Of Chinese travelers, David Becker, CEO of Attract China cautioned delegates to NAJ’s recent Active America China Summit in Atlanta to “stop thinking about them as walking dollar signs,” urging travel sellers and DMOs to be aware of the different segments within the overall Chinese markets, as well as the importance of the overall travel experience to the Chinese consumer.
Becker’s caution came at the end of 20 minutes in which he walked delegates through a compact presentation in which he outlined the Top Five Trends to Watch in the Chinese Market.
He prefaced his remarks with a quick sketch of China’s economic health. Right now, he said, people in China have moved beyond a state away from working to provide themselves with basic essentials and are inhabitants of a fast growth economy in which a surge in a car culture is boosting the urge to travel and the nation is going through a period of modernization. (U.S. travel sellers should take note: modernization does not mean “westernization.”) Growth of the travel experience “is coming at an incredible place,” with all demographic groups making multiple trips yearly.
Against the backdrop above, Becker outlined the Top 5 Trends.
TREND #1: The majority of Chinese are traveling independently. They have moved from group travel to FIT. Still, he pointed out, “they really need information.” (Just days after Becker made his presentation to delegates, results of a survey were released by the China Youth Daily newspaper confirmed this trend, indicating that 80.2 percent of the 2,001 respondents to the survey said that they prefer to travel on their own, and that new technology has made it easier to plan a trip abroad. And while many Chinese prefer to travel without an agent, the article continued, they do not go unprepared, with a total of 61.6 percent indicating that they prefer a detailed travel plan, 61.2 percent felt that travelling with companions is safer, and 57.6 percent suggested booking accommodation in advance.)
TREND #2: There is a new search for health and wellness among the nation travelers, as Chinese consumers are the world’s most health conscious. They seek:
- Mental relief;
- Physical relief; and
- A connection with nature.
Moreover, there has been a 16 percent interested in private, customized travel plans, with medical tourism growing from $1.4 billion in 2016 to a projected $8.3 billion in 2020
TREND #3: Traveling to the U.S. for an education will continue, as spending for education is considered an investment in the future.
There is a shift in the population of students going to the U.S. to study, from university to high school and middle school. The initial visit of a student (and a student’s family) to the U.S. becomes a catalyst for a range of economic activity, including tuition, real estate and business investments. And in the most recent school year for which data are available (2016-17), there were more than 350,000 Chinese students studying in the United States.
TREND #4: China is not a single market—it breaks down into family, social and demographic groups including:
- The 80s vs. the 90s generations.
- Families with kids.
- Medical and educational tourism.
- Travelers from tier 1 vs. lower tier cities.
The 80s vs. 90s generation markets is just part of the way the market is divided according to age. Here is the way it currently breaks down:
Trend #5: Reality vs. expectations. We’ll have to close the gap—the U.S. is not meeting expectations in many areas, and there is a gap between what people expect … and how you engage them. Take not of what travelers are looking for when they are doing their online research:
Most Popular Travel Keywords
- Nature Exploration
- Outdoor Activity
- Family Friendly
- 5-Star Hotel
- Winter Escape/Summer Escape
- Casual Experience in a City
- Medical Travel
Finally, some takeaways—Becker advises the following.
—The majority are now traveling independently
—There is a shift away from shopping and touring basic attractions
—Chinese travelers are willing to spend more on quality travel experiences
—They are looking for an authentic experience to really get to know the destination
To be sure, the Chinese market represents a vast and lucrative market. But be careful, Becker said, and “stop thinking about them as walking dollar signs. Think about the immersive experience they’re searching for.”