Skift Research has found that while tourism is slowly opening up, it’s not hard to see why. There were 166 million international trips in 2019 due to China’s outbound market. China was the driver of global tourism’s growth pre-pandemic and one of the most valuable outbound source markets in the world.
The Chinese outbound tourist expenditure was first in the world, at $277 billion. This is more than $157 billion for the United States and $104 billion for Germany.
Even during the Covid pandemic predictions remained positive about the potential return of Chinese tourists to the United States. The China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) forecast 100 million international trips from Chinese travelers in 2021, and 219 million trips by 2022.
Yet 17 months later, China remains largely closed to long-haul leisure travel, inbound and outbound, despite 75 countries that are now open to Chinese travelers. China continues to ban outbound travel package sales. Domestic tourism is also being affected by the Delta variant. This makes reopening difficult.
Even more shocking is the fact that China’s vaccine rollout has not boosted confidence in China as in other countries. More than half of Chinese travellers surveyed said they are unsure about long-haul leisure travel and 68% said they are unsure about business travel. This sentiment survey was conducted by Dragon Trail, an agency for Chinese data marketing.
It is still a question of what the sudden and prolonged disappearance of Chinese travellers overseas means for global tourism and destinations in Southeast Asia and Europe, which once hosted large numbers of Chinese tourists. Is the global largest tourist source being affected by Chinese travel preferences?
Demand for the product is high and it’s growing
Although China’s opening is still a mystery, experts see signs of potential demand and gradual movements in outbound Chinese travel. Experts are calling this a “flash in the tunnel”.
One, China’s travel desire is growing. For the first time since last year, the “sentiment around absolutely not traveling” has decreased since last year, Dragon Trail’s March 2021 survey shows. Nearly a quarter also stated that they are eager to travel when there is a chance. 32 percent indicated they would be cautious and 39 percent would not wait until they’re safe.
“We have seen the demand from Chinese; lots of people, especially the younger generation, really want to travel,” said Alina Xiang, CEO at East West Marketing, a digital tourism marketing firm specializing in China and India outbound travel markets.
Cloud travel was hot during the pandemic. People explored destinations via live streaming on social media.
It explains why Trip.com’s weekly live stream marketing campaigns have been hugely successful, selling more than $294 million in travel packages and hotels by October 2020, as reported by Skift Research.
There is also evidence that China may be looking to reopen. Xiang said there are ongoing China-Singapore government talks about a “bubble” but the status remains unclear. Also, as recently reported by Xiang the U.S. Embassy opened student visa applications in May.
It is a sign of the future, Xiang stated about the restarting student visas.
So far the UK tops Chinese student destinations this Fall, with one-way international flight tickets issued from mainland China for the period August 16 to September 30 to the UK currently at just 19.5 percent below the same period in 2019, according to ForwardKeys and Dragon Trail. The cost of plane tickets to the U.S. is 22 percent lower than in 2019, while Canada’s are just 28 percent less.
In July, China announced the launch of a 2021-2022 Greece-China Year of Cultural Tourism, according to COTRI’s recent webinar on post-pandemic outbound China travel. Leaders from both Greece and China have developed a strategy to boost tourist flow between their countries. It is unclear what it will entail, especially since both countries are facing a Delta surge.
Xiang stated that destinations where Chinese tourists are a major market can’t wait and see what happens.
We cannot focus on the losses from the pandemic. Instead, we must think about how to reclaim the market, when they will be normal again, and what can we do to help Chinese tourists return home.
The Regions of Interest are the same, but friendliness rules
There’s little doubt diplomatic and trade relations between China and the West have worsened over the past year, not to mention the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes which might deter the future Chinese traveler.
New data shows that the interest of Chinese travelers in long-haul travel destinations is not affected by politics. Asia, Europe and North America still rank among the top three most preferred for Chinese travelers, Dragon Trail’s consumer sentiment report shows.
At 68 percent to 92 percent, food and sightseeing are top priorities. Next is hiking, exercising in the natural environment, and shopping. Safety is still paramount. More than half of Chinese tourists indicate that their top safety factors are friendliness and zero new Covid cases at the destination.
The Chinese traveler is still hungry and has a lot of potential.
Only one in 10 Chinese have visited China. This is a significant contribution to global tourism.
A Unquantifiable Effect
As the Delta version of vaccinations advances and domestic tourism continues to be dominant in North America and Europe, Africa, Asia and Africa, it is likely that this will not change. The pandemic is threatening the tourism industry and could lead to a decline in the Western world’s dominance.
Skift 2025 Megatrends forecast that China and the Middle East would redefine the most-visited destinations by virtue of a growing middle class, thus shifting travel’s buying power east.
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, which according to ForwardKeys’ latest forecast, would take place in 2026-2027.
Xiang, East West Marketing’s director of marketing, said that Indian tourists could become the first to travel long-haul with large numbers in Asia. However Chinese travellers will not be far behind.
We love to shop everywhere. This is a must-do thing when you travel. We don’t yet know when this year will be.
The cost of China’s prolonged exclusion of tourists from the country is unquantifiable. It includes lost cultural connections due to the pandemic, and deepening regional divisions that tourism can help bridge.
People don’t always travel with the right information. They either listen to what they hear on social media or they are not able to verify the facts. They will discover that the people they meet are great when they go on vacation. We are welcomed. They’re so welcoming. They’re completely different from media,” stated Xiang.
Xiang said that marketing agencies and destinations have a higher responsibility to assist people in building a connection with one another and understanding what is going on.
We can manage our narrative and the stories that are sent to China, which will help us accelerate digital presence in China. We have many options. It’s important to rebuild this connection.
Publiated at Tue 24 August 2021, 17:35.51 (+0000).