The new Chinese traveller – changing tourism trends

The days of taking in the sights from a tour bus are coming to an end. Ed Steiner discusses the merging travel behaviours and preferences of Chinese people, and the implications for the Australian tourism industry.

This article originally appeared in The Culture Issue, our August/September 2017 edition of Marketing magazine.

Ed Steiner copyThe rapidly evolving Chinese traveller promises to dramatically shift the needle for the tourism industry in Australia.

The growing middle class in China has allowed for a greater emphasis on quality of life and, with that, people are more willing to spend on travel and shopping.

From our recent investigation into the Chinese mindset about travel abroad and what they look for in travel experiences, we’ve identified an emerging theme: the Chinese are no longer tourists; they’re travellers.

The days of taking in the sights from the safety of a tour bus are coming to an end, being replaced by a new class of Chinese world traveller, eager to embrace and engage in new experiences. The traveller is motivated by experiences that differ completely to everyday life and where there is an opportunity to learn: different customs, cultures, languages, cuisines, scenery and activities.

This new class of traveller seeks out the exotic and looks for curiosity-satisfying experiences that are ‘brag worthy’ and unique to share with friends and family back home.

For us in Australia, particularly brands and organisations in the travel, hospitality and retail sectors, some of the more significant trends underpinning this shift bring to light key opportunities in the travel purchase cycle.

Here are some of our findings and the implications for marketers. 

The Chinese appetite for ‘free, independent travel’

MK0817 culture coverWhile group travel has traditionally provided a much enjoyed safety net, the trend is turning toward Chinese travellers seeking the spontaneity, adventure and flexibility that comes with free, independent travel (FIT).

The pure FIT traveller is often part of the younger demographic. They plan their holiday themselves and enjoy venturing solo beyond the cities into regional Australia. Yet there is a middle ground in the fast-growing semi-FIT segment. The semi-FIT traveller is keen for some aspects of travel to be organised, as long as they have the freedom and flexibility to explore and discover something on their own.

Group travel still holds appeal, particularly for those travelling with elderly companions or children. But increasingly, Chinese FIT and semi-FIT travellers want to do self-guided holidays in Australia with family and friends. The opportunity for the Australian travel industry is therefore to respond and create appropriate packages with pre-booked accommodation and flights but flexible itineraries.

Embracing the share economy

China is leading the way globally with share economy adoption, which in 2015 was worth US$299 billion, and is expected to grow 40% by 2020. Share economy accommodation already accounts for 13 million travellers – about 10% of Chinese outbound travellers each year.

What the Chinese traveller likes about the share economy is the interaction with local people and the chance to have new experiences. Life is more convenient with the share economy, which is viewed as better value for money. Instead of booking ahead, the Chinese are booking in the moment from the comfort of home or spontaneously while on the road. Given the trend in China toward a cashless society, Chinese travellers are well-accustomed to online bookings and will appreciate Australian businesses that accept payment through UnionPay, Alipay and WeChat, to name a few.

For tourism boards, the popularity of the share economy is great news. It’s the small towns and communities that can really benefit, simply because having people share their homes brings in the potential of greater numbers of travellers. This brings in good business, not just for the individual hosts, but also for the community at large as travellers explore restaurants, cafés and touring services.

Traditional accommodation providers can still come out on top, despite the obvious threat of the share economy. Though to do so, they must better communicate the value of services where share economy providers cannot compete, such as: room service, on-site restaurants, concierge services, laundry services and health clubs. Looking for ways to provide greater personalisation and customisation to grow will be key.

Sharing the love

Chinese travellers are highly digital and socially engaged, and digital platforms along with word of mouth, are highly influential on holiday decisions.

For example, travellers look to WeChat and Weibo for family and friends’ opinions, Ctrip as a one-stop shop for travel information, and more than four in five share their holiday experiences on WeChat as they travel.

Despite efforts there is a lack of cut-through in advertising Australians offer, creating a barrier to Chinese travellers visiting Australia. Having a cohesive and greater presence on social media and apps like WeChat, Weibo and Ctrip will help make Australia more relevant.

Overall, we must start to view the Chinese visiting Australia differently. The Chinese traveller is no longer your average tourist, but now a world-class traveller eager to explore the unknown and seek new adventures.

Much like Australians, Chinese travellers want to ‘find themselves again’ and nourish their souls through new experiences, and the more we can develop our offer to meet these needs, the better.

As the new Chinese traveller looks for a destination that can provide new learning opportunities, cultural experiences, and fresh and flexible itineraries that help to provide unique and shareable memories, Australia’s natural charms will undoubtedly rise to the top.

Ed Steiner is director of travel and leisure at Kantar TNS Australia

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