Skift Take

China's tourism experts warned the industry to prepare for the return of the Chinese traveler months ago — meaning active destination promotions with special packages catering to China's reopening should already be in place. We will know how well it heeded that call in the days ahead.

If the sudden dropping of all restrictions by the Chinese government caught travel agents and tour operators off-guard, it begs the question: why? 

China’s tourism experts warned the industry to prepare for the return of the Chinese traveler months ago — meaning active destination promotions with special packages catering to China’s reopening should already be in place.   

However, key concerns out of the travel agent’s direct control include air connectivity, visa and passport application backlogs, and Covid-19 travel requirements. But come Sunday, the revenge Chinese traveler will enter the fold whether the sector is ready or not, as China lifts long-held quarantine requirements.

In 2019, 155 million Chinese travelled abroad, spending $254.6 billion, with meaningful recovery in mass tourism only expected in the second quarter of 2023. 

Destinations with ease of access will be the winners as the wave of Chinese tourists spreads across the globe. The United States is one of the many countries imposing mandatory COVID-19 tests on travellers from China. 

The continued backlog of U.S. visa applications is an issue for most countries worldwide and a stumbling block to tourism’s recovery. As a result, the U.S. won’t see a significant influx from Chinese travelers, despite being one of the two top destinations for Chinese Travelers. 

Regional destinations such as Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore will now top the list for Chinese travelers, as does France and Australia.

The Short-Term Challenges for Group Tours

“We’re anticipating a slow return to long-haul travel,” said Tourvest subsidiary, Sense of Africa‘s Asian market manager Masa Yamawaki. 

He noted that overseeing the market recovery for travel from Australia and Italy to Southern Africa has indirectly prepared his team for the opening of China, as most of the supply and service kinks were ironed out in 2022. 

The Chinese New Year on January 22 is an unfortunate missed opportunity, as the window is too small for any significant uptake now that borders are opening up, he added. It is possible this was a strategic move by the Chinese Government to stem any rush following the opening of its borders.

However, the language barrier remains a concern, as Yamawaki noted access to trained mandarin speaking guides as a critical requirement for the Chinese traveler.  

The pandemic decimated the tour guide business seeing many qualified guides who speak mandarin no longer working in the sector or returning home to China. 

The hospitality industry was also particularly hard-hit, as a number of Chinese Restaurants that relied on the consistent business of International Chinese Travellers closed their doors too. 

He added that Group Tour Chinese travellers are known to prefer Chinese cuisine when travelling, choosing to experiment with local cuisine for about 20 percent of the trip but prefering traditional Chinese dining for the remaining 80 percent of their trip.  

“They enjoy going out and sightseeing but having their Asian meal puts them in a comfort zone. We have to be able to provide what the Chinese traveller needs,” said Yamawaki.

The Affluent Independent Traveler Will Expect More 

When it comes to the well-travelled, high-end Chinese traveller, their preferences and tastes have evolved, according to Johan Groenwald of Royal African Discoveries

“We deal with some high-end Chinese travellers and they generally travel differently than the group market. Regarding product and itinerary, the requirements for jam-packed itineraries remain as Chinese travelers are more time-strapped compared to Western travellers. But they still have high experiential trip expectations. 

Groenewald noted that this high-end segment could spend anything upwards of $58,000 for a 7-night package.

“The expectations for a trained guide are more flexible amongst this segment, unless they’re undertaking a multi-generation trip with older grandparents who are not fluent in English. Young, new-wealth Chinese travelers are more comfortable with English. 

“However, when we do need a guide for them, they need to be well trained to deal with the high demands of these clients who want more indepth, experience-rich tours,” he said. 

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Tags: asia monthly, china, china outbound, coronavirus, tourism, travel agents

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