation chat about how we can help you attract Chinese students to your destination, visitor attraction or retail outlet today.

Restarting tourism in Europe; what can we learn from China?

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.

Attractions reopening

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.

How will the coronavirus impact the UK inbound tourism market?

This article appeared on the UK travel website, Travelmole, on 27th January 2019: By Helena Beard

Whilst we may have been treated to good luck greetings, lion dancing shows and beautiful Chinese New Year decorations over this weekend, for our colleagues in China, things have been very different. 

Our Chinese staff closed the Beijing office last Thursday, dispersing throughout Asia to welcome the Year of the Rat with their families. At the same time, millions of people did the same, travelling both domestically and internationally to take advantage of the national holiday running from 24-30 January. Within a matter of hours, the severity of the Coronavirus started to become clear and the city of Wuhan was on lockdown. On Friday, the Chinese authorities announced that all group tours or ‘flight plus accommodation’ packages departing after Monday 27th January should be cancelled by travel agents free of charge. Anyone wishing to cancel their flight may also do so without penalty. No more group tours will be booked until the advice changes.

So how concerned should we be as an industry? Our clients are UK and European hotels, attractions, destinations and travel brands. They depend upon their visitors from China, now the biggest and most valuable source travel market in the world. What impact will this have and what should we be doing in response?

The most obvious place to look for clues about the future is to return to the past, and to SARS, another coronavirus. The SARS virus also originated in China and the outbreak lasted around six months from late 2002 to mid 2003. It resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 people died. There have since been other similar coronaviruses, such as MERS-CoV, which developed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. 

SARS had a big effect on outbound tourism from China (and more markedly on inbound tourism to Asia), but there are some very important differences 18 years later.

China has learnt from SARS

The response to the outbreak of the current 2019 – nCoV virus has been incredibly swift and efficient compared to the response to SARS. Back in 2003, a full three months passed after the first case before the SARS virus was reported to the WHO. This new virus was reported to WHO just three weeks after the first reported case. Beijing is being a lot more open about the situation and sharing information globally in an effort to curtail the spread.

The city of Wuhan was swiftly put on lockdown, followed by another 12 cities, researchers have already published their analysis of the virus, and diagnostic tools are in place for testing at all China’s airports. They are also being used at airports around the world. There is a dedicated 1,000 bed hospital being built in Hubei province which, it is said, will be completed within just six days.

This is China

Probably the most comforting aspect about this virus is that it has originated in China. The authoritarian nature of China means that, when Beijing decides something needs to happen, it will happen, quickly, without bureaucracy and with compliance. China’s technology leads the world, and the country’s unparalleled technical and human resources can deliver a speedy and efficient response to a crisis like no other. An instruction from the government will be followed without question. The national holiday has already been extended to 2ndFebruary and schools will remain closed. People will work from home. Life, and business, will go on.

Prepare for a surge in demand

In 2002, 16.6 million Chinese travelled internationally. In 2003, the year of SARS, this figure increased to 20.2m. In 2004, the year after SARS, the figure jumped by 8 million people to 28.9m, showing the resilience of this market. The outbound visitor numbers then continued to grow exponentially, reaching over 150 million last year. 

I have worked in travel for 25 years and can’t remember the number of reassuring conversations I have had about the ‘pent up demand’ which follows any event with a tourism impact. But there is no market which is more likely to explode with pent up demand than the Chinese market. This is a nation which believes travel is key to success. For the young, it offers vital education. For the 400 million plus millennials, it delivers status and an investment in their future. For the middle aged, it is a vital life experience, and one which was denied to them in their youth. For President Xi, arguably the biggest influencer in the world, it is a fundamental part of his strategy to establish China as a global superpower. This is why Beijing is supporting route development throughout the globe, opening up the skies and supporting new flights from China’s Tier One, Tier Two and even Tier Three cities. Connectivity is key to success. And remember, if President Xi wants it, it will happen.

