After more than a decade of rapid growth, the Chinese outbound travel market is seeing more Chinese travelers who are independent, sophisticated and eager to seek out new experiences, industry experts say.
Previously, many inexperienced Chinese tourists stuck to well-known sites, and it didn’t take a lot of expertise to win their business. But that, they said, is changing.
“The desire of seasoned Chinese travelers to experience authenticity and nature is getting bigger,” said Wolfgang Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
“Consequently, for many service providers and destinations, the easy harvest of low hanging fruit seems to have come to an end.”
The number of Chinese outbound tourists reached a record in 2015 of 117 million, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
More of those tourists are independent travelers who are looking to “travel and live like locals”, a recent research report from COTRI said.
It is important that foreign tourism marketers do not stereotype the Chinese market, said Alastair Morrison, former president of the International Tourism Studies Association and CEO of Belle Tourism International Consulting, based in Shanghai.
Morrison said he thinks that there is a lot of labeling of Chinese tourists, such as pigeonholing a particular age group as all liking to shop and demanding to eat Chinese food all the time.
“It is important to avoid stereotypes, because the outbound Chinese market is becoming more sophisticated, more mature and more segmented. I do not think foreign marketers should use stereotypes to portray the Chinese market in their advertising and promotion,” said Morrison.
A new tourism research report confirmed that the market is maturing as the motives for Chinese travelers change from sightseeing to lifestyle experiences.
A research report on 2015-2016 Chinese outbound tourist consumption by World Tourism Cities Federation and Ipsos, a market research firm, was presented at the World Travel Market in London recently.
Based on a survey of over 11,000 Chinese tourists, the report suggests that more than 76 percent consider travel an important way to improve their quality of life and happiness. It also found that the average Chinese tourist makes five foreign trips abroad during a lifetime.
“This shows that the Chinese outbound tourism market is developing in a way that is much more in line with Western markets,” said James Kennell, principal lecturer in tourism at the University of Greenwich. “I suspect that as Chinese millennials (people who reached adulthood by the year 2000) move into the tourism market, we will see these trends continuing.”
As the Chinese outbound market matures, there will be more independent travelers and fewer who opt for package tours, meaning foreign tourist destinations will need to develop new types of tourism products and new arrangements for Chinese tourists.
“It will be a good opportunity for special interest tourism, involving history, art, culture, cuisines, the natural environment and ecology,” Morrison said.
Worldwide, international tourist arrivals have surged from 25 million globally in 1950 to 1.1 billion in 2015, and are expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
The increase of 700 million global travelers anticipated between 2015 and 2030 will mainly stem from China, said Arlt, who spoke at the 2016 World Tourism Market in London. For Europe, this is a good chance to lure the rising numbers of Chinese visitors to more places, so that big, popular cities do not become even more congested with tourists.
Given the evolving nature of more experienced Chinese visitors, the Italian tourism authorities are looking to offer more diverse travel itineraries.
In an attempt to attract experienced Chinese travelers known for seeking out new destinations, a new Italian tourism product－the Pilgrims’ Paths－is meant to appeal to the curiosity and desires of the target group. It consists of routes, once walked by religious pilgrims, that are packed with history.
Raffaella Rossi, director of Francesco’s Ways, a consortium of businesses aiming to promote the routes internationally, said such new tourism options respond to the needs of tourists, including Chinese travelers, because they offer a large variety of experiences in places that are not so well-known to the public.
“We must help tourists from China get to know our great food and wine, numerous crafts and shopping areas, as well as the small towns in different regions, and romantic places where they can experience ‘slow’ tourism and come into contact with untouched nature. We need to enrich our offerings of special and thrilling experiences that can spark the interest of this clientele,” she said. Slow tourism allows travelers to take their time to more fully enjoy the experience.
Almost every tourism board is talking about getting more Chinese visitors. However, Arlt said not all of them understand that it is not necessarily the number of arrivals, but the numbers of overnight stays and how much each visitor spends that is important.
“Having fewer visitors who stay longer, spend more, have more interest in the country they are visiting is actually better and more sustainable than bringing crowds of package-tour, short-time visitors who look for the cheapest offer and do not really care about what they are taking photos of,” Arlt explained.