The Chinese appetite for travel is growing again. During China’s recent National Day holiday earlier this month, a total of 637 million trips were made across the country and RMB467 in tourism revenue were generated, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Jennifer Cronin, president of Wharf Hotels, which operates nine hotels in China, revealed that the group recorded a “fabulous response to domestic tourism” during the recent eight-day holiday, with its Niccolo Hotels portfolio seeing a 50 percent surge in business surge to record higher revenue than the same period last year. “The bounce back was more than what we anticipated,” she shared during the recent Skift Forum Asia.
While the travel boom in China has underscored the “domestic resilience” of its tourism market, the conspicuous absence of outbound Chinese travellers continues to cast a shadow on the recovery of tourist destinations in Asia, many of whom have come to rely on China as a visitor source market to some extent, observed Parag Khanna, founder and managing director of FutureMap.
Few destinations, besides China and Germany, have a strong domestic traveller base to make up for the shortfall of foreign visitor arrivals during a prolonged closure of borders, he noted.
Alessando Dassi, CEO of Thomas Cook China and managing director, overseas expansion at Fosun Tourism Group, believes that China, which has made “enormous sacrifice to reignite the domestic travel industry”, will be unlikely be reluctant to open the country for tourism until the conditions are right.
“The silver bullet to relaunch international travel hasn’t happened yet,” he remarked during Skift Forum Asia. “Bubbles talks are positive, but development of these travel corridors has been underwhelming as they haven’t created the outcomes we were hoping for.”
Opportunities to tap Chinese return
The question of whether China’s “phenomenal” tourism recovery on the domestic front can be translated to outbound travel remains an open-ended one, said Dassi, but there are many ways tourism suppliers and operators in Southeast Asia can embark on in the meantime to further stoke the pent-up demand of Chinese travellers.
One product that has worked well for Fosun Tourism Group amid the pandemic is ‘buy now, travel later’ voucher packages, which allows Chinese consumers to lock in future travel at a discounted price now. Not only do such vouchers shore up confidence for Chinese to purchase international travel products, Dassi said they will also offer a tool for hotels to “get some cash flow and some visibility on the Chinese market”.
Livestreaming, the biggest trend to come out for tourism marketing in China during the Covid-19 crisis, can be a highly effective channel to engage with Chinese consumers, said Dassi. “Before the pandemic, livestreaming was very focused for retail products like cosmetics, but travel is a new element that has come into the livestreaming trend and is now equally popular,” he said.
WeChat Mini Programs – which are sub-apps within the WeChat ecosystem – is, in Dassi’s opinion, another “gamechanger” that will enable travel companies and hotels to engage directly with consumers and drive bookings from Chinese consumers through the content created.
Dassi predicts that Chinese travellers will “flow back in big numbers as soon as conditions are right”, initially to shorthaul destinations like Japan or Thailand while longhaul destinations will take a longer time to see the return of the Chinese market.
With China likely to be the driver of tourism recovery when international travel is possible again, Dassi urged industry players in the region to rethink their China strategy.
“Clearly there will be a lot of supply but we will only see demand gradually coming out. [Chinese travellers] will be selective on where they go and where they stay for holidays, so more tailored distribution strategy needed for China,” he stated.