On a more practical level, on the instructions of the authorities, the travel agents have cancelled all trips free of charge. Airlines are also allowing free flight changes and cancellations. That money will all be coming back into the pockets of experience-hungry Chinese tourists. They aren’t going to bank it or spend it on home improvements or a new car. They will already be planning for their first opportunity to rebook.

For those interested in the UK and Europe, the next opportunity for many will be the summer. Given the speed of response, and the experience of history, we can predict that, hopefully, this current virus will be contained well before the summer months. The Chinese do their holiday research early but they book late, within around 6-8 weeks of travel, so there is plenty of time before the summer peak.

My best advice to tourism businesses is to use this time to prepare. Find your Mandarin speaking guides, translate your orientation materials, get your WeChat Pay and AliPay implemented, work your trade networks, and prepare your press releases, sales materials and social content, because this will pass and, when it does, that pent up demand is going to hit. Big style.

Bob and Jonny’s culinary adventure with LNER

Chinese KOL standing with a chef

CTO has been hard at work organising an array of media trips for Chinese journalists, travel bloggers and online influencers. These trips deliver valuable promotion for our clients in some of the most powerful Chinese travel platforms, such as Mafengwo, Qyer and C Trip, and content is widely shared through social media channels such as WeChat and Weibo. This summer, we have explored a slightly different angle for LNER, to promote their exciting on-board menus and the gastronomic delights of London, York, Edinburgh and Moray Speyside in collaboration with popular Chinese ‘foodies’, Bob and Jonny.

Bob and Johnny on LNER train

Bob & Jonny are food, restaurant and hotel reviewers. They have profiles on most of the travel review sites and social media platforms in China and have more than 750,000 combined followers on WeChat and Weibo. With Jonny’s photographic skills and Bob’s in-depth culinary analysis, they are a perfect team, producing high quality, professional content and social posts. A positive review from these two would work wonders for a company investing in the Chinese market. Their target audience are young, middle class individuals who love travelling and trying diverse, international dishes.

KOL Bob visiting the UK

Starting from London, the two bloggers have made the journey all the way up to Scotland, frequently stopping at points of interest along the route and documenting their activities as they go. Some of their stops include: Bottomless brunches in London, Chocolate stories and fine dining in York, Distillery tours and whiskey sampling in Moray Speyside, wandering through the V&A museum in Dundee and returning to London for scrumptious afternoon tea at Royal Museums of Greenwich’s Cutty Sark, one of London’s top historic landmarks, and an educational insight into the Houses of Parliament.

Royal Museum Greenwich Cutty Sark

If you would like to find out more about reaching out to Chinese bloggers and influencers. Please get in touch and we’ll be happy to discuss this with you further.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of our related articles here:

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London North Eastern Railway wins CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Award

Integrated Chinese trade and media campaign for London North Eastern Railway

*Images from Bob and Jonny’s Weibo account


Why are the Chinese going Nordic?

Norway, china, tourism, nordic, PR

Why the Nordic region?

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.

Velkommen til Norge!

Image of a small Nordic village backed by a mountain range

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 Frozenthe 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.

Five of Norway’s top tourist destinations

5. Lofoten

Icy mountains over a frozen lake

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.

4. Geirangerfjord

River down a steep valley

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.

3. Tromsø

Icy city in a valley

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.  

2. Bergen

Bayside village

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.

1. Oslo

Oslo opera house

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.

Find out more:

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)

Why not check out some of our other articles related to Chinese tourism?

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Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 2: Discoveryhttps://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/top-7-apps-chinese-outbound-tourists-use-overseas-part-2/

Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sail

7 million Chinese tourists are estimated to be travelling abroad during the upcoming Chinese New Year, but who’s to say they will be travelling by plane? With the rapid growth of China’s FITs who seek fulfilling and authentic travel experiences, cruise trips are gradually becoming a popular way for Chinese tourists to see the big blue world. With China’s biggest holiday on the horizon, we thought this to be a great opportunity to analyse this trend, identifying the key cruise operators providing cruise trips for Chinese travellers, where Chinese tourists take cruises, and how to accommodate them on-board.

