Travel providers have been clamoring for a piece of the surge in Chinese travel that’s taken place in recent years—and there’s good reason why. China’s travel market is soon set to become the world’s largest source of international travelers. By 2020, close to 190 million people will partake in outbound travel from China, projected to spend nearly $350 billion annually.*

Research shows that Chinese travelers have a unique set of wants and needs when it comes to how they book their travel and the methods they use to pay for them. Worldpay, a leader in the electronic payment services industry, recently surveyed 12,000 people in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, and the US, who’ve booked a flight or a vacation package in the last year, to better understand which devices travelers use and how they prefer to pay when abroad. The study found that Chinese travelers stand out in a few ways.

More Mobile, More Open to Emerging Technologies

Many travelers use a combination of smartphones, tablets and PCs to research their trips, but when it comes down to actually completing the purchase, many find that smartphones still aren’t as practical as desktops or laptops.

A significant proportion of Chinese travelers, however, stick with their smartphones throughout the customer journey, from research through booking. According to Worldpay, one in four Chinese travelers complete their bookings on their smartphones, compared to the average of 6 percent of travelers across all of the countries Worldpay surveyed** who do so.

It makes sense that Chinese travelers rely on their smartphones so heavily—mobile is their primary means for accessing the internet. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), 95.1% of internet users in the country used a mobile device to access the internet in 2016.***

In addition to traditional mobile handsets, newer technologies such as VR and smartwatches are also piquing the interest of Chinese consumers, despite the fact that interest in VR and smartwatches is still relatively muted in the west. Chinese travelers are open to the idea of using technologies such as these to book trips as well, more so than travelers in the aforementioned other countries.

Embracing Chinese Tourists Means Embracing Alipay

While cash and credit cards have long been assumed to be the payment method of choice for travelers when paying for ground transit, attractions, flight upgrades, and other purchases, global travelers are increasingly embracing alternative payment methods. Chinese travelers are no exception to this trend.

Alipay—the payments affiliate of China’s Alibaba ecommerce group and China’s leading alternative payment method with an active user base of over 450 million, according to the company—may not be a popular payment method for travelers outside of Asia, but these travelers expect to be able to use it no matter where they are in the world. Worldpay found that 30 percent of Chinese travelers want the ability to use Alipay for taxis, while 14 percent want to be able to use it for attraction tickets, even while traveling while abroad.

Alipay’s role in capturing share of the Chinese tourist market is starting to become clear to retailers and merchants globally. In December 2016, a deal was signed between Alipay and Barclays in the UK, BNP Paribas in France, SIX Group in Switzerland, and UniCredit in Italy to give customers the ability to use Alipay across a network of 930,000 merchants throughout Europe, according to Financial Times.

Booking Last-Minute is the Norm

The report also revealed that Chinese travelers are more much likely than those from other countries to book their trips last-minute. Worldpay found that more than half of travelers from China said they book just two to four weeks before their departure, while one in five book less than two weeks before. Comparatively, booking one to three months before take off is standard in Brazil and India, while Australians were most likely to plan their trip three to six months before departure.

As Thomas Helldorff, Vice President of Vertical Strategy Airlines & Travel at Worldpay explains, “When operating in countries where last minute bookings are common, fine-tuning fraud rules is crucial to ensure you accept good transactions while keeping fraudsters out. They too tend to book last minute to reduce the risk of being caught.” Ways to do so include “increasing the use of 3-D Secure and payment methods with a payment guarantee, such as online bank transfers.”

Travel providers that want to appeal to Chinese travelers and gain an edge on the competition need to pay attention to the trends that are driving the behaviors of these consumers. To learn more about the shifting behaviors of how global travelers are booking flights and making payments abroad, download Worldpay’s Free Report.

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* According to a report released by Fung Business Intelligence Centre (FBIC) Global Retail & Technology and China Luxury Advisors (CLA) which surveyed 1,019 Chinese internet users on their net monthly household income, number of international trips taken, destinations and retail purchasing behavior abroad during the twelve months through May 21, 2015.
** According to 2016 research from Worldpay carried out in partnership with Opinium, who conducted desktop market analysis and surveyed 12,000 online travelers in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, and the US.
*** According to 2016 research from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) which surveyed mobile internet users in China age 6 and older, excluding Hong Kong and Macau.
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