The changing nature of Chinese outbound tourism

The Chinese outbound tourist is changing. As the middle class continues to grow so too does the nature of their travel and tourism habits.

The Chinese outbound tourist is changing. As the middle class continues to grow so too does the nature of their travel and tourism habits.

According to David Scowsill, president and chief executive officer of World Travel and Tourism Council, over 174 million Chinese outbound tourists will spend US$264billion by 2020. Chinese tourists rank among the top spenders per-trip and per-night and as such represent a significant opportunity for the industry.

What has been clearly demonstrated in the three days of speeches at this year’s World Routes is crucial to understand is the complexity of the Chinese tourist market. At his presentation on China Outbound Tourism, Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt explained that demand is diversifying. On the one hand there are still many inexperienced travellers who will look to mass market package-tours. Conversely there is a growing number of experienced Chinese travellers who look for experiences and immersion and pursue self-organised or customised trips.

With the first affluent generation of elderly coming of age in China there is an important group that has the disposable capital and time to travel. For example almost 50% of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan are aged 50+.

As Chinese tourists explore further afield another trend identified by Dr Arlt was that most Chinese outbound travellers visit multiple countries over one trip. A common problem for many popular global destinations is overcrowding and the deterioration of visitor experience. As such encouraging tourism dispersal will become increasingly important.

John O’Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia explained that to capitalise on the China opportunity it is looking to roll out a 10 year visitor visa by end of 2016. However O’Sullivan also pointed at the rapid rate of change in the China consumer market. “Customers wanted to use UnionPay which was rolled out, however now they want to use Alipay”.

While air travel represents the majority of outbound tourism in China, there is competition from the high-speed rail and cruise industries. As pointed out by Dr. Arlt, Chinese cruise tourists will likely try a local, smaller cruise and then if they enjoy it move onto a bigger, international one. However airlines still have opportunities for this growing business as the Chinese tourists still need to fly to the destination where the cruise sets off.

Everyone is rightly putting a lot of focus on the China market. However what has been shown at this year’s World Routes is that there is no single Chinese tourist. The emerging middle classes who are traveling internationally for the first time are looking for traditional package holidays, while seasons travellers are looking for a more bespoke experience. With the trend of Chinese tourists visiting multiple countries it will be those destinations which make the visa process swift, open, and easy who will succeed in the long term.

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