The Chinese are traveling, perhaps not as much as destinations would have liked them to, but the resurgence of Chinese travel brings optimism for travel businesses worldwide. It's a positive indication of recovery and a step towards normalcy in the tourism industry.
China’s three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday that concluded Saturday showed a noticeable revival in outbound travel, as evidenced by the increasing number of border crossings.
Even though the Dragon Boat Festival is a brief national holiday in the Chinese mainland, cross-border crossings touched 65 percent of the 2019 level, according to the National Immigration Administration.
Trip.com-owned platform Ctrip noted that the average cost for outbound travel was down during the Dragon Boat holiday even as bookings have surged. A one-way air ticket was 6 percent lower than during the May Day holiday and bookings were 12 times levels a year ago.
Flight orders were up four times over the three-day New Year’s Day holidays, according to Alibaba’s travel division Fliggy, indicating a significant uptick in travel demand.
Ctrip noted that Hong Kong, Bangkok, Macau, Tokyo and Singapore were the most popular destinations, with travelers spending an average of $415 per hotel booking.
Hong Kong was the most popular option for Chinese Mainland travelers, with hotel orders from the Chinese Mainland to Hong Kong increasing more than 18 times year-over-year.
Many travelers chose to take the high-speed rail to Hong Kong, with orders for high-speed rail on Ctrip’s platform rising by more than 60 percent compared to last month.
Gen-Z, Millenials Opt for Leisurely Holidays
Ctrip noted that the primary groups engaged in outbound travel from Mainland China were Gen-Z and millennials who preferred leisurely holidays.
Airbnb in its Summer Outbound Travel Trend Report, had also noted that the younger generation, including Gen Z and millennials, who are driving the growth in outbound travel, show a strong inclination for immersive local experiences.
The duration of travel for Chinese users is also increasing, with nearly half of the summer listing searches on Airbnb being for stays of seven days or more, which is almost double the spring period.
This shift in travel behavior reflects a growing desire among Chinese tourists to go beyond surface-level experiences and engage more meaningfully with the destinations they visit.
The trend of longer stays also aligns with the findings of Trip.com’s 2023 travel trend report, which highlights that Chinese travelers are opting for extended durations to immerse themselves deeply in local communities and maximize their time abroad.
This inclination towards immersive local experiences and longer stays has also been demonstrated in the Travel Industry Trends 2023 brought out by Mastercard Economics Institute.
Potentially influenced by social media and entertainment, the report noted that global spending on experiences is up 65 percent compared to 2019.
What Is Keeping Chinese Travelers Away
Before the pandemic, China had the largest outbound travel market in the world, both in number of trips and total spend as Chinese tourists took 155 million outbound trips, totaling $255 billion in travel spending.
China is also an important source market for some major destinations. Chinese travelers made up 28 percent of inbound tourism in Thailand, 30 percent in Japan, and 16 percent of non-European Union visitors to Germany.
Even with the removal of outbound travel restrictions, Chinese travelers may continue to prioritize domestic trips until they perceive international travel as safe, a McKinsey report had noted in May.
The confidence of travelers is expected to increase with the availability of Covid-19-safe environments in destination countries, leading to a resurgence in bookings, the report noted.
Despite a positive travel sentiment, the report said several factors may discourage travelers from embarking on international journeys. These include concerns about Covid-19, the potentially high cost of Covid-19 testing, ticket prices, the risk appetite of destination countries, and the processes involved in obtaining a passport or visa.
The Chinese Traveler Sentiment Report from April 2023, published by Dragon Trail Research, reinforces the notion that safety remains the primary factor deterring Chinese travelers from venturing abroad.
The report noted that this concern for personal well-being and security significantly influences travel decisions.
How This Summer is Shaping Up
However, according to Airbnb’s summer travel report, Chinese users have shown a significant surge in interest in outbound travel during the early summer period (from July 1-15).
The search interest for outbound travel from Chinese users has soared nearly six times, surpassing the growth observed this spring.
Major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Zhengzhou have been identified as the most active outbound travel hubs, with Shanghai serving as the departure point for about half of Chinese travelers this summer.
Leisure vacations are currently preferred over city sightseeing, and international metropolises like London, Paris, and Bangkok have emerged as the top destinations for travelers from Shanghai and Beijing.