Market overview

Rise of the ‘more’ generation

Chinese travelers have entered a new phase in their evolution. More educated and increasingly sophisticated in their tastes and expectations, they want more of everything – more time traveling, more locations, more exotic experiences, and they are spending more.  

This is a key finding of this year’s CITM and it applies across all age brackets. Just like their millennial counterparts, those born in the 1960s are spreading their travel wings, seeking more adventurous destinations further from home, visiting more locations on each trip, staying away longer and traveling internationally more often.  

For the first time in the survey’s history, shopping is no longer the prime reason for international travel. Leisure, culture and eco tourism are the new flavours. When choosing a hotel, Chinese travelers want high quality in-house services, free Wi-Fi and, for a growing number of millennials, an authentic local flavour.

Exotic destinations in demand

This year’s survey results reflect the increasing appetite of the Chinese middle class for more adventurous travel. Outbound travel from China has grown at a double-digit pace in the past decade, reaching record numbers in 2016.2 As the numbers of educated, more affluent Chinese grow, they are traveling much further from home, exploring new long-haul destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.   

In Europe alone, over 10 million Chinese visitors arrived in 2016. The European Travel Commission is expecting these numbers to increase to 11.4 million in 2017 and to grow by 9.3 per cent a year over the next 5 years.3   

Australia continues to be a favored destination. 4 decades ago, 10 visitors from China arrived in Australia each week. During 2016 the same number arrived every 5 minutes.4  

This year’s CITM found spending on travel increased across all age brackets during the past 12 months but particularly for those born post 70s, who spent 7 per cent more on average. Overall, Chinese travelers spent 28 per cent of their income on international travel in 2016, with 90s millennials the biggest spenders, allocating 35 per cent of their income.     

Despite many key indicators providing signs of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, the growth in outbound travel is expected to continue. Indeed, Chinese travelers expect to spend an average of 10 per cent more on travel over the next 12 months.  

Empty nesters seek adventure

Post 60s Chinese travelers are increasingly throwing caution to the wind, traveling further afield and choosing much more adventurous styles of travel.   

Eco tours, backpacking and theme tours are the new flavour for this generation, either with their millennial children or on their own. It seems the younger generation is having an influence on their parents’ travel style. Our data shows that post 60s who traveled with their children in the past 12 months are more likely to travel in the future by theme tour, eco tour, private luxury tour or backpacking than those who traveled without their children.   

For example, 23 per cent of post 60s who had not traveled with their children in the past 12 months intended to travel with an eco tour in the next 12 months compared with 29 per cent who had traveled with their children.   

Post 80s millennials are using their increased earning capacity to travel to far more diverse destinations, such as western Europe, the US and Canada. This has no doubt fuelled their growing desire to do more intrepid style traveling in the future and to put off traditional life stages to travel instead, with 68 per cent of post 80s viewing traveling as an opportunity to indulge life compared with only 39 per cent who consider traveling as a way of experiencing family “golden moments”.   

And while group travel is still popular – particularly among travelers from Tier 2, 3 and 4 cities and regions, including Chengdu, Zhuhai and Baoding respectively – the strong swing evident in our research towards independent travel and themed tours is backed up by statistics from China National Tourism Administration. These show that, in 2016, the number of Chinese tourists booking customised trips increased by a massive 400 per cent and those booking themed tours increased by 250 per cent compared with the previous year.    

Chinese traveler personas updated

CITM 2017 further refines the 5 travel personas outlined for the first time in last year’s report. These 5 distinct personas with their varying background, travel attitudes, preferences and behaviors, provide valuable insights for hotels and others in the tourism industry. This year there has been a shift in younger millennials indicating a growing sophistication in this age group. We have updated the personas to reflect the changing needs and preferences of Chinese travelers to assist our hotel partners and others evolve their offerings.  

Tapping the potential

What is clear from our research is the enormous potential for growth in both the numbers of Chinese international travelers and their spending power. While China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries, only 10 per cent of the population had passports in 2016.5 And as the number of Chinese travelers grows, so do their expectations of new, more adventurous and diverse travel offerings.  

CITM has identified some key shifts in the preferences of Chinese travelers as well as potential service gaps. We trust this will be a useful tool for our hotel partners and others striving to meet both the challenges and opportunities of this powerful and burgeoning segment of the international tourism market.  

5 China National Tourism Administration