According to data presented in a just released joint report by Tianxun—Skyscanner’s Chinese entity—and UnionPay (and as reported by Jing Daily):
- Female independent travelers outnumber men by four percentage points.
- The greatest share of all Chinese independent travelers are part of the millennial generation—68 percent of independent travelers are between 15 and 34 years old.
- A majority of China’s independent travelers are educated—94 percent of independent travelers hold degrees equivalent to or higher than college/vocational school.
- Master’s degree holders represent 9.2 percent of Chinese independent travelers.
- Travelers with Ph.D. degrees or higher comprise 0.9 percent of Chinese independent travelers.
- Travelers older than 55 years only represent a small share of all independent travel and are much more likely to join group tours for their overseas visits.
Where are They Coming from?
While the first-tier cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai remain the most important source markets of Chinese independent travelers, the report finds that lower-tier cities are quickly catching up—with growth rates far beyond all first-tier cities except Shenzhen, which is still catching up with its peers.
The fast-growing affluent middle class throughout China’s lower-tier cities has undoubtedly not only started having an appetite for international travel, but also for independent international travel, which until recently, has been heavily concentrated in China’s more developed first-tier cities. An increasing number of direct flights to international destinations from lower-tier cities, as well as easing visa restrictions have all made independent travel from China more convenient than ever, and it seems like people across China are taking note. The following list illustrates the growth rate in travelers from China’s top three cities (Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai) vs. growth among second-tier cities. The period covered in the Tianxun/UnionPay study was from January through October 2016.
City of Residence
- Shanghai (-25.0 percent)
- Beijing (-20.0 percent)
- Guangzhou (-5.6 percent)
- Chengdu (+19.0 percent)
- Hangzhou (+36.9 percent)
- Chongqing (+44.9 percent)
- Kunming (+69.1 percent)
- Shenzhen (+50.6 percent)
- Tianjin (+44.2 percent)
- Xiamen (+69.0 percent)
When Are They Thinking About Traveling?
The report shows that the interest in overseas travel among China’s FITs peaks in September. While the data is consistent with the higher frequency of travel during the summer in comparison to during the winter and spring, it would appear as if interest in overseas travel peaks later than actual trips abroad. In comparison, overall Chinese travel to the United States has peaked in August during the last five years—with September coming in at third place.
Seasonal interest in overseas travel. (Data from Skyscanner)
When do They Spend the Most?
UnionPay put the number of overseas trips and the volume of travel spending next to each other and found that while fewer Chinese travel during the winter months, they outspend summer holidaymakers by a substantial margin. A higher proportion of more profitable market segments, such as business travelers and independent travelers during the winter, could be one explanation for the discrepancy in travel spending that UnionPay has found.
The red line represents travel spending, and the green line represents overseas travel. (Data from UnionPay)
What Airlines do They Fly Most?
The most-preferred airline among Chinese independent travelers is the relatively unknown Chinese low-cost carrier Spring Airlines, which is servicing a growing number of international destinations throughout Asia. Asia’s largest low-cost carrier, AirAsia, also ranks among the top choices for independent travelers. Booking tickets independently of tour agencies appears to be giving both low-cost carriers and overseas carriers from Hong Kong and South Korea a boost in traveler preference.
- Spring Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Cathay Pacific
- Air China
- Air Asia
- Asiana Airlines
- Juneyao Air
- Korean Air
- Hainan Airlines