State-of-the-Market: Chinese outbound travel should return in 2022. But when? Those looking to hear some morsel of wisdom or insight were not disappointed when George Cao, co-founder and CEO of Dragon Trail International, opened last week’s global webinar on “China’s Must-Know Post-COVID Travel Trends” by answering his own question.
Said Cao, “The top question on everybody’s mind is ‘When is the Chinese border going to open?’ and ‘When will China’s outboind travel going to flow again?’ “
In answering the question, Cao told webinar participants, “We don’t have a specific answer, but what we did hear from a semi-official source, very recently, is that the government’s research arms are projecting that outbound tourism from China will reach about 25 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.”
“That is telling me that the borders are definitely going to open this year, but it is going to be opened in a limited fashion,” he added, indicating travel to Hong Kong will be first, followed by destinations to Southeast Asia, North Asia and “maybe, then, to the rest or the world.”
Following CAO was Sienna Parulis-Cook, Dragon Trail’s director of marketing & communications, who walked webinar attendees through a crisp presentation that included the suggestion that the Chinese outbound market won’t open until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which conclude on March 13. She said that a best-case scenario would have the Chinese border opening anywhere from spring to early summer.
Following are highlights from Parulis-Cook’s presentation, which taps into a range of sources, as well as Dragon Trail’s own market research.
The Current state of things affecting travel to and from China
• Travel restrictions will not be lifted before the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics (4-20 February). The Paralympics run from 4-13 March.
• In December 2021, Ctrip Chairman James Liang said the OTA predicted that China would relax international travel restrictions in six months.
• As of 10 January, the China Tourism Academy is projecting a 20% growth in outbound and inbound tourism in 2022, recovering to 20% of 2019’s level.
• Several autumn events could delay reopening: September’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, and the 20th National Party Congress in October-November.
• A reopening will depend on the severity of the pandemic, new variants, and vaccine efficacy as well.
Current Restrictions and Obstacles
• Outbound group and package tours have been banned since January 2020.
• New passports are not being issued except for essential travel reasons.
• Outbound travel for non-essential reasons has been repeatedly discouraged – but never banned.
• Arrivals to China must quarantine in a self-paid quarantine facility for a minimum of 14 days.
• Flight tickets are far more expensive than usual – for example, US$5,500 for round-trip airfare from the Philippines to Xiamen. Additionally, flights are limited in number to once per week for most international routes, and flights to China from overseas are often canceled due to imported COVID cases.
• Chinese-made vaccines are not universally accepted or recognized by countries outside of China. For example, only seven European countries accept Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines for exemption from quarantine.
What happened to the group tours that were the staple of the Chinese source market during the early years in the late 00s and early teens? The FIT segment grew steadily and, then, as soon as COVID-19 had a name, Dragon Trail pointed out, outbound group and package tours have been banned since January 2020. And now, the profile looks like this:
Small Group and FIT Segments
(Question: What is your ideal travel type(s)—Select all that apply)
|Segment||% Of travelers favoring segment*|
|Small tour groups||23%|
|Local guided tours||15%|
|Large group tour||5%|
|I don’t know||5%|
* Source: China Traveler Sentiment Report, September 2021
Pre- and Post-COVID
|Booking Window||Percentage (%)|
|30 days or more||5%|
Source: Forward Keys 2021
Pre- and Post-COVID
|Booking Window||Percentage (%)|
|30 days or more||4%|
Source: Forward Keys 2021
In 2019, 70 percent of Ctrip’s hotel bookings in mainland China were made within 3 days of the stay. By 2020, this had increased to 80 percent, and in 2021 same-day bookings account for 60 percent of mainland China hotel reservations.
U.S. destinations should get ready to “be glamped.” As are visitors from other source markets for travelers, many Chinese are looking for activities that are new, untried and/or different. Among those especially appealing to the visitor to China are: self-driving, glamping and surfing.
Self-Driving: Mafengwo (a popular Chinese travel SNS website that enables users to share travel experiences with each other) and the China Tourism Academy’s data shows that self-driving was the top travel activity for Chinese FITs in 2020, with nearly 28% of independent travelers going on self-driving trips. It was also the no. 1 activity for Mafengwo users in October 2021.
• “Campervan” and “self-driving” were both in the top 10 Mafengwo searches in 2020.
• On Ctrip, searches for certain highways and routes in northwest China were up by 200% year on year in 2021.
• On Ctrip’s forums, there was three times as much content on self-driving and roads in 2021 than the previous year.
—Glamping: Between 1-3 May 2021, searches for (luxury) “camping” on Xiaohongshu (also known as Little Red Book, is a social media and e-commerce platform. It has been described as “China’s answer to Instagram”) were up by 230 percent compared to the same period in 2020. Through the summer and October National Day holidays, camping continued to lead the travel trends.
• Ctrip reported that reservations for local area family camping were up by 206% in the first half of 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.
• Of the approximately 26,000 camping-related companies in China, 60 percent were founded in 2020 or later.
Surfing: This activity has had one of the biggest increases in interest of any sport in China in the past several years.
• The majority of new surfers in China are women, accounting for up to 3/4 of clients at Chinese surf schools.
• After surfing was announced as a 2020 Olympic sport, it started to get government backing in China, which has helped drive growth.
Given the popularity of activities noted above that were hardly imagined a decade ago, one wonders if things are going to change significantly once emerges from the nothingness of the global pandemic. Dragon Trail wondered, too, and the results of some of their research showed the following.
Question: What activities would you like to do on your next outbound trip? (Top 5)
|Activity||% Of those surveyed|
|Try local food||92%|
|Visit landmarks (museums, architecture, etc.)||68%|
|Hiking or exercising in nature||51%|
|Occ-the-beaten path attractions||37%|
|Spa or other wellness activities||33%|
|Attend a concert or festival||33%|
|Go on a road trip||24%|
Source: Dragon Trail Research, March 2021
Product Preferences: Be prepared to find and offer new products to support and satisfy the preferences and products who are engaging in new activities and traveling differently than they did a decade ago. The table below shows us the importance of a healthy and safe travel experience.
What Will Chinese Travelers Expect:
Safety˃ Convenience˃ Pricing
|Travel insurance coverage||52%|
|Trip crowd control||28%|
|Flexibility for cancellation and changes||34%|
|Additional membership benefits||17%|
Source: Dragon Trail-China Travel Market Monitor, November 2021
For the complete video/recording of the Dragon Trail presentation, click here.
For additional information, visit https://dragontrail.com/