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Beyond the numbers: correcting the clichés about Chinese travel
Anyone suffering from meganumerophobia (a fear of large numbers) look away now. Reliable figures for Chinese tourism may be hard to come by, but by any measure the numbers and projections are astounding:
- Since 2012, China has been the world’s largest outbound travel market - with more than 130 million outbound tourists in 2016
- Chinese outbound tourism is expected to grow by 50% between 2016 and 2021
- Spending on tourism-related activities by outbound Chinese travellers is expected to top US$420 billion by 2020
- By 2021, China will account for 40% of all travel from the Asia Pacific region
The list goes on - dazzling tourism marketing departments the world over. But amidst the mind-blowing numbers and predictions, a few things are becoming clear. One, this is a market that’s here to stay. And two, the old clichés most certainly don’t apply anymore.
For years, most Chinese travelers travelled cautiously in big groups on pre-planned tours. For many, it was their first trip overseas: they stuck to tried-and-tested destinations and a limited range of activities. They spent money, but mainly at pre-approved venues (or the airport), rarely at independent establishments. Yet while these stereotypes are still widespread, the story on the ground is rather different.
A 2014 report by Alibaba-owned travel service provider, Qyer found that more than 70% of outbound Chinese travellers were booking independently, up 20% on the previous year. These are people booking flights, accommodation and activities themselves - a seismic shift in behaviour made possible by the advent of mobile payments, the easing of travel visa restrictions and greater fluency in English.
It’s a trend that’s only increasing - and one that’s particularly pronounced among the group known to the rest of the world as millennials - and in China as the post-80s and post-90s generations. These are newly-independent, globally-curious travellers looking to do things their own way: whether it’s trying new food (ranked ahead even of shopping for Chinese travellers, according to a recent survey), doing something adventurous (New Zealand can’t hire skydiving instructors fast enough to keep up with demand); planning something romantic (60% of millennials in China plan to marry abroad); or simply doing things their own way (Australia has explored translating road signs into Mandarin to address the 40% of Chinese visitors who opt for self-drive holidays). It’s all a far-cry from those tired old clichés.
And those are just the destinations further afield - it’s still places closer to home that continue to attract the most Chinese travellers, with Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam topping the list during the 2017 Spring Festival (also known as Chinese New Year), a single week in which there were some 6.5 million overseas trips.
These are all people looking for travel inspiration when they fly, keen to spend when they hit the ground, and eager to share their experiences when they’re done - most likely through Chinese messaging app WeChat, which has - wait for it - an incredible 1.1 billion registered users (more than either Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger).
Don’t be blinded by the numbers, though. The key lesson is simple: the younger generation of Chinese travellers is far more savvy and sophisticated than they’re typically given credit for, and there’s never been a better time to reach out to them as they are all going to be onboard planes and ready to consume.