The Chinese now account for 10 percent of international tourists, with an astounding 97.3 million trips taken last year, reports The Economist. One-third of Chinese tourists are now planning their own trips and accommodations, and staying in one place long enough to snap more than a few photos and see a couple of landmarks.They’ve also edged out Americans, by quite a margin, for the greatest spending power abroad.
After dishing out $129 billion in 2013, they are expected to spend more this year than tourists of all nationalities combined. In fact, over 80 percent of Chinese globetrotters said that shopping was an essential part of their travel plans, as opposed to only 48 percent and 56 percent for Russian and Middle Eastern tourists respectively. Considering that only 5 percent of the Chinese population owns a passport, the staggering numbers of luxury sales and vacation plans might surprise some.
Aaron Fischer of the CLSA, a Chinese investment firm, says that we should expect the number of foreign trips made by the Chinese to double, and sales abroad to triple, by 2020. This trend is predicted based upon the increasing affluence of China’s middle-class, the desire to take longer vacations, and less difficulty acquiring visas (although still a work in progress).
So it comes as no surprise that nearly everyone — airlines, hotels, shops, governments — wants a slice of the Chinese business. Destinations are working hard to get themselves onto the Chinese itinerary.
Currently, Chinese citizens can visit only 44 countries without a visa obtained prior to travel, compared to the Taiwanese who can visit 130 countries, and Americans and Brits who can visit more than 170. Visa inconveniences have turned off Chinese travelers from visiting certain destinations. The Economists reported that “Britain, which is outside the European Schengen free-travel area, requires its own visa—the main reason it gets just a ninth of the Chinese tourists France does.”
The United States is working to make the visa application process more streamlined. While the States have seen success with their new model—Chinese visitors were up 22 percent from last year—smaller destinations, such as the Maldives, are seeing even more Chinese tourists thanks to their visa waiver. The Maldives saw an increase of 45 percent in Chinese vacationers. Other tropical ports of call are also seeing an influx of visitors as they are popular honeymoon destinations and are favored by younger crowds.
In the wake of this new travel trend, businesses across the globe are working to modify their services in order to further attract Chinese tourists. Hotels are prepping for future guests by offering Chinese television stations, Asian cuisine, and staff fluent in Mandarin. Stores like Printemps and Harrods are also implementing new Chinese-language websites and maps in order to make their stores more accessible.
Frank Budde of the Boston Consulting Group and co-author of “Winning the Next Billion Asian Travelers,” says that the key to securing Chinese tourists will be reaching them online. Since China has different search engines and social media sites than most other countries, it is important that the tourism industry make their way into the Chinese online scene. Since half of China’s population is using the internet and two-thirds of them use online research to make travel decisions, it is imperative that foreign luxury brands and travel industry professionals reach this attentive audience.
image credit: marie claire china