The Chinese Global Study Tour Phenomenon

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:

  1. 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.
  2. ‘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.
  3. A third option is the ‘School immersion’ tour, where the student has a curriculum based experience within a foreign school or university.
  4. 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).

Size of Chinese global study tour market
Image : iResearch

Image: iResearch

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.

Inaugural Chinese Student Society VIP Fam Trip to Brighton

There are around 130,000 students from mainland China and Hong Kong studying in the UK, making the UK one of the most popular countries in the world for overseas study. During their degrees, students explore beyond their university towns and share their experiences with their fellow students, and their friends and family back in China, primarily using social media. We were keen to find a way to engage this large group for the benefit of our tourism clients, and to leverage their activity on Chinese social media.

Many universities have a Chinese Student Society which provides a strong network for students and support during their time away from home. The Presidents of these societies have access to various communications platforms, including well-followed WeChat accounts, Weibo and the Society communication outlets. They also have great personal networks. We felt that these senior members of the Societies would be our prime influencers.

Last weekend, our inaugural Chinese Student Society VIP Fam Trip took place in Brighton & Hove. We worked with VisitBrighton to organise a fun-packed weekend for the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of Chinese Student Societies from five UK universities; Kings College London, Bournemouth University, University of the West of England, Lancaster University and the University of Birmingham. The students and their partners had a fantastic time exploring the city, eating out in restaurants such as the award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre, and the seafood restaurant, The Regency. They visited some of Brighton’s iconic sights such as the Royal Pavilion, the Palace Pier, Brighton Beach and the vintage shopping areas of the North Laine and The Lanes. As students, they also made the most of the nightlife of the city, enjoying live music, pubs, clubs and even a karaoke bar. All their experiences were photographed, photoshopped (as is common practice in China!) and shared through their Societies’ and their own social media networks and in online blogs.

Here’s what they got up to:

Friday

After arriving at the Old Ship Hotel, the group headed to the award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre for a meal hosted by Julia and Katie from VisitBrighton and Helena and Sara from China Travel Outbound. They were keen to know all about the city, its bars and clubs and, very importantly, where they could find the best vintage clothes shops. Map apps on their phones made it very easy for us to pin shops, bars and places of interest. After a delicious meal which they really enjoyed, the group continued on to the Mesmerist Pub to see a live band then on for a spot of karaoke at Jade.

Terre a Terre 2

Saturday

Next morning, the students were free to explore Brighton and its sights. They visited the Royal Pavilion where they marvelled at its Chinese-influenced décor, and enjoyed the arcades and rides on the iconic Palace Pier. Many of them also visited Sea Life, the world’s oldest operating aquarium. And, of course, shopping in the vintage North Laine, Lanes and Churchill Square were top of the list for others. In the evening, the group came back together to enjoy a meal at the ever-popular seafood restaurant, The Regency, before experiencing Brighton’s vibrant nightlife.

 

Collage 3

Sunday

After breakfast, a walk down the seafront then time to head home. However, the sun was shining and it was such a beautiful day that some abandoned their train timetables and stayed a few hours longer to make the most of the city.

If your city is interested in working with Chinese Student Societies to promote your hotels and attractions on Chinese social media, please contact us to discuss.

Brighton

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How to reach Chinese millennials? Get online.

In last week’s blog, we looked at the habits and demographics of 300 million Chinese millennials. Here, we look more closely at what travel and tourism brands can do to reach them.

It has been said that Chinese millennials “don’t go online, they live online”. Unsurprisingly, this tech-savvy cohort researches travel online, and likes reams of information about destinations, including experiences and where to eat/drink/shop. They like to decide exactly what they want to see and do before they depart, making it vital for destinations, hotels and visitor attractions to promote their offering in China in order to secure a space on millennials’ travel itineraries.

