Tourism is becoming one of China's most sought-after exports, but the business of booking travel and restrictions on how people can travel still have a long way to go to catch up.
The best time of the year for Chinese travel agencies is here, with most of their overseas tours for summer vacation sold out.
“More than 70 percent of the tours to Russia have been sold, and tour groups to Europe are more popular,” said Wang Zhenyue, deputy director of the direct-marketing center at the UTour International Travel Service Co Ltd.
The agency, which is a leader in outbound travel service in China, has offered hundreds of tours this year, with some departing as early as May.
Once the vacation season actually starts, it will be too late for agencies to plan a tour and too late for most customers to book one.
“Maybe I should postpone my vacation to September,” said Li Jing, 28, who is planning to take her annual leave with her boyfriend.
Li said they originally intended to join a tour in early August that covers some European countries, including France, Italy and Switzerland, but they only can get places in a tour leaving in late August.
Li said she is thinking it might be a good idea to postpone their vacation to September. By then, the peak season will be over and prices will be lower.
Peak-season prices for overseas tours are about 10 to 20 percent higher than at other times, Wang said.
Overall, prices are about the same this year as last year, but trips to “hot destinations” such as Europe cost more.
“Prices are up by 10 to 15 percent on some itineraries to Europe, which means about US$326 more than last summer,” said a staff member at Tuniu.com, a Chinese online travel agency.
As Chinese travelers gain more experience with overseas trips, “in-depth tours” to a single destination are popular this summer for the first time, some business insiders said.
Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are the best sellers in this category, according to Tuniu.com. Outbound travel numbers to Russia were up 120 percent as of July 9, compared with the same period of 2012, the website said.
“In-depth and themed tours are drawing the most attention this year, which is a new thing in the summer market,” said Zhang Lei, general manager of UTour International Travel Service.
Zhang said the in-depth and themed tours to Europe account for 70 percent of the agency’s tours to Europe this summer.
Leisure tours including island and cruise tours are new favorites with families, Zhang added.
Chinese travelers taking cruises mainly go to Japan and South Korea, which are near to China. The entire trip usually takes five days.
Airlines operating international routes in China also get a piece of the pie in the peak season of Chinese outbound tourism.
Air fares on the China-US routes usually peak in July and August, and passengers have to buy tickets several months in advance to get a discount, said Li Xiaojin, a professor at the China Aviation University in Tianjin.
“Definitely, July and August is the strongest season for outbound traffic from China,” said Stephan Linhart, a sales executive at Austrian Airlines AG.
Linhart said China is the airline’s second most important market in Asia after Tokyo. The carrier just invested $25.2 million to upgrade the business class sections on its 10 long-haul aircrafts flying between Beijing and Vienna.
The airline also plans to expand its service for the Beijing-Vienna routes from the current five flights weekly to seven, within the next two years, he added.
(c)2013 the Asia News Network (Hamburg, Germany). Distributed by MCT Information Services
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