Five years ago the Chinese idea of an exotic getaway encompassed strutting glitzy Hong Kong shopping malls with arms adorned in Gucci bags. At the time destinations in Greater China accounted for around two thirds of Chinese outbound tourists.
Of the lucky few who travelled further afield, most were in groups shuttled between shopping spots and Chinese food halls with a few stops for photo opportunities. A group holiday made everything easier; not only the most practical way of getting a visa but a reassuring method of removing the mystery and uncertainty from outbound travel. At the time 60% of Chinese tourists complained about the lack of travel information available to them.
Today, Chinese travel has been flipped on its head. The allure of 122 million high spending travellers has seen countless destinations, operators and tech entrepreneurs create a storm of travel information bombarding prospective visitors. 46% now believe they have too many travel options and information sources. That isn’t a good thing. A 2000 study by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that too much choice can cause “choice paralysis”, meaning consumers are less likely to buy anything, and if they do buy, they are less satisfied with their selection.
Whilst there may be some information overload in travel, the increasingly less one-dimensional Chinese tourist is seeking more diverse information. More tourists, in particular the millennials, are researching and travelling to destinations beyond the traditional city breaks, culture and shopping. Their interests are straying more towards ‘Western-style’ sun and beach holidays, sports, wellness and relaxation.
Increasing sophistication of Chinese travellers is being complemented by easier travel. The number of visa-free countries and regions has grown from 18 in 2010 to 61 last year. Direct air links expand almost daily, and not just in the well-known cities. Changsha’s Huanghua International Airport, for example, has direct flights to 20 international destinations in 13 countries including Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles. ‘Tiny’ Yinchuan in Ningxia Province, whose urban population is less than 1.3 million, is serviced by direct flights to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Taipei and Dubai. Even those every day habits that have become embedded in Chinese lives such as Alipay and WeChat Pay are making travel abroad much more convenient for the average millennial.
Whilst almost half of travellers appear to be a little overwhelmed by the information and options available, it doesn’t mean that destinations and operators should be pulling back on communications. Instead they should focus on ensuring that the content is relevant, high quality and in the right places to break through the clutter and simplify travellers’ decisions. Chinese consumers continue to do more research into travel than their peers abroad as 74% express that they are willing to spend time and energy researching and planning their travel.
Tourism is a metaphor for all industries in China – an increasingly sophisticated consumer and ever-more contested market requiring a much smarter, targeted marketing strategy. Agencies like China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.