China is seen as a huge market for tourism and medical tourism. The nature of Chinese outbound tourism is changing, and this will affect how countries and businesses market to the Chinese. The Chinese outbound tourism market continues to change very fast, and often in unpredictable ways.
Not only is the country the biggest outbound tourism nation, the Chinese are the world’s highest-spending travellers by nationality; comfortably more than the second and third-placed Americans and Germans combined. So, for tourism they have become the most important international market. Medical tourism will follow this trend.
The Chinese traveller is seen as unsophisticated, mainly interested in shopping, viewing iconic locations and travelling as a group. That may have been true a decade ago but there is a change in attitude towards shopping among the Chinese, with many outbound tourists no longer regarding it as the primary purpose of overseas travel.
For more experienced Chinese tourists, as international travel becomes normal, they are spending higher proportions of their travel budget on activities and experiences such as summer and winter sports, fine dining or learning experiences.
The latest China Outbound Travel Pulse video series draws attention to a number of changes in consumption patterns towards more local products, experiences and discounts. As the Chinese move from group to individual travel, any business dealing with Chinese travellers must have native Chinese-speaking staff at all levels; offering translators is no longer acceptable.
Research group, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) forecasts Chinese outbound numbers for 2018 in its COTRI Market Report, with the annual total of border crossings to reach 154 million, representing a 6.3% year-on-year increase against the 145 million for 2017.
A large chunk of these trips are destinations within Greater China (Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan). The total of 154 million consists of 68 million arrivals in Greater China destinations and 86 million border crossings made in the rest of the world, a split of 44% arrivals within Greater China and 56% in all other destinations. 2017 and 2018 see Chinese outbound tourism developing to other destinations, as for the first time Greater China has below 50% of the total.
As travellers gain more confidence, tourist visas become easier to obtain and flight connections from China grow in number, Chinese outbound tourists are seeking out more in-depth overseas experiences and new destinations.
2017 was a year of change as during the year arrivals started to drop to long-haul destinations such as New Zealand, the USA and Canada. Smaller destinations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland are seeing rapid growth. Morocco and Serbia have seen rapid growth driven by their visa-free policies for Chinese nationals, serving to put them on the map as tourist destinations for the Chinese for the first time. Vietnam and Cambodia saw dramatic increases in Chinese arrivals. Whether tourism growth can translate to medical tourism growth is an unknown.
In 2017, Thailand saw no real increase in numbers from China, while South Korea numbers halved. South Korea saw the collapse of its group travel market due to the political fallout surrounding its installation of the US THAAD missile defence system. While actual numbers are not yet available, these are two countries with high numbers of Chinese medical tourists so it is predicable that medical tourist numbers saw similar patterns.
What the overall numbers conceal is that there are differences between Chinese tourists from the top tier massive cities and those from smaller second and third tier cities and those from smaller towns and cities. And there are differences between high- net worth travellers and medium net worth travellers and students.
So locations can no longer assume that all Chinese have unlimited money to spend and want group tours.
Five key actions for destinations seeking Chinese business:
- Deliver high quality service as even the richest Chinese demand excellence
- Do not assume they want group tours
- Have employees who speak fluent Chinese rather than relying on translators
- Do not assume all Chinese will pay top dollar prices
- Offer new experiences with an element of individualisation
- Have simple visa- free or visa-on-arrival policies
Chinese travel-focused digital marketing agency Dragon Trail Interactive and COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute partnered to produce the China Outbound Travel Pulse video series, aimed at exploring different aspects of Chinese outbound tourism in an informative, yet light-hearted way. The first China Outbound Travel Pulse video, focused on Chinese FIT (free independent travel).
China Outbound Travel Pulse aims to help viewers to expand and update their knowledge, with original and engaging first-hand information and candid insights into current trends. The videos measure the pulse of the Chinese outbound travel market through interviews with real Chinese travellers, research results for trending travel topics, and expert analysis to help to understand what it all means for the global travel and tourism industries.
The videos are 3-5 minutes long. Recent and future topics cover silver travellers, the relevance of shopping and exchange rates, adventure travel and niche destinations. They are released every two weeks on YouTube and on the China Outbound Travel Pulse website.
According to COTRI:
- 122 new direct flights from Mainland China
- 80 countries and regions offer visa- free or visa-on-arrival policies
More countries are targeting China in 2018. The 2018 Canada-China Year of Tourism is trying not only to attract new target groups like families and MICE travellers to Canada, but is also aiming to profit from travellers who prefer Canada to the USA as their travel destination in North America. USA has to try to prove that Chinese tourism has not peaked.
The 2018 Turkey Tourism Year in China is mostly about getting back more Chinese visitors to Turkey. The 2018 EU-China Tourism Year is interested in attracting more Chinese tourists to Europe, particularly to smaller destinations. But it has suffered from a limp start with little happening in early 2018 as it came as a surprise to many EU countries.