On March 10, four of the finest art museums in Europe — the Louvre, Pompidou Center, Van Gogh Museum, and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam – will admit just 10 people into their halls.
All of them will be tourists from the Chinese mainland. Charles Wang is one of them. He paid $23,243 for the 10-day tour of Europe that will get him this prestigious access. “I heard about this offer from a Chinese travel agency – the privilege that the Louvre only opens for you and the early admission to the European Fine Art and Antiques Fair are a privilege beyond most individual traveler’s dreams,” he said.
But if Chinese travel agencies have their way, exclusive packages like this one will be the wave of the future. Early trends in the Chinese luxury travel market suggested that customized tours are the way to go. But agencies like HH Travel, which is organizing the 10-day trip to Europe, are finding success – and profits – through standardized tourism products.
“We figured our clients had a better acceptance of standardized tourism products – more than 60 percent of them chose standardized tour packages last year and 20 percent of them requested only slight adjustments over the provided products,” said You Jinzhang, president of HH Travel.
The company is famous for its 80-day package that takes travelers around the world. Last year’s package, costing 660,000 yuan($105,939) sold out in 30 seconds. For 2013, the price was raised to 1.01 million yuan, and sold out in just 17 seconds.
Others are skeptical of pre-planned vacations, and insist that catering to their Chinese clients’ individual needs is the business model to pursue. “I don’t have any fixed schedules for our clients. If any of them approaches me, I’d ask what they want and make a private and customized travel plan for them,” said Lu Leying, from the marketing department of the Shanghai-based high-end travel agency My Tour Traveling Consulting. She believes packages like those offered by HH Travel are selling now only because they are being snapped up by “the rich without too much thought going into what they want.”
“They’re not that demanding because China’s high-end tourism market is still emerging and needs more education,” said Lu.
But highly customized products mean high costs on a large scale. According to Wang Yang, chief operating officer of Zanadu, a Beijing-based online travel service, a community of like-minded travelers has to be cultivated. But whether the efforts of these many travel agencies can achieve, that remains to be seen: the Chinese super-rich went overseas less in 2012 – on average 3.4 times compared with 4.2 in 2011, according to this year’s Hurun Report Chinese Luxury Consumer Survey.