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Less instant noodles and more local food: China's independent travelers

By Michele Gelaotto,

In late 2014 president Xi Jinping, while visiting the Maldives, advised Chinese travelers to eat less instant noodles and more local food when in other countries. Despite the economy slowing, the impact on outbound travel from high-net-worth individuals seems to have steadily grown. The length of travel is also increasing for some, and more Chinese travelers are even taking an entire “gap year” abroad. Historically speaking, the Chinese have never really been interested in exploring the world before. But according to a recent report of Business Intelligence Fung Center, the number of Chinese tourist travelling abroad is constantly growing and could be doubled in 2020 to reach 234 million of tourist. And the tourist’s expenses are growing too. International trips are predicted to rise by 25% over the next three years, while adventure trips, polar expeditions, and road trip travels will increase by 52%, 38%, and 75%, respectively during this time.



The different demographics of Chinese outbound tourism



A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that it exits different types of tourism in China.

  • 40% are group’s travelers traveling once every 2 or 3 years and are usually aged between 46 to 54 years old. 81% of them prefer to go with group tours.
  • 35% are semi-independent travelers traveling many times in a year and planning some organized programs but keeping independent. Most of the time, they are between 25 and 35 years old. 66% of this group belongs to the high-income bracket, and their financial standing is expected to increase as their careers advance. The majority hold white collar executive or professional jobs, the annual study found. Once this group hits their 30s, they become much more concerned with their appearance: 9 percent of those in the age group of 31 to 35 have traveled for beauty treatments and cosmetic surgery, compared to 6% of all millennials and 4 percent across all age groups.
  • 25% are independent travelers traveling by themselves and aging between 20 and 25 years old. They’re also more open-minded about staying in hotels that might not focus on catering for their specific cultural and other needs, and the younger contingent (age 18-20) is more willing to stay at hostels and backpacker-type places.



This not seems to be just the beginning of this new wave. The growth of standard living in China with the emergency of a middle class, an opening mind to the western cultures, the increase of direct flights between international destinations and China and facilities concerning visa process have enhanced this phenomenon. In 2014, China and United States have agreed to lengthen the visa validity short term for the business travelers, tourists and students with 10 years multiple-entry tourist visas.



China’s young rich travelers are in search of unique and adventurous travel experiences



The young luxury travelers have high standards when it comes to hotel choice. Personalized service is the biggest area of consideration when choosing a hotel, they also prefer hotel brands featuring “art and design that make the travel experience feel unique and fun,” while demanding high-tech digital equipment. Young Chinese travelers are also more likely to use digital platforms for their trip research, including official WeChat accounts, and word-of-mouth through Wechat friends, as well as Chinese travel booking sites—the three most popular are Ctrip, Qunar, and Tuniu.



According to data from market research group GfK, this group of consumers are more ‘hedonistic’ in their willingness to spend money to indulge and pamper themselves and slightly less price sensitive. They are looking for meaningful, adventurous and exciting experiences. They are technologically savvy and highly involved in sharing experiences on social media platforms. Brands need to understand the shift from an older organized tour traveler to a new world independent Chinese traveler



The four to six weeks before the trip is seen as a key time to engage them as they research, plan and book their trips. In the lead up to the Chinese New Year in February, for example, iClick Interactive worked with Michael Kors to help it promote a collection of Lunar New Year of the Monkey products to potential outbound Chinese consumers traveling to the UK, France and Italy.



While resorts in unique locations have ample opportunity to take advantage of the trend, luxury brands have also been coming up with creative in-store experiences in China and across the world such as special events and product customization. LVMH-owned DFS, which has locations in Bali and across the Pacific Rim, teams up with luxury brands to provide limited-edition items available only in a given location.



Tech-savvy Chinese tourists



The new Chinese tourist is digitally oriented, with 50% using mobile booking. When planning their trips, they rely less on travel agents and more on review sites and online accommodation booking, while 30% use social media. They also want to stay plugged in when they get to their destination—63% of all Chinese millennial travelers surveyed said that WiFi is a key amenity they look for in a hotel. This gets even more important as they get younger—among 18 to 20-year-olds, WiFi is important for 70%.



For the Chinese consumer, digital is key. In the past some luxury brands had the attitude that “we are luxury – we don’t do online” but no one would think that now. As more and more Chinese consumers research products from overseas, a globally aligned branding strategy is essential. Brands coming into China and positioning themselves as very high-end, can face consumer backlash and brand devaluation if products are discovered in home markets that don’t match that perception. Chinese consumers can now see where and how things are being sold overseas and this can undermine whole marketing strategies in China.



How to travel for free? Become a Chinese KOL



In China, KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) are very popular among cosmetics and clothes brands. But several travel agencies also had the good idea to offer free trips to stars or celebrities in exchange for them to post their holidays on social networks, including, why not, live broadcasting apps. A few years ago, Yaochen (a very famous Chinese actress) made the buzz by posting photos of her holidays in New Zealand. This led to a crave for the country never seen before.



Adventure tourism is the real symbol of this second wave of tourism



A lot more Chinese travelers are now repeat travelers and they’re looking for something more novel. Adventure tourism activities really don’t exist in China like they do elsewhere. Safety is also a top concern as Chinese are often more trusting of foreign adventure attractions following stringent guidelines than those closer to home.



New Zealand is the top destination for Chinese adventure travelers who can’t find many extreme sports or activities in their homeland. The country is known for outdoor activities transcending the intense sensuality of those in many other regions, albeit, Tourism New Zealand says adventure activities aren’t the most important factor for Chinese tourists making the relatively short hop to the destination. Between 14 and 19% of Chinese who plan to travel to the island nation rank adventure activities and adrenaline rushes as their top motivators.



In line with the growth in demand for exclusive “adventures”, the Polar regions are becoming particularly sought-after destinations for China’s luxury travelers. Other exotic long-haul destinations such Africa and the Middle East. This means the proportion of luxury Chinese tourists planning on visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau fell from 32% in 2015 to 19% in 2015, while the Southeast and South Asia regions saw their share decrease from 34% to 24% over the same period.



Independent Chinese tourists are often more confident and in control of their travel itineraries than previous types of Chinese tourists. And they are often more inclined to participate in adventure activities when they are abroad than when they are at home. Because of this, adventure activities are becoming more and more popular for Chinese globetrotters.



Adventures this new wave of Chinese tourists are looking for usually include:



  • Camping in secret spots. Chinese adventure tourists are looking for ways to experience well­-known destinations in an unusual way. As more and more Chinese tourists become repeat travelers, they will constantly be looking for somewhere more novel and intriguing to rest their heads.
  • Zip-lining over volcanos. Anything that can provide a dramatic view of the volcanic landscape and provide some GoPro footage.
  • Riding in a hot air balloon. A growing number of Chinese adventure­ seekers are looking for the best vessel to carry them to the highest heights and to be able to see landscapes from awe­-inspiring angles.
  • Abseiling or caving. For those Chinese tourists who are ready to take their adrenaline­-rushes to the next level, abseiling or caving in exotic locations like New Zealand and Australia are one of their top travel dreams.
  • Tubing, water sledging or river surfing.




Michele Galeotto is an Italian creative with expertise in designing integrated communication strategies. Michele has worked with many forward thinking companies in China or engaging with China. In 2013 he started Design Hotpot, an online platform where he writes about the mushrooming creative industries in China.




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