Travel TrendsFriendliness towards Chinese travellers more likely to influence consumers' choice of destination than vaccinations or control of pandemic.

Can China’s vaccine passport unlock outbound travel?

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Japan, Singapore and Thailand are perceived as safe destinations for Chinese travellers: survey data.
Japan, Singapore and Thailand are perceived as safe destinations for Chinese travellers: survey data.

With the recent launch of China’s vaccine passport, what’s next for Chinese outbound travel?

This means working with travel trade is vital to help shape the perception of safety. Giving regular updates about pandemic measures, risk levels, and friendliness towards Chinese travellers will be vital.– Mengfan Wang, Dragon Trail International

Equipped with the latest data on traveller sentiment and issued tickets for future travel as of March 2021, marketing solutions company Dragon Trail International and travel data and analytics company ForwardKeys took a comprehensive look at the question in a recent joint webinar.

Although Chinese citizens are still advised not to travel internationally and strict quarantines remain in place, for Dragon Trail International’s marketing and communications director Sienna Parulis-Cook, the vaccine passport could mean Chinese outbound tourism could restart as early as June.

Other factors influencing the restart include China’s vaccine rollout, global vaccine efficacy, the state of the pandemic around the world, international recognition of the vaccine passport and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

According to Nan Dai, a China market expert at ForwardKeys, the vaccine passport is “the first step to resuming global travel”. However, she also cautioned that challenges remain and China’s borders may not open for some time to come.

ForwardKeys forecasts that Chinese outbound travel will recover by 25% this year; reach 55% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022; and is not expected to be fully recovered until 2026.

Travel sentiment is also on the rise in the world’s most populous nation. Dragon Trail International rightly predicted that with Covid-19 slowly getting under control regionally after Chinese New Year, people feel more comfortable with travelling.

Looking at the overall sentiment of Chinese travellers and consumers, it found that 20% are ‘eager to go’; 32% will ‘travel cautiously’; and 39% will ‘wait until it’s safe’. “‘Travel cautiously’ has increased significantly from previous sentiment surveys,” noted the company’s research manager Mengfan Wang.

Interestingly, the primary factor influencing consumer willingness to travel isn’t pandemic related. More important than zero confirmed cases, quarantines and vaccinations is friendliness towards Chinese travellers. “This should be a priority for how to talk to outbound Chinese travellers,” said Wang.

Dragon Trail International also examined what’s driving travel intent. Perception of safety is the dominant driver, with local preventative measures being the strongest element.

“If raising travel intention is your goal, in the next few months or quarters, you should definitely address the official risk levels to Chinese travellers; lower risk levels should be communicated, along with local preventative measures—what worked, and what are the results,” said Wang.

However, perception of safety is not just pandemic related; media coverage, social order, health care, or internal reasons such as how eager people are to visit certain destinations also play a part.

In the eyes of Chinese consumers surveyed, Singapore, Japan and Thailand are seen as safe, while the UK, the US, Spain, Australia and Canada are perceived as unsafe.

For a majority of destinations, external messages such as Chinese government travel advice and travel agent messaging have the strongest influence on perceptions of safety.

“This means working with travel trade is vital to help shape the perception of safety. Giving regular updates about pandemic measures, risk levels, and friendliness towards Chinese travellers will be vital. This is something we can start working on now as the vaccine is being rolled out,” said Wang.

Finally, what are Chinese travellers most eager to do on their next outbound trip? In good news for regional culinary scenes, 92% said they want to try local food. Visiting landmarks, hiking or exercising in nature, and visiting off the beaten path attractions are also high up on travel wishlists.

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