1. If Chinese tourists were a country, they would rank in the top ten in terms of population, right behind Russia and ahead of Japan.
Over the past decade, the number of Chinese tourists more than tripled to an annual 127 million, and the Middle Kingdom now sends more travelers abroad than any other country, with one out of every ten international tourists today hailing from China. East Asian countries dominate the list of destinations, with Thailand, Japan, and South Korea ranking in the top three of destination countries last year, but Chinese travelers are beginning to expand their sights beyond the region, as a rising number of countries relax their visa policies. In the last year, Egypt, the UAE, Morocco, and Tunisia all instituted visa-free travel for Chinese tourists, helping fuel a Middle East tourism boom.
2. Only four percent of the Chinese population holds a passport.
The outbound Chinese tourism market is young and growing; by 2020, 234 million Chinese tourists – twice the current number – are expected to travel outside the country. The growing population of travel-hungry millennials fresh from university and eager to explore the world is helping drive the surge, as is the growth of China’s middle class. Research suggests that Chinese households tend to begin traveling internationally once their income reaches $35,000 USD (240,000 yuan); over the past decade, about 21 million households reached that level, with another 61 million expected to do so by 2023. Government initiatives, including investments in airports and other travel infrastructure and new policies to increase paid leave and boost tax deductions, are also propelling Chinese consumers abroad.
3. Chinese tourists outspend and outshop travelers from every other country.
Chinese tourists come with full wallets: they spend more than travelers from any other country in the world, both in total value and per tax-free transaction. By 2019, Chinese tourists will spend $264 billion, about the size of Finland’s economy and larger than Greece’s. Shopping is vital to most Chinese tourists’ plans, accounting more than half of their spending, and Chinese shoppers abroad are expected to buy more luxury goods this year than tourists from all other countries combined. As Chinese consumers’ tastes switch from highly-branded luxury items to bespoke, high-quality items will create opportunities for less-visited countries.
4. However, there is a growing trend toward spending money on cultural and outdoor experiences.
Chinese tourists are increasingly reorienting their travel away from shopping. Longer, luxury trips with museums visits, spa packages, and natural sights all are big attractions for Chinese travelers; a “High-End Travel Around the World for 80 Days” trip – now priced at 1.25 million yuan per participant – sold out within seconds for the last five years it’s been offered. Antarctic tourism in particular has become popular, with nearly one-third of all luxury travelers visiting the frozen continent. Helping popularize this more adventurous type of travel are intrepid business leaders; several have made headlines for ascending Mount Everest as a way to self-fulfillment, including China Vanke Founder and Chairman Wang Shi, Antaeous Group Executive President Wang Qiuyang, Sohu Inc. CEO and Chairman Zhang Chaoyang, and Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group Co. Founder and Chairman Huang Nabo.
5. Few companies have “rolled out the red carpet” for Chinese travelers.
The outbound Chinese tourism market presents huge opportunities for companies operating in destination countries, but they have so far failed to provide the necessary infrastructure to support these travelers. Americans visiting the Forbidden City in the 1990s could enjoy an audio guided tour narrator by Roger Moore; two decades later, most American museums have yet to offer Chinese speaking guides or even self-guided tours narrated by native Chinese speakers. Most hotels also fail to cater to Chinese travelers, with few offering the types of comforts that Americans enjoy in China, such as hot water thermoses, tea, and Chinese newspapers and television channels. Offering comforts from home – as well as practical items such as Union Pay terminals – would go far to attract and retain Chinese customers; particularly savvy businesses will try to court young Chinese travelers, 74 million of whom will graduate college in the next decade and become potential travelers. By offering unique experiences directed toward this demographic, such as music tours and themed adventure trips, companies can bring in the next generation of Chinese travelers. Businesses that take advantage of the boom by moving aggressively to accommodate Chinese travelers will reap lasting benefits; those who ignore the boom do so at their financial peril.