This segment has a research and booking window of 4-6 weeks before departure. WeChat is key: almost half of Chinese millennials get travel information through WeChat moments and 35% from WeChat shares by travel advisors. Weibo is also important. Supported by native advertising, the digital space is extremely well-placed to reach Chinese millennials planning travel. Melia hotels encourage online interaction through beautiful visuals and engaged nearly 1m Chinese travellers via WeChat and Weibo in 2015.

Key Opinion Leaders and public relations

Key Opinion Leaders and tastemakers are extremely influential for this group. From major celebrity partnerships to controversial blogger Papi Jiang for Jaeger LeCoultre and L’Oreal, and China Travel Outbound’s own work to bring Chinese rock group Miserable Faith to the original Hard Rock Cafe in London, gaining the right celebrity endorsement is a chance to bring your product to just the right millennial fan base. The Regency Restaurant in Brighton has benefitted from the endorsement of a Chinese food blogger while The Plough at Cadsden, host to David Cameron and President Xi Jinping in October 2015, has been visited by so many Chinese that it’s now been bought by Chinese investors.

Edinburgh brought 6 influential travel bloggers to Hogmanay in 2015. The resulting content has been viewed over 20 million times in China.

WiFi, websites and live streaming

39% of Chinese millennial travellers say they can’t go 5 minutes without looking at their mobile ‘phone, so mobile-friendly, responsive websites are essential for this demographic. And Chinese websites are not just a matter of translation; they must be structured, designed and written to meet Chinese needs. They also need to be hosted in China and to load speedily.

Live-streaming provides an opportunity for travel products to showcase their highlights. The right live streaming event with an influential Key Opinion Leader (KOL) could provide great cut-through for destinations willing to invest in this market to gain a lead on their rivals.

In destination marketing

Even if you haven’t managed to reach the travelling millennials until they’ve arrived in destination, all is not lost. Geographic targeting via WeChat can put your product in front of tourists adding the final hotels and restaurants to their itineraries. Shopping destinations and luxury brands can promote themselves using QR codes instore too.

130,000 students are already here

And finally, don’t forget the huge opportunity presented by the vast and growing Chinese student population here in the UK. With an estimated 130,000 Chinese students, the UK is one of the most popular choices for overseas study. And these affluent and educated young people want to explore, not just the UK, but the rest of Europe whilst they have this opportunity. Connect to them through WeChat or Weibo, or speak to China Travel Outbound about our connections to the influential Chinese Societies.

To find out more about how to market your destination, visitor attraction or hotel to the Chinese, contact us and we’ll talk you through some options.

 

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Chinese students in the UK: a missed tourism opportunity?

China is the world’s biggest source of international students and it’s estimated that nearly 1 million Chinese are currently studying overseas.  Formerly the preserve of the elite – President Li Xinping’s own daughter studied at Harvard – overseas study is increasingly affordable to China’s growing middle class, who may make considerable sacrifices to grant their only child a foreign university education.  1 in 6 overseas students is Chinese, and yet the tourism potential of this group in the UK has hardly begun to be explored.

It’s estimated that nearly 1 million Chinese are currently studying abroad, and China’s Ministry of Education reports that over 500,000 Chinese went overseas to study in 2015 alone.  In the same year the 58,000 Chinese enrolling for their first year at UK universities outnumbered the total number of students from the 27 countries of the EU doing the same.  And while they are usually embarking upon their overseas adventure entirely independently, a few are even accompanied by their (‘tiger’) mothers in an intercontinental version of helicopter parenting.

Chinese overseas students are fueling a property boom too.  In some areas of California, the majority of new-build housing is bought by Chinese, and total Chinese real estate purchases in the USA were valued at US$110bn in 2015. Whispers abound that London’s new build luxury housing stock is being snapped up by Chinese purchasers – and while that may be the case, only one London university makes the top 10 by Chinese student numbers.

The educational and cultural lure of Liverpool and Manchester

Chinese students make up around 4% of the student body in the UK.  A strong academic tradition and established university system combine with history and Royal glamour to tempt Chinese undergraduates to the Land of Fish and Chips.  Perennial favourite Sherlock Holmes plays a part too, not least because his latest impersonator Curly Foo (as Benedict Cumberbatch is known in Mandarin) sits squarely within the tradition of the English gentleman.

