A new Chinese traveller is emerging with more than just sightseeing on their agenda. Discover what they're looking for in this roundup.
Before the pandemic, Mainland China held the mantle for the largest outbound travel market, boasting both the highest number of trips and total spending. However, the landscape has shifted dramatically, prompting a revaluation of travel behaviours and preferences among Chinese travellers.
As China swiftly lifts travel constraints both domestically and internationally, whilst this sudden relaxation causes uncertainty and hesitation to loom among travellers in the immediate future, many Chinese tourists still express a strong desire to travel.
Post-Pandemic Travel: Domestic vs International
With approximately 60% of experienced international travellers planning to or already travelling in 2023, while a substantial 30% intend to wait more than two years before venturing abroad again. Surprisingly, 73% of the experienced travellers who have chosen not to travel internationally in 2023 prefer domestic travel, having discovered the allure of travelling at home in recent years.
This coupled with a further flurry of challenges relating to international travel means a full recovery in Chinese outbound tourism isn’t expected until the second half of 2024.
Chinese airlines are ready to resume full service as opposed to their international counterparts due to fewer pilots leaving the industry and more aircraft availability. Chinese carriers’ widebody fleets are also mostly in service or ready to be redeployed.
Meanwhile, the passenger capacity for international air routes only recovered to about 23% of 2019 levels in the first half of 2023 across mainland China, resulting in a rise of 20% to 30% on average in prices for outbound group tour products on major online booking platforms, prompting more cost-conscious travellers to stay at home instead. Price-sensitive travellers are likely to wait for ticket prices to level out before booking their overseas trips.
Additionally, currency fluctuations across the region against the US dollar have made short-haul trips within China more appealing, especially for more budget-conscious individuals.
Furthermore, an estimated 20% of Chinese travellers’ passports have expired during the COVID-19 period. Although renewals are possible, the backlog and ensuing wait times have prolonged the recovery process.
China’s decision to offer visa-free entry to travellers holding ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia from December 1 2023, to November 30 2024, is expected to bolster tourism from these regions. Citizens from those countries can enter China without a visa and stay for no more than 15 days for business, tourism, family visits and transit purposes helping the hospitality industry with domestic travel in China previously serving as a lifeline.
That being said, in 2023 the top destinations for Chinese travellers were familiar places, such as Hong Kong, Western Europe, and Japan. These destinations are top of the list for experienced travellers, with almost 40% of those who have visited Western Europe planning to return this year.
A New Breed of Chinese Traveller
Notably, a new cohort of Chinese travellers has emerged with around 30% of new travellers in 2023 being members of Gen Z, equipped with stable incomes and the means to international travel. Gen Z travellers seek relaxation, cultural exploration and broadening their horizons. For many, travel is a way of fostering personal connections, whether that be by making new friends or deepening emotional ties with fellow travellers.
Furthermore, 65% of Gen Z individuals prefer independent travel, a notably larger proportion compared to those choosing group or themed tours. They prioritise planning and booking their own travel logistics, showcasing a preference for freedom and an adventurous spirit as they seek to explore destinations on their terms.
The majority of this traveller group aim to maximise their experience on a tight budget, typically spending under £560 per trip. Over 60% of Gen Z meticulously plan and allocate a budget for their travels well in advance.
When planning their trips, Gen Z travellers integrate social media into every aspect of their journey, using it not only for initial research but sharing their personal travel experiences. They rely on platforms like short-video platforms like Douyin for inspiration and Little Red Book (LRB) for travel tips, heavily influenced by content from Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Moreover, they utilise online travel agents (OTA) to search for and secure accommodation and transportation and enjoy watching live streaming on these platforms, showing a preference for video content.
Looking ahead, 2024 holds promise for Chinese outbound tourism. As airline capacity improves, passport backlogs decrease, and travellers exhibit a heightened inclination to plan trips, a resurgence in international travel seems inevitable.
China’s Gen Z, shaped by rapid economic and technological advancements, signifies a shift in travel preferences. Their pursuit of fulfilment through exploration, connection, and unique experiences is poised to redefine the tourism landscape. Leveraging social media and online platforms, this cohort shares and seeks travel information, presenting a significant opportunity for brands to engage and influence their choices.
With the impact of Gen Z, accompanied by infrastructure improvements and favourable policies, 2024 emerges as a pivotal year in the resurgence of Chinese international tourism.