While China rushes to travel internationally again, the global tourism industry hasn't been keeping up with its demand and new tastes.
While Chinese travel demand accelerates to pre-pandemic levels, the global tourism industry is still not fully ready to service it, according to some panelists this week at an ITB Berlin session titled “Outlook of Chinese Tourism Market 2023.”
For three years, China pursued a strict zero-Covid policy that locked it out of the global tourism economy. Chinese citizens faced tough restrictions to travel internationally. Having spent $255 billion traveling abroad in 2019, their absence dragged the industry’s recovery in 2022. China eased the requirements then ended them in January.
Since the restriction drops, there’s been early indications that China is ready for an outbound travel boom. In January and February, bookings for international flights grew 4.5 times and tour packages and attractions jumped 190 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Simeon Shi, chief strategy officer and head of corporate development for Fliggy, an Alibaba-owned online travel platform based in China.
While the Chinese demand is high, international flight capacity remains way below pre-pandemic levels, according to Shi. “All the talks around flight rights need to resume fast because we need much more flight capacity also directly to Berlin in order to really improve in the market,” said Visit Berlin Director of Market Management Ralf Ostendorf.
Travel agencies still need months to catch up with their capacity to service group tours. Visa attainment has become difficult for many countries and the government has been slow to meet the demand for passport renewals, according to Shi.
Many international tourism businesses are also now short on their China-specialized staff. “A lot of people who were working with the Chinese market in the pre-pandemic period are no longer there because there was nothing to do for three years,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of China Outbound Tourism Research and Meaningful Tourism Center.
At the same time, the Chinese traveler is different from the pre-pandemic one thanks to three years of strict lockdowns. Fliggy’s Shi said they have a stronger interest in experiences and local attractions they find over social media over famous ones, which underscores a 2023 Skift megatrend that travelers want less obvious destinations. Arlt noted outdoor-focused experiences and trips with family have also become a higher priority of Chinese travelers.
“As travel service providers, we should take time to study the changing needs of the Chinese customers and how we can meet their diverse needs in a more efficient way,” Shi said.
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Photo credit: World Tourism Cities Federation Senior Manager of Liaison Department Richard Matuzevich, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and Meaningful Tourism Center CEO Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Fliggy Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Corporate Development Simeon Shi, Visit Berlin Director of Market Management Ralf Ostendorf and Head of MICE Department at Kazakh Tourism Board Ainura Zhumatayeva at ITB Berlin Dawit Habtemariam