Travel is expected to come back bigger and bolder in 2022, but the
global tourism industry is missing one key ingredient critical in
accelerating the growth of its revival: Chinese travellers.
In January 2022, the Civil Aviation Administration of China published
a five-year plan that revealed the potential for international flights
to gradually resume between 2023 and 2025. But word on the street is
that China could start slowly reopening as soon as this summer.
As the world waits with bated breath for the return of the world's
biggest travel market, questions arise on how destinations and trade
players can prepare for the latest shifts in travel expectations,
attitudes and behaviours from the post-pandemic Chinese travellers.
Will the same international destinations entice Chinese travellers as before?
Popular long-haul destinations for Chinese tourists in 2019 comprised
Europe (51%), the US (17%) and Australia (9%), according to travel
analytics company ForwardKeys. The hottest cities in this region
included Paris, Los Angeles, Moscow, London, Sydney, Rome, New York,
Frankfurt, Melbourne, and San Francisco.
Digging deeper into the ForwardKeys data, the typical traveller
profile to Paris, Moscow, Frankfurt, and Rome (European destinations)
was groups whereas to London and the US destinations solo/business
travellers dominated, while more family-sized groups travelled to
Australia than to any European or US destinations.
Thailand, Japan and South Korea were the top countries in Asia for
Chinese travellers in 2019, but will these three destinations see a
reshuffle take place if Chinese travellers are allowed to travel
“Despite very cautious assessments of safety outside of mainland
China, 81% of survey respondents felt positive when they saw content on
outbound travel. Keywords and sentiments that came up often included
feeling fascinated and excited, and a craving for novelty, variety, and
relaxation,” Dragon Trail International’s recent Chinese consumer
sentiment survey revealed.
Nan Dai, China market expert
"The new Chinese traveller is seeking something different in terms of
experiences. The younger generation is a lot more independent than the
previous generations keen to explore nature, sports and local
gastronomy... more than before, so expect significant changes in Chinese
traveller behaviour once travel resumes."
New travel interests and habits start from home
Thanks to released travel restrictions, Chinese tourists have been
the first to return to Macau. In 2021, travellers to Macau recovered
around 54% of the pre-pandemic level, while outbound travel from
mainland China to Hong Kong was down 96%, and in general, was down 98%.
the pandemic, Macau was usually a combined holiday destination, matched
up with a few days in Hong Kong. But now, due to safety concerns and
travel restrictions, people tend to explore just a single destination,
at a slower pace,” Dai adds.
With China's borders close, surfing and shopping in Hainan have grown
in popularity among Chinese tourists. Travellers to Hainan recovered
96% in 2021 versus 2019, led by the top origin cities of Beijing,
Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu — which reflects the amount of revenge
shopping potential that lies in wait for the relaunch of international
Sports tourism is another trend to consider, according to
ForwardKeys, especially as the publicity surrounding the Winter Olympics
in Beijing has led to growing enthusiasm for travel to snowy ski
destinations in the China's northeastern regions. "When outbound travel
resumes, I think there could be more customised trips to famous winter
destinations worldwide,” says Dai.
The Chinese outbound tourism expenditure reached US$255 billion in 2019. Photo Credit: GettyImages/Vadim_Nefedov
The millennial plus travellers is the most important group
Capturing the Chinese millennial traveller and those slightly older
will be critical in driving tourism in the post-pandemic era. This
group, aged 25-44, accounted for 52% of total outbound tourists from
China in 2019.
If the group’s domestic travel trends within China can be any
indication of their travel habits, the travel industry can expect
increasing needs for a wide diversity of bespoke and private tours.
Consumption is shifting from sightseeing and shopping to more unique
experiences and service-oriented products.
Keep in mind that these younger tourists are also incredibly
digitally savvy. They consume travel knowledge on social media
platforms, live-streaming sessions, and utilise online booking services,
smart visitor flow management, digital tour guides and virtual reality.
Don't underestimate the silver fox generation
The aging China population is one to watch as well. A survey
conducted by the Tourism Research Centre of China showed that domestic
travellers above the age of 60 has become the main driving force in
China’s local tourism market. More than 11% of the elderly market spent
US$1,600 on travel in 2020.
The China National Committee on Ageing predicted that the numbers of
those over 60 will reach a peak of 487 million by around 2050,
accounting for over a third of the total population.
“With the improvement of the quality of life, many elderly people
would be eager to travel. However, for outbound travel, they prefer to
choose neighbouring countries or regions with shorter flight times for
more convenient travel,” says China market expert, Nancy Dai.
Preferred airlines to fly
The top 10 foreign airlines for long-haul travel based on seat
capacity in 2019, according to ForwardKeys, comprised United Airlines,
Aeroflot, Lufthansa, Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM, American
Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Finnair and S7 Airlines.
Before the pandemic, air fares decreased by 17% between 1999 and 2019
large due China’s well-developed high-speed rail. Based on this trend,
it seems that Chinese travellers may expect cheaper airfares, and
airlines should expect higher competition.