The market has potential

It’s an exciting time for China’s cruise industry – the country’s cruise liners are beginning to realise they need to go further afield to satisfy their customers. As the industry continues to develop, it is expected to become “the largest cruise market in the world.” This will depend on whether the industry can harness the huge potential of the Chinese travel market, who made an estimated 140 million overseas trips in 2018.

It is estimated that the capacity of China’s cruise lines will decline 4.4% in 2019. The two major reasons for this are the knock-on effect of 2017’s Chinese travel ban to South Korea, and the absence of routes with diverse destinations – the majority of cruises setting sail from China’s coasts stop off in South Korea and Japan, missing out exciting Southeast Asian destinations such as the Philippines and Vietnam. This is to say, despite the demand, cruises from China simply lack the variety of destinations enjoyed by cruise trips around Europe and North America.

In response, many companies are making considerable efforts to bring Chinese holidaymakers overseas to embark on their first cruise experience. Royal Caribbean Cruises was the top ranked brand in a ‘Best Experiences’ customer satisfaction survey, conducted by brand experience agency Jack Morton, where Chinese consumers were among the 6,000 surveyed. Furthermore, the brand is among the most popular in China’s cruise industry, and in 2019, they will launch their Spectrum of the Seas cruise line that aims to provide high-quality experiences “specifically tailored to Chinese guests.” The cruise line, which will sail from Barcelona to Shanghai across a 51-night voyage, will entertain over 4,200 guests with virtual reality experiences, luxury dining offering both Chinese and Western cuisines, and the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex ever to set sail. This level of commitment to the China market by such a major brand is testament to the huge potential of the China cruise market.

Costa Group Asia, a major cruise operator in Europe and Asia, will launch its first ship designed specifically for the Chinese market in 2019. The Costa Venezia aims to provide an immersive Italian experience for Chinese travellers and its 5,100 passengers with boutique shops selling goods from luxury Italian brands, a theatre evocative of Venice’s iconic Teatro La Fenice and an atrium inspired by St. Mark’s Square. The cruise will set sail on a 53-day voyage in March 2019 covering the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Furthermore, Costa Cruises are evidently committed to improving their ‘China Welcome’. In 2018, the company partnered with football club Juventus to provide unique “football at sea” experiences especially for Chinese guests boarding its Costa Serena cruise liner. The experiences include the Juventus Museum decorated with trophies and club memorabilia, and a mini football academy for children to hone their skills. In addition, in 2017, Costa Serena was the first Costa Cruise to allow Chinese guests to pay using Alipay mobile payments.

Likewise, Princess Cruises, owned by the same corporation as the Costa Cruises Group, announced in December 2018 that it will introduce Alipay and WeChat Pay mobile payment systems on its North American cruises, being the first cruise liner to do this. Thus, if cruise companies want to welcome more Chinese travellers on-board, they need to show that they are making an effort to accommodate them. This is evidently paving way for competition between the major cruise companies who are acknowledging the potential of the China market and are targeting Chinese tourists with unique experiences offered only by their cruises.

Indeed, exciting, one-of-a-kind experiences like these are exactly what travel and culture hungry Chinese tourists are looking for, and could go a long way to bringing Chinese tourists away from airport terminals and back to the docks. Approximately 2.5 million Chinese outbound global travellers took cruise trips in 2017, but this is expected to rise to 8-10 million by 2025.

Venturing to the End of the Earth

Over the past few months, you may have seen a plethora of articles about a growing number of Chinese travellers embarking on cruises to Antarctica. Today, China is Antarctica’s second-largest tourism market, having welcomed 8,273 Chinese visitors in the 2017-18 season, and approximately 90% of Chinese tourists visiting Antarctica choose to travel there via cruise (only 1%  directly fly to the South Pole). Perhaps the credit lies with Ctrip who provide nearly 200 Antarctic products on their platform and over 20 ships to choose from.

