Despite slowing GDP growth in China, continued income growth is seeing more Mainlanders reaching the necessary standards of living to engage in travel. In 2012, Mainland China surpassed both Germany and the U.S. to become the largest spenders on international tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization released a report on Chinese traveller habits counting more than 83.2 million Chinese citizens travelling abroad, a 395.7% increase since 2002. The following buzzwords will help you understand the changes and massive influx of Chinese travellers, their habits and the latest trends going on in China’s travel market.
For years, one could only imagine Chinese travellers as red-hat wearing masses following the umbrella adorned with the typical gold stars. The stereotype of Chinese tourists pouring out of packed tour buses is progressively becoming outdated with Chinese travellers becoming more inclined to travel independently and opting for tailor-made itineraries.
A study conducted in 2013 by the Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) revealed that around 70% of Chinese travellers abroad are travelling independently. The following are several reasons for this behavioural shift.
First of all, the average age of outbound travellers has steadily declined in the last decade with tourists under 45 years old composing more than 90% of China’s overall outbound travellers. Younger generations perceive group travel as old-fashioned and prefer to organize their trips independently.
Secondly, there has been a cultural shift towards freedom and authenticity while travelling mainly incentivised by social media. China’s obsession with sharing, rating and recommending online has made it possible for travellers to have a larger quantity of information in order to make travel decisions independently. In addition, social media has spread the idea that group travel is something “for dummies”, for first-timers and for 乡下人 (xiangxiaren), namely peasants, thus making it even more unattractive.
The blossoming of online travel websites has played a factor for these independent tourists. Travel websites like Qunar, Ctrip and Kuxun makes it easier to bypass agencies and organise journeys online and independently. Additionally, the easier availability of tourist visas, once only obtainable by joining a travel group, has further paved the way for this shift to happen.
The original definition of eco-tourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” but the term has acquired broader connotations in China, including tourism directed to undiscovered natural areas.
Given the fact that China is the world’s largest emitter of CO2 gases and 70% of China’s rivers and lakes are contaminated, Chinese tourists are increasingly developing an interest in eco-tourism, both domestically – in the few unspoiled reserves left – and abroad.
As displayed by a survey conducted by the popular travel platform Agoda, 79% of surveyed Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium of $5-10 a night more, to stay in a hotel which engages in environmentally responsible practices. The top four characteristics that Chinese travellers value in order to assess the degree of green responsibility of a hotel are: 1) The use of environmentally friendly cleaning products (37.3%); 2) Recycling (36.8%); 3) Environmentally conscious construction and design (36.1%); and 4.Waste reduction (35.7%).
The most popular destinations for eco-tourism are New Zealand, Northern European countries and various countries in Africa (identified by the more adventurous of Chinese travellers). In Africa, eco-lodges have popped up in Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia along with organised eco-safaris to go along with the stay, all targeting Chinese travellers because of their current inclination towards this kind of leisure activity. The typical Chinese client’s age ranges from 30 to 65 years old, with a 40/60% split between male and female. Roughly 60% of them are business professionals, and 40% of them are entrepreneurs.
Given the increased attractiveness of eco-tourism, many Chinese entrepreneurs have heavily invested in green resorts located in remote areas to attract visitors. Eco-tourism spots in Zhejiang province – easily reachable from Shanghai, and spots in Yunnan province are the top-visited at the moment. These resorts feature top-tree wooden villas (ranging from ¥4000-¥5000 ($625-$780 per night), which allow travellers to enjoy eco-luxury escapes from their polluted cities.
Chinese super travellers are high-net-worth individuals spending a large portion of their income on travelling every year. Conventionally, spending more than $30,000 per year on travelling earns them this status. Super travellers are mainly resident in 1st tier cities (55%), are 40 years old on average, with a median spending of $58,000 per year on travelling.
The distinctive characteristic of this group of high-end travellers is that they prefer to spend money on customized services (62%) and exotic destinations in order to show they are able to afford offthe well-beaten track and undiscovered locations.
An interesting trend that is happening is the desire to experience the frozen lands at top and bottom of the globe. In 2014, 32% of super travellers chose Artic or Antarctica, with the South Pole being more popular than the North. When interviewed about the “most memorable” travels, 28% of super travellers identify North and South Poles. This type of experience has been valued much more than the typical journey to the US (10% considered it memorable) or to Europe (only 8% considered it memorable).
Being a country that is home to more than four million millionaires, China is also full of crazy 富二代, second generation millionaires who would spend astonishing sums in order to be perceived as rich, powerful and exotic. This is another reason why the most bizarre and expensive trends are often registered in China first.
Space travel is a niche market, with commercialisation envisioned by Richard Branson, who decided to pour money into a venture called Virgin Galactic in 2004. Ten years later, The New York Times has described China as the world’s largest market for the incipient space tourism industry.
A survey conducted in 2014 by Hurun, highlighted that around 7% hope to engage in space travel within the next three years. This is a high percentage, given the currently low awareness of this niche market. In December 2014, XCOR Aerospace and Virgin Galactic, both owned by Branson, started pre-selling tickets for the upcoming initial thermosphere journey which will take place in 2016. Sheng Tianxing, a successful tea trader from Zhejiang, paid $100,000 or about a third of his annual income with a single click online for a seat on a rocket that will carry him into space. The long journey will eventually cost him three times as much. Tianxing, who has an extremely appropriate name literally meaning “sky walker”, said that his passion for space began when he watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Today many Chinese share this passion, helped by China’s heavy investment in its space programme, contributing to the curiosity and national pride.
Regarding the journey, the shuttle will bring passengers to the lower edge of space thermosphere (110km high). During the flight, passengers will be able to appreciate the space protean beauty, more than 1,000 kilometers of earth’s arc, space sunrise and sunset, and be able to experience a short weightless float. Above all, tourists can see moon craters clearly and the landing point of “Apollo 13”.
Even as the experience is designed for ‘ordinary people’, participants are required to take part in a specialised training that, only if passed, will make them eligible for the trip.
Since the end of 2013 China has officially become the largest online video streaming market, with over 433 million viewers in 2014. Thanks to popular online streaming platforms such as iQiYi and Youku, American, British and Korean TV shows have become extremely popular, with the main stars gaining a lot of recognition from the Chinese public.
“Star-themed tours” are a specific type of travel tour particularly popular among young and rich Chinese fans. These tours typically involve visiting the sets of movies or TV series and often include meeting celebrities.
The first mover offering these type of tour trips were places featuring the madly popular South Korean soap opera来自星星的你（My Love from the Star). These tours banked on the craze of fans who religiously followed the hit TV series.