The New Era of Chinese Travel


Emerging Communications


May 25, 2023

Key trends brands need to know about the modern Chinese traveller

The Duty Free & Travel Retail Asia Pacific Summit 2023 

The TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition & Conference made a welcome return in 2023 after four long years of absence – a period in which the world has undergone profound change. The conference provided perspectives on the readiness of the travel retail industry to respond to the booming demand for international travel. 

Taking place in Marina Bay Sands Conference & Expo Centre in Singapore, the conference and exhibition welcomed 2,934 delegates this May, 90% of the latest pre-pandemic event. 

TFWA president Erik Juul-Mortensen said: “we had 1572 people in the conference hall, which is a record number for Singapore, we had to get more chairs in the hall.” The Welcome Cocktail attracted 1,016 guests (a record for Singapore) vs 927 in 2019.  

Kicking off the conference with the first of its four sessions, “Asia Pacific at a Crossroads”  was George Yeo, former Singapore foreign minister, during which he discussed the current geopolitical and economic landscape in the region.  

Rocky Chi, our Head of Planning, was invited to the final session in this year’s conference where new behaviours were revealed. Rocky focused on capturing today’s Chinese travelling consumer with new insights and practical tips offered to brands. 

Capturing Today’s Chinese Consumers – New Behaviours  

Over the last three years Hainan has become the destination of choice for Chinese travellers seeking duty-free-shopping discounts.  And even now that international travel has resumed, 62% of Chinese travellers claimed that they still prefer Hainan.  Without further emphasis on how the pandemic has driven forced drastic change in the travel industry, let’s look into new opportunities arising at the same time. 

Chinese outbound travelling has recovered faster and stronger than expected. It was predicted that the travel rebound would start with domestic then Asian destinations. However in the Labour’s Day Holiday, 29th Apr to 3rd May, we’ve witnessed 3 million outbound travellers to not just Asian destinations but also United States, Europe, Middle East and Australia. Experience-led and cultural travel was extremely popular. We’ve seen 18% more international hotel bookings than Labour’s Day Holiday in 2019. Reuters reported that while limited flights and higher prices impacted passenger volume on international trips, luxury shoppers traveling to Europe are spending more than ever before. In terms of Asian destinations, ticket prices were 80% more expensive than pre-pandemic levels, as reported by 

If there’s only one word that can be used to describe the NEW travel behaviours we’ve never seen in pre-pandemic days, the word would be boundaryless. 

Empowered by today’s technology, AI translation apps have fuelled Chinese travellers’ confidence to travel anywhere with the language barrier is no longer an issue.  

Chinese travellers, traditionally known as the most well-prepared travellers in the world, are transforming. Time is no longer an issue for today’s Chinese outbound travellers, now seizing every moment to make the most of short or weekend trips. #Extreme get-away challenge is going viral on Chinese social media at the moment with millions of Chinese young professionals taking actions to challenge themselves for 48 hours away from their exhausting work life. 

Speaking of today’s Chinese young professionals, they are not only travelling but living globally. Remote working, career breaks and gap years have become a major trend. For brands, the opportunities have never been better to engage and sell to the digital nomads today who like locals. 

Last but not least, it goes without saying, there’s no ‘line’ between offline and online anymore. Livestreaming has grown so mature to make travel retail shopping not attached strictly to ‘travel’ anymore. Chinese consumers are shopping duty-free products via livestreaming and it’s the new norm. 

Capturing Today’s Chinese Consumers – New Faces 

Introducing the redefined personas of today’s Chinese outbound travellers. Demographics could no-longer segment today’s Chinese travellers, let’s go into psychographic segmentation to better understand their motivations and preferences.  

To name a few here, the cutting-edge youth who easily follow trends on social media as long as they feel it brings out their identity and uniqueness, have a very different shopping behaviour to the savvy shoppers who are seeking huge discounts globally. Another rising persona is that of experience seekers who are paying for experience and exclusivity, they are travelling for Michelin restaurants, private tours, concerts and other authentic experiences.  

Let’s take a closer look to two interesting segments. 

Freestyle Travellers 

“The only plan is no plan”. Shaking off the stereotype of traditional Chinese travellers, we are seeing a completely reversed behaviour. Freestyle travellers try their best to avoid the crowd or sightseeing spots go with their own, go-with-the-flow itinerary. Their motivation could be triggered anytime within any context during the trip as long as the experience attracts them like no others, or routine. 

Family Adventures 

With the emerging of new Chinese family structure, up to three children, we’ve seen more and more outbound trips planned around kids’ activities. Today’s Chinese parents are looking for a well-balanced itinerary for their children and themselves.  

“It’s been 3 years and my 4-year-old boy has never been travelled abroad yet! “ – said by a affluent Chinese mum in Shanghai. 

Capturing Today’s Chinese Consumers – Getting China Ready 

The most important app in China to target shoppers 

Little Red Book, so called the ‘shopping bible’ today, has become the No.1 search engine for today’s Chinese consumers, 15 million posts are being shared under travel tags with tips. This super-powered app has changed the social media context completely with users no longer just being the content receiver but the creator while they are on-the-go. 

The Most Effective Influencing Channel 

Influencer marketing, a phenomenon that’s transomed Chinese social media and marketing in China. Key-opinion- leaders, in companion with Key-opinion-customers have became the most effective influencing channel in travel retail. 

Experience, experience and experience 

The future is here. Fantasy has been realized thanks to today’s technology. Chinese travellers are more than ready to be impressed. Hainan has gone above and beyond the expectations of today’s Chinese consumers. We’ve seen leading global brands go above and beyond – a popular premium skin care brand utilized a popup store in Hainan to guide retail consumers through an innovative and immersive experience using AR. 

Capturing Today’s Chinese Consumers – key take aways 

We are entering an era like never before, the future is here already with the new face of Chinese outbound travellers.  

  • Psychographic segmentation has taken the place of traditional demographics, it is all about behaviours now. 
  • Years ago, when we talked about the role of social media and digital marketing in terms of influencing travel shopping decisions, it was mainly in pre-departures. With more and more unplanned and impulsive purchases, the key is to engage with Chinese travellers while they are in the destination. 
  • Seed your brand though key-opinion-customers, as well as Chinese expat influencers who are living in the local area. Their perspectives play an important role in influencing mass travellers’ decisions. Using the right influencers, with right ‘hooks’ at the right time. 
  • Capture purchasing intention with unique and optimal experiences.