Chinese tourists seek more authentic, local experiences

Increasing numbers of Chinese travellers are independent tourists who want to avoid their countrymen and instead immerse themselves in their destination’s culture.

That was one of the key trends in the market outlined by Professor Dr Wolfgang Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), speaking at a Chinese tourism leaders’ dinner during World Travel Market London last week.

The event was hosted by China Travel Outbound and Capela China, with an audience of UK attractions and tourism boards that are increasingly aiming their marketing and services at the Chinese market.

Professor Arlt highlighted the growing importance of Chinese independent travellers and Chinese ‘Modular Outbound Travellers’ or MOTs – who choose to book small parts of their trip in small “modular” packages.

These emerging sectors of the Chinese market “are tiring of travelling overseas and meeting mostly fellow countrymen in a destination, of engaging in just shopping and sightseeing”, he said.

“They have become more and more interested in new, authentic offers based on local culture and nature,” he commented.

COTRI forecasts that 2018 will see 160 million Chinese arrivals worldwide, which will comprise 75 million in Greater China destinations and 85 million visiting the rest of the world.

“By 2030, 390 million outbound trips will originate in mainland China, most of them going beyond Greater China – 250 million more than 2017 – meaning half of the additional outbound travellers in the next decade will be Chinese,” he said.

To emphasise the potential of the market, he said no more than 10% of Chinese citizens have passports, so the “vast majority” of Chinese have yet to experience their first long-distance leisure trip.

Also, 75% of Chinese tourists believe that travelling is a “vital factor for improving their life quality and happiness”.

The market is seeing increasingly diverse age groups as more older tourists and more students head overseas, he added.

Furthermore, Chinese government policy has changed, as Beijing takes centre stage in the world and wields soft power through tourism, said the professor.

Other factors helping the rise of Chinese tourism include easier visa requirements, better social media awareness, more airline routes and simpler mobile payment methods.

The professor did warn about potential pitfalls too, saying countries such as the UK, the US and Brazil have government policies that “create uncertainty about the level of welcome for foreigners”.

The event also heard from Amy O’Rourke, marketing manager at Royal Museums Greenwich, who outlined how attractions such as the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark targeted Chinese visitors via social media and made changes to their facilities to boost numbers.

• Delegates at WTM London also heard from travel analyst ForwardKeys, which said understanding the Chinese market calendar was important to tap into its potential.

Olivier Ponti, ForwardKeys’ insights vice-president, said the dates of key Chinese festivals move around, making it more difficult to track the peak times when travellers will use public holidays in combination with annual leave to maximise their time away.

Home page picture of Chinese tourists in a Brighton pub: Credit: ©VisitBritain/Ben Selway