Z.J. Tong, a widely known Chicago-based travel marketer—he is president of ChinaPro Marketing Partners—who is a prolific live streamer/blogger generating up to 150 thousand viewers with his reports on his U.S. travels, as well as his discussions with his many contacts in China. It is easy to see that he is considered a “go-to” expert on China, and a respected influencer and KOL in this market, which is the largest overseas source market in the world.
To put it plainly, his assessment of the China-USA inbound market is this: “What’s for sure is that the outbound Chinese traveler will return, but it will take time and going the extra mile to lure back those pre-pandemic numbers.”
But when? In a social media posting he made last week, Tong said “After chatting with travel industry colleagues in China, the understanding is that China’s border will remain closed until after the Winter Olympics in February 2022. However, we should continue to engage the audience through influencers and through channels such as live-streaming.” (China closed its borders to nearly all travelers in March 2020. They have remained closed, even as domestic travel in China has flourished during much of 2021.)
The Winter Olympics will run from Feb. 4-20, which means they will begin just about five months ago from today. Perhaps this is not the type of outlook U.S. travel marketers and DMOs want to hear, but Tong is one of those market mavens whose track record does indeed suggest that “he knows what he’s talking about.” (You can reach Z.J. by phone at 312-842-1988 or by e-mail: [email protected]
More on China …
● Could a China Attack on Wealth Hurt Travel? China’s President has vowed to “adjust excessive incomes.” The Chinese Communist Party holds its 20th Congress next year in October, and the speculation on the possible shifts in leadership positions and the party’s ideological direction are already beginning to play out in analytical articles and commentary that may or may not have some hidden or shaded meanings not readily apparent to people of the western hemisphere. As part of the ideological action, President Xi Jinping has decided to prioritize “common prosperity,” according to Jing Daily, as a way to throw his support behind China’s middle class. Xi’s end goal is to “adjust excessive incomes” and work towards the elimination of poverty.
There is much speculation as to whether Xi, who will have served 10 years as president, will seek another five years as leader of the party and country—no one of late has done that—and whether the party will seek to keep its economy expanding. The latter will require some new economic measures, as the current healthy economy has been fueled, in party, by inexpensive labor.
Xi, according to published accounts, is considered by some to be “soft” on excessive incomes and showy displays of wealth. It is ironic that a Communist government presides over a country that, according to the Hurun Global Rich List 2021, has the most billionaires worldwide in 2021. Greater China has topped the list with a billionaire population of 1,058 people. By comparison, 696 billionaires resided in the United States.
So, it might be that Xi has suggested that the government should “regulate excessively high incomes.” Obviously, such an attitude could have—indirectly, at least—a considerable impact on the number of luxury consumer goods and experiences, including travel:
Many upscale Chinese travelers are known to purchase luxury-label hi-tech appliances, smart phones, electric devices, and expensive clothing. Many well-to-do Chinese pay for U.S. university educations in cash that their children receive (more students from China than any other nation go to U.S. colleges)—in addition to family visits to prospective schools. So, the ripple effect could be enormous.
Xi, under pressure to answer critics who say he is soft on excessive pay and ostentatious displays of wealth, is expected to expand wealth taxes and raise income tax rates to achieve an income distribution that reduces the number of low-income and high-income groups.
Meanwhile, while U.S. educational institutions and the purchase of luxury goods and services might be top-of-mind, the Chinese press has given considerable attention to the popularity of travel—to both domestic and international destinations—among Chinese consumers. Savvy U.S. travel marketers should take note on what’s working in China because it could work here:
● Data from Trip.com Group, China’s largest travel company, shows increased interest for international travel in China. August flight and hotel search volumes are double compared to pre-summer. The UK, France and Germany Q2 hotel bookings were up 173 percent, 52 percent and 64 percent year-on-year, respectively. (With virtually no travel between the U.S. and China, one can understand why the USA is not listed here.) Ctrip user searches for European hotels have rose sharply too. In August alone, searches for European hotels rose by an average of 80 percent compared to the January–June average, with the highest search volume recorded on August 9th up almost 120 percent on 2021 pre-summer levels.
● Welcome to Universal Studios, China—a destination hub. According to local authorities, Beijing is planning to develop a special tourist route that encompasses the Universal Studios theme park in Tongzhou district as well as its nearby destinations such as the Grand Canal, the Songzhuang artist village, the Taihu town, and the Zhangjiawan ancient town. The route would help tourists to enjoy beautiful sceneries, experience intangible cultural heritage and modern arts, and relax with plenty of outdoor activities in the area. The development plan is part of the city’s efforts to boost tourism and become an international hub for consumer spending. Areas around the route will strengthen their infrastructure and build more hotels and homestay inns to meet the growing demand, according to a spokesperson at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism.
The first phase of Universal Studios Beijing is scheduled to open this year. Seven themed areas including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Transformers Metrobase, Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness, Hollywood, WaterWorld, Minion Land, Jurassic World Isla Nublar, and the CityWalk, as well as several other scenic spots are expected to greet over 10 million visitors annually.
● China Bans Karaoke Songs That Reference Gambling. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced that songs mentioning gambling will be banned at the nation’s approximately 50,000 karaoke venues. As reported by Casino.org, The ministry said it would shortly compile a blacklist of music that will be off-limits to karaoke operators because it contains “harmful information” and “illegal content.” In addition to gambling, this includes songs with lyrics that allegedly inspire listeners to experiment with drugs. Also prohibited are songs that “endanger national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity,” or which violate state religious policies by propagating cults or superstitions. All the good stuff, basically. Instead, operators of karaoke venues and their content suppliers will be encouraged to provide “healthy and uplifting” music, according to the ministry. They are also asked to flag problematic lyrics to help government officials compile the blacklist. Casino.org notes that all forms of gambling are illegal in China, except for state-controlled numbers and sports lotteries.