However, this adventure isn’t cheap, and appeals largely to group travellers who can afford to take extended time out of work. Figures from 2018 indicate Chinese tourists spent an average of 23 days on Antarctic tours, spending between $7,000 and $16,000 USD. Nevertheless, it seems money is no object for Chinese tourists looking for unusual yet fulfilling experiences that deliver ‘face’ status – on Ctrip, most Antarctic cruises for January and February have sold out, and the agency has increased its Antarctic products by 30% this year to meet the demand. This reinforces that unique travel experiences like these are becoming increasingly more important to Chinese travellers.

River cruises are making huge waves in accommodating Chinese guests

Idyllically cruising down one of the world’s most famous rivers and taking in its beautiful scenery is a popular travel experience, and certain river cruise companies are recognising the huge potential of attracting Chinese tourists to these experiences. In 2016, Viking Cruises announced its first step in the China market by dedicating two of its Europe river ships for Chinese travellers. The ships, which both set sail in 2017 along the Rhine and Danube rivers respectively, were fully staffed with Mandarin-speakers who made up all their hotel crew, included Mandarin signage, and a cuisine designed by a ‘Master Chef China’ judge. Furthermore, each ship assigned eight Mandarin guides to groups for their ground programs.

Viking were this committed to their ‘China Welcome’ to ensure their Chinese guests’ concerns about the language barrier, transportation and food and services were eliminated, and it seems to have paid off. Both cruises are still running, with Viking dedicating 100 tours for them in 2018, and the company now expects its cruises targeting Chinese travellers to account for half of their European river cruises in the future. Chinese guests on Viking’s Mandarin-language cruises can now also join a dedicated WeChat group to receive updates and share photos taken during the trip with each other.

This shows that, if their travel needs are accommodated for, there is an innate desire among Chinese travellers to experience a variety of destinations in the luxury and comfort of cruise tours, and there is definitely huge potential for them to become one of the authentic travel experiences they crave.

Chinese tourist spending – opportunity for land and sea

Chinese tourists have a strong spending power for duty-free shops; 40% of Chinese travellers purchase duty-free goods with an average receipt of $232, higher than the $146 global average. China’s cruise industry seems to have acknowledged this, and is redeveloping its cruise terminals to match the quality of services the best airport terminals provide. Shanghai’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal is undergoing redevelopment to transform into a “potential tourist attraction” itself, replacing its once solitary duty-free store with a duty-free shopping complex stocking high-end goods. Furthermore, the city plans to introduce linkages between cruises, airlines, trains and buses, to not only improve convenience of travel but to encourage Chinese tourists to visit the cruise terminal for their shopping needs alone. Perhaps overseas destinations should acknowledge this redevelopment and capitalise on Chinese tourists’ spending power by looking to provide more, and better, shopping facilities at their cruise ship ports (and if they accept Chinese mobile payments, even better!).

Reeling it in

As cruise companies are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities arising from China’s outbound tourism market, competition has ensued to ensure their ‘extra steps’ to accommodate Chinese travellers are being recognised inside-and-outside the industry. Perhaps this is why Viking Cruises’ Chinese traveller focused river cruises are the most publicised and prominent in their field – it will be interesting to monitor whether competing river cruise operators will follow suit and introduce more Mandarin-language services. Cruise companies can use all the PR they can get when it comes to the China market.

One way to promote your Chinese tourist friendly cruise trip would be through hosting an influential Chinese Key Opinion Leader, who could not only blog about the wide variety of destinations visited throughout the journey, but most importantly, describe in detail the facilities and services on the cruise that accommodate Chinese guests and where these can be improved. If an influential KOL tells their audience “this particular cruise line makes the extra effort with its Chinese guests” in a blog that reaches the home pages of China’s key travel platforms, this would no doubt put them on the radar for adventurous Chinese travellers.

If you are interested in finding out more about marketing your cruises to the Chinese, including the benefits of hosting a Chinese KOL, please feel free to contact us for a chat.

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Photo by ben o’bro on Unsplash

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. 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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