Skift Take

The evolving demographics of Chinese outbound travel shows a jump in younger female travelers. This shift will have important implications for how businesses approach their marketing strategies and the kind of products on offer.

A notable demographic shift, particularly among young upwardly mobile women, is driving the recent travel rebound in China. These travelers are researching and booking trips online, often spontaneously.

According to the most recent travel sentiment survey conducted by China Trading Desk, 62% of outbound travelers were female. Among them, almost 40% fell within the ages of 18 to 24, and a little over 27% were 25 to 29-year-olds.

According to China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, there were 3.6 million outbound trips taken during the Chinese New Year (from February 10-17).

Skift earlier cited a Dragon Trail research that expects China’s outbound tourism to reach 80% of pre-pandemic levels by 2024 end.

The five-day Labor Day holiday that begins from May 1 and the summer travel season are expected to further drive outbound tourism.

Women Power Drives Travel

Subramania Bhatt, founder and CEO of China Trading Desk, emphasized the emergence of a new cohort of digitally-savvy travelers seeking culturally enriching experiences. He highlighted that this demographic is predominantly young, female, and educated, with many opting for solo trips.

“These travelers exhibit a strong interest in independent travel, nature activities, and cultural experiences,” Bhatt told Skift.

He emphasized the need for travel businesses and destinations to better cater to these travelers by prioritizing safety, wellness, and support services.

Businesses should focus on promoting shopping and luxury experiences, along with unique local activities that appeal to the interests of young Chinese women travelers, he said.

Regarding travel preferences, the survey revealed that shopping ranked among the top five consumption items for outbound travel along with accommodation, air tickets and food. Over a quarter of travelers said they research shopping activities before purchasing air tickets, with this percentage rising to just under 70% among those aged 18 to 29.

Challenges of U.S. Travel

Analyzing destination popularity among Chinese travelers, Singapore maintains its lead position, followed by Thailand and South Korea.

During the first quarter of 2024, China contributed the highest number of visitor arrivals to Singapore, with nearly 724,000 entries. This marked a 481% year-on-year jump, reaching 75% of the visitor arrivals in 2019 for the same period.

In February, Singapore and China implemented a 30-day visa-free travel arrangement. Also, from March 1, Thailand and China entered into a mutual visa exemption agreement.

However, travel to the United States from China remains subdued. Bhatt predicts that Chinese travel to the U.S. may start to recover by the fourth quarter of 2024 or early 2025, barring any additional constraints.

“A variety of challenges, notably stringent visa regulations, geopolitical strains, and advisories from the Chinese government are holding back U.S. travel,” he said.

Recent incidents of professionals and students experiencing entry denials or interrogations upon arrival in the U.S. have led to official warnings about potential travel disruptions or cancellations, he said.

“Given the ongoing geopolitical complexities and the U.S. elections in November, prospects for immediate improvement in U.S.-China travel dynamics appear limited,” Bhatt said.

The survey listed government travel restrictions among the top factors influencing travel decisions.

Apps to Plan, Research and Pay

Chinese travelers are also booking trips faster and using digital platforms more. This suggests a trend towards spontaneity and flexibility driven by their digital skills, according to the survey.

They use popular travel apps like CTrip and Qunar, as well as social media platforms like Douyin and Xiaohongshu (China’s Instagram), to get information and plan trips. These platforms are also often used for organizing shopping excursions.

Bhatt stresses the importance of digital tools in travel and shopping, noting how they shape travel plans.

Friend recommendations strongly influence hotel bookings, followed by digital ads, highlighting the importance of social networks and targeted marketing in the hospitality industry.

For improving shopping experiences, travelers, especially those aged between 18 and 29 prefer using digital wallets and mobile payments. Alipay is the top payment method for outbound travel, with WeChat Pay also widely used among Chinese travelers.


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Tags: alipay, asia monthly, china, china outbound, ctrip, digital payments, politics, singapore, social media, survey, visa waiver, wechat pay, women travelers

Photo credit: Chinese female travelers exhibit a strong interest in independent travel, nature activities, and cultural experiences. Kuan Fang / Unsplash

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