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SEA, Japan & South Korea among top destinations for Chinese travellers: Study

International travel by Chinese nationals is increasing exponentially, from just 10.5 million outbound travelers in 2000 to 130 million in 2017. Asian-based investment firm CLSA predicts over 200 million Chinese will travel abroad annually by 2020. According to a joint report by online travel agency Ctrip and China Tourism Academy, the most popular destinations were Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the Maldives.

J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s Innovation Group APAC’s new report ‘China Outbound: The New Face of Chinese Global Travel’ uncovers a number of new trends about the world’s fastest-growing group of outbound travelers. It identifies emerging traveler types, growth sectors, of outbound Chinese tourists.

But the emerging habits and tastes of Chinese outbound travelers are a far cry from the flag-led coach party stereotypes typically associated with this cohort. Broadly speaking, China’s travelers are increasingly seeking something they can’t find back home – this could be food, culture, spirituality, nature, adventure or even love – yet still want the conveniences of home such as language and familiar payment systems.

The report is based on the Innovation Group’s survey of 1,500 adult travellers from 16 cities across China conducted in March 2018. It has identified 12 emerging traveler types including:

• Foodie travelers (48 per cent have been, 41 per cent interested)
While Chinese tourists once stuck to the predictability of Chinese restaurants while abroad, they are now more likely to enjoy local cuisines, whether it’s sushi in Japan, oysters in New Zealand, crispy duck in Bali or durian in Malaysia. For an increasing number of Chinese travelers, local delicacies have become something to be sought out rather than studiously avoided.

• Wander women (34 per cent of women have been, 41 per cent interested)
Young, upwardly mobile women are increasingly putting off marriage to focus on their careers. These students and professionals are working hard and also playing hard, which includes traveling abroad with girlfriends or solo.

• Looking for love (21 per cent have been, 29 per cent interested)
Some are looking for a fling or a life partner. Others are interested in gay-friendly destinations such as Thailand to express themselves in a way they cannot back home, or to get hitched in a country where gay marriage is legal.

• Medical tourists (15 per cent have been, 31 per cent interested)
China’s middle class is more health conscious than ever before, yet grapples with overcrowded public hospitals and brusque doctors at home. Those who can afford it are seeking treatment elsewhere, from aesthetic surgery in Taiwan, Korea and Thailand, to cancer screening in Japan. Some insurance plans now cover overseas treatment.

And these emerging traveler types are obviously driving growth sectors including medical tourism and love tourism, with savvy operators and destinations already tapping into these developing trends.

“We embarked on this study with a view to finding opportunities for destinations, operators and brands looking to tap into China’s burgeoning numbers of outbound travellers. But the insights we’ve unearthed go far deeper than just ‘consumers’. Respondents’ embarrassment at being pre-judged as ‘ugly tourists’ and their very real fears of terrorism are just some of the revealing human insights that make this one of, if not the, most qualitative in-depth studies into this segment,” commented John Gutteridge, CEO J. Walter Thompson Company APAC.

“While the flag-waving Chinese tour leader is still a common sight, the truth is that a growing segment of outbound Chinese are now traveling independently to increasingly far-flung locations. Singles, younger generations, and those from smaller cities are traveling, making this cohort a powerful, and moving, target,” said Chen May Yee, APAC Director for the Innovation Group.