Skift Take

The post-pandemic Chinese traveler is a whole new ballgame, and travel companies need to understand that and step up their game.

Before the pandemic, Trip.com Group offered an “Around the World” package that was priced at a staggering $250,000. It was an instant sensation, and sold out in a mere 17 seconds.

Those days are gone. But there’s still plenty of growth to be had. You just need to understand the new Chinese traveler. 

“If there is one country in the world that has not taken revenge travel outbound, it is mainland China,” said Boon Sian Chai, managing director and vice president of international markets at Trip.com Group.

Step one would be restoring outbound flights with total capacity still at 50% of 2019 levels. When that is resolved, Chai identified several other shifts travel companies need to be aware of.  

Longer Booking Windows

Booking windows have lengthened as consumers display increased confidence in planning ahead, Chai said to Skift.

The booking window for Hong Kong was typically 7 to 9 days in 2019-2022, but during this year’s Golden Week holiday, it was as long as 27 days, he said.

“The upcoming Chinese New Year holiday in February will last for nine days. While it may seem like there’s ample time to prepare, hotels and travel partners should start their preparations early for this extended break,” he said.

The New Chinese Traveler Wants Experiences, Not Bucket Lists

Chinese travelers are also changing their behavior. Experiential travel and cultural immersion have eclipsed the previous trend of ticking off destinations in record time.

They now seek wellness, spa, yoga activities, and retreats, valuing health and security in their travel experiences.

And as Chai said, “When you’re looking for experiential travel versus ticking off bucket lists, you would want to travel in smaller groups. Hence, traveling with friends and close family members is common.”

Hotel Rooms Plus ‘X’

In what it dubs is a growing trend, Chinese consumers are not just booking their accommodations, but also the various experiences associated with their trips.

“Traditionally, travelers moved from one point to the other, focusing primarily on securing a hotel room. However, we’ve introduced a concept we call “hotel room plus X,” Chai said.

The idea is that Trip.com now bundles hotel stays with activities, spa treatments, exhibitions and concerts, making domestic travel more comprehensive and personalized.

The key, he said, is to ensure that the experiences complement the customer’s specific preferences rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Outbound Travel and Golden Week

While Chai acknowledged that the pandemic has indeed affected outbound travel from China greatly, but the allure of travel remains unchanged.

During Golden Week, outbound travel surged 800%. Top destinations such as Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and the UK are still highly sought after. The U.S. and Europe are still popular, but it can be tough to get a visa.

However, Chai said in spite of the visa challenges travel to U.S., is still possible for a small number of travelers, who hold a 10-year U.S. visa, granted pre pandemic

Trip.com’s search data for 2023 outpaces that of 2019, indicating a resilient demand for travel experiences.

In the upcoming winter-spring flight season, there are plans to raise the number of weekly passenger flights between China and the United States from the current 48 (24 round trips) to 70 per week. Even after this, the volume of China-U.S. flights will still be at approximately 25% of 2019 levels.

Safety and Security

However, Chai said that no matter how alluring outbound travel may be, safety and security information is most crucial for Chinese travelers, who prioritize their well-being while making travel decisions.

“Chinese consumers are very susceptible to information that talk about security and safety. Reports of kidnapping, robbery, gunfire in destinations will definitely turn the Chinese travelers away,” he said.

After the recent shooting incident at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon Mall last month, resulting in the death of a Chinese tourist and injury to another, there have been reports of numerous cancellations of tours to Thailand by Chinese tourists.

New Developments: Gulf Countries and Silver Generation

Trip.com Group has also been fostering strong partnerships with the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Dubai also ranks as one of the company’s top 10 outbound destinations.

Chai said the company is in the midst of localizing its website in the Arabic language designed to serve the Gulf region.

Recognizing the evolving demographics in China, Chai said the company understands the importance of attracting both Gen Z and millennials while simultaneously targeting the aging population.

The company is poised to introduce an innovative program tailored to the “silver generation,” individuals characterized by their substantial disposable income and ample leisure time.

“This program will cater to their desires for more opulent and immersive travel experiences, showcasing Trip.com’s commitment to diverse customer segments and comprehensive travel offerings,” Chai said.

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Tags: asia monthly, booking windows, chinese tourism, Chinese tourists, coronavirus recovery, ctrip, experiences, flights resumption, gen z, golden week, hong kong, millennials, online travel newsletter, trip.com group, visa

Photo credit: The new Chinese traveler wants experiences, says Trip.com Group. Kuan Fang / Unsplash

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