Leading China expert Evan Saunders, who keynoted the recent Active America China Summit in Las Vegas, said that nothing should come as a surprise when it comes to measuring and analyzing the statistical dynamics of the market, which has changed utterly in its composition in just a decade. What used to be a predictable sample of group vs. independent traveler segments has changed to the point at which some two-thirds of outbound travelers are FIT. And, noted Saunders, the founder and CEO of Attract China, a firm that helps U.S. travel suppliers navigate the China market, as the market has evolved to a primarily FIT market, it has evolved in other ways as well.
In trying to put the dynamics of change in the travel industry into context, Saunders illustrated his point by showing how the skyline of Shanghai has changed from 1987 to present day.
Despite the dominant position of the FIT market segment, Saunders cautioned summit delegates on two points: first, “group travel will never go away” and, second, “the independent Chinese travelers has different needs … remember, they were actually group travelers just a few years ago.” He emphasized the uniqueness factor by noting that the Chinese travelers “are not the American tourists, they are not South Korean tourists … they are Chinese travelers.”
Key Differences: Saunders quickly went through some of the key differences between group and independent travelers.
- Group travelers want to see as much as they can within their limited budget, while independent travelers are not that concerned with price, they focus more on experiences.
- For ground transportation, group travelers still take the bus, while independent travelers look for options– rental automobiles, or event bicycles
- Groups go to Chinese restaurants to eat, to find familiar dishes, while independent travelers want to experience American cuisine.
- For translation needs, groups generally depend on their tour guide, while independent travelers: hires an English speaking tour guide; install translation apps on mobile devices; show pictures to natives; use body language; and make a detailed travel plan that makes them less reliant on strangers for help.
Things in Common: All Chinese tend to travel most during the same periods, avoiding departures in November and December, while clustering their departures during familiar holidays and vacation times. Last year, 17 percent of independent travelers departed on their holidays in January and February, with another 60 percent traveling from May through October. Major holiday periods are illustrated here.
Also, despite the group-FIT differences, most Chinese are looking for the same amenities when they travel abroad. That is, they want: free WiFi at hotels; tea kettles and slippers in their hotel rooms; Chinese cuisine served in their hotels; designated smoking areas (China is largest smoking country in the world); and merchants and vendors that honor the China UnionPay credit or debit card (the largest bank card I the world, Union Pay has a greater market share than Amex, Visa and Mastercard combined).