The perhaps surprising geographical spread of Chinese students in the UK sees a preference for universities in the Midlands and the North, with the universities of Liverpool and Manchester the top draws. The capital has only one representative, University College of London, in the top 10 by number of Chinese students.

A missed tourism opportunity?

Little attention so far has been paid to the significant tourism opportunity posed by Chinese students studying in the UK. This is perhaps surprising given their numbers, average length of stay of 2-4 years and curiosity to visit attractions in their host country.  We asked Mei Si, a student at Brighton University, for her insight into UK-based Chinese students’ travel.

One potentially lucrative aspect of Chinese students’ travel is the trip made by their parents for graduation, which usually takes place in the June to July or December to January period. This is the most likely time for Chinese parents to visit their offspring studying overseas and they’re keen to see the sights of the UK, on trips which can last from a few days to a couple of months. The Chinese student organises and books the trip which is likely to include some traditional sights such as Big Ben and luxury shops, but there is also space for other destinations – providing the Chinese student is aware of them.

Chinese students, like their home-based counterparts, are greatly influenced by reviews and recommendations in Chinese media and social media. Reaching Chinese students, even once in the UK, depends on cultivating positive coverage in Chinese media. The unexpected success of Brighton’s Regency Seafood Restaurant underlines the enormous returns which can come from just one celebrity endorsement in China, and small product adaptations, for instance Mandarin signage, information and audioguides, can make a big difference when it comes to garnering a following in China.

We can help to promote your product in China and raise your profile on social media. Contact us for a chat – we’d love to hear from you.

 

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An insight into the travel of Chinese students living in the UK

Guest blog by Mei Si, a Chinese student at the University of Brighton.

Do parents visit during the year?

June – July, and December – January are the hot seasons for Chinese parents to visit their children’s graduation ceremonies. Chinese parents are more likely to visit the UK only once in their time at university for their children’s graduation ceremony. They normally stay around few days to two months. It depends on their work time.

How do Chinese students book their flight to their UK Universities?

There are two main ways for Chinese students to book their flights to their Universities: Chinese travel agencies and airlines. Baidu, tuniu and qyer are some of the most popular travel agencies in China, although there are a wide range of international travel agency websites in the market. Chinese students, however seem more comfortable to use the websites they are familiar with.

Do they stay in hotels booked from China? What do they do when they get to UK?

When it comes to travel abroad, Chinese parents tend to rely on their children about organising travel plan because of the language barrier and the cultural differences between China and the UK. Chinese students would usually organise hotels, flights as well as travel plans for their parents on Chinese travel agency websites. These websites occasionally offer some fixed package deals to attract customers e.g. a 14 day UK trip including around tickets, 13 night hotels and some UK attractions’ discount tickets.

In addition, one of the features of these websites are blogs of travellers who share their unique travel plans about where they shop, eat and visit in the UK. Also, there are some recommendations about hotels and flights. It can give the consumers some ideas about where to bring their parents to visit.

It is a must to visit all the attractions and main shopping centres in the UK (Big Ben, London Bridge, British Museum, Oxbridge Universities, Oxford Bicester Village, London Burberry outlet etc) but always with their children. Parents who have children studying in the UK would definitely visit.

Considerations when choosing places to visit

When considering places, price is not the most important factor. Reviews and recommendations in Chinese have far greater reach.

In terms of eating out, Chinese families visiting would often eat from Chinese restaurants, as many do not like the typical dishes served, especially the cold dishes, and would rather eat familiar foods.

Despite this, visiting Chinese families would often try food recommended in blogs and reports, including famous establishments like Burger & Lobster, Duck & Waffle, both in London and Riddle & Finns in Brighton.

In conclusion, it seems that Chinese students’ preferences and advice from Chinese travel agencies’ blogs are the main factors which influence Chinese parents’ travel plans in the UK.

 

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