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China has been having a transformative impact on the way the global travel industry operates, finances, and markets itself, and 2015 promises to be a year where brands and organizations marketing to Chinese start looking at them as travelers, beyond just shoppers.
That’s according to a great list of top trends put together by Gary Bowerman, author of the recent business book, “The New Chinese Traveler: Business Opportunities from the Chinese Travel Revolution.”
We have extracted these 12 trends he talks about, below, worth reading in full:
- A Broader Destination Spread: More than 100 million outbound border crossings were made from China in the first 11 months of 2014. Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan accounted for 70%, and 89% of Chinese travelers stayed within Asia. The mass of Chinese travel will remain Asia-based, but experienced travelers will take advantage of more direct flight routes to a greater spread of destinations. The major online travel agencies in China, meanwhile, will be fighting hard for a greater share of outbound bookings.
- Visa-free Access Goes Global: Although China ranks low (tied for 83rd with Jordan and Comoros) on the Henley & Partners 2014 Visa Restrictions Index, the number of countries to which Chinese travelers can visit more easily will rise in 2015 as more governments and tourism boards integrate visa-free access into their China tourism strategies.
- Chinese Firms to Buy More Tourism Assets: 2014 saw some headline-grabbing tourism-related purchases by Chinese brands, including Anbang Insurance snapping up the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, Jin Jiang Hotels acquiring Louvre Hotels, HNA raising its stake in Spain’s NH Hoteles, and Ctrip buying a cruise ship from Royal Caribbean. Fosun stepped up its bid for control of Club Med, and Dalian Wanda launched an IPO in Hong Kong to fund its targeted global portfolio of 150 hotels. This is just the beginning.
- A Surge in Strategic Business Agreements. Partnerships between Chinese and foreign tourism providers and developers were an emerging feature of the tourism landscape in 2014. Notable collaborations include China Eastern and Qantas, Accord and China Lodging Group, Air China and Air New Zealand, Jin Jiang Hotels and Interstate Hotels, Beijing Capital Land and Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs, Qyer.com and Airbnb and Singapore NETS and Alipay. Malaysia-based LCC Air Asia has prioritised finding a Chinese partner. Expect many more.
- Rise of the Chinese Hotel Brand: In 2014, Hotels magazine ranked Home Inn as the world’s 9th largest hotelier (with Jin Jiang placed 10th), but several other Chinese hotel brands are emerging into the mainstream across all segments, from budget to upscale luxury. After successfully launching its funky Metropolo mid-range brand in 2014, Jin Jiang will unveil its J Hotel brand on the upper floors of the Shanghai Tower in 2015, while Nuo (JV between Beijing Tourism Group and Kempinski) will open its first luxury hotel in Beijing. Dalian Wanda will roll out its Wanda Hotels and Resorts brand worldwide from London and Madrid to Chicago and Australia’s Gold Coast, while Home Inn and Jin Jiang are among the Chinese brands expanding into South East Asia.
- Secondary Chinese Airports Take Centre Stage: With capacity growth restricted at China’s over-worked primary airports (at least until the opening of the new RMB80 billion Beijing international airport at Daxing), carriers are developing new routes from China’s secondary cities. The Centre for Aviation notes that in 2015 there will be 11 daily long-haul flights into China’s secondary cities, spread across 26 city pairs – up from just four in 2010. In 2015, at least eight foreign airlines, including KLM, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, British Airways and United Airlines, will operate secondary routes, and five Chinese airlines.
- Big Year for US Tourism: U.S. is poised for a Chinese inbound surge. Some 1.77 million Chinese visitors arrived in U.S. during the first nine months of 2014, up 21% year on year, and full-year Chinese visitation was expected to top 2 million, up from 1.9 million in 2013. The significance of the China-US visa extension deal for travellers, business people and exchange students signed in November cannot be understated. More flights, more tourists, more property buyers and more investors will be heading from China to the US.
- Cruising at High Speed: North Asia, with China at the forefront, is becoming a growth engine of the global cruise industry, says the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which in 2014 established new bodies in South East and North Asia. Bigger cruise ships are being based in the region and more China-focused marketing spend is being budgeted by the major cruise operators. Meanwhile, Xiamen has extended its cruise season, Tianjin expanded its cruise terminal, Qingdao is planning a cruise route to Dubai, Shanghai wants to set up its own cruise company and Nanjing aims to build a cruise port. Chinese travel agencies are also diversifying their cruise interests: Ctrip has purchased a cruise ship, while Spring Travel is chartering 15 cruises next year.
- Keep an Eye on Africa: China’s commercial interests in Africa continue to expand, and tourism is expected to flourish. “In 2015, we expect continued growth to and from Africa, and the China-Africa market will be one to watch,” says OAG. In the 12 months to September 2014, 28 out of 59 African countries experienced growth from China in excess of 60%. The Top five African destinations for Chinese travelers in 2014 were South Africa, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, according to Chinese media.
- Better Profiling and Market Analysis: The Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean tourism boards regularly survey Chinese travelers and analyze emerging trends, and in 2014, the Finnish Tourism Board published Profiling Chinese outbound tourists: an empirical survey in China. Such surveying can be effective if challenging questions are asked. The Reputazione Italia presentation during the 2014 COTRI Welcome China Outbound webinar included analysis of what Chinese visitors to Italy both liked and found unappealing.
- Travel Niches Ready for Take-off: The fragmentation of Chinese outbound tourism and the quest for new experiences, especially at the top end of the market, is encouraging tourism boards to focus on niche promotions. Australia is luring Chinese travellers with its culinary offerings, Switzerland has marketed ski resorts and Canada promoted winter holidays. Cruise, safari and adventure and winter sports travel marketing will ramp up in China in 2015, as will self-drive car hire.
- Consumer Marketing Extends Beyond UnionPay: Airport duty free stores, retailers, hotels and ATM providers worldwide have upgraded their systems to accept China UnionPay cards, and offer seasonally targeted discounts to cardholders. Under World Trade Organisation rules, China must remove UnionPay’s interbank clearing monopoly in 2015, enabling other credit card companies to make a greater claim for market share. Expect plentiful credit card advertising targeting Chinese travellers, plus a rise in the profile of Alipay and the UnionPay payment app.