“Outbound Rebound: The Return of Chinese Travelers” report offers insights into the way affluent Chinese travel overseas as borders reopen.
HONG KONG and SHANGHAI- Almost nine in every 10 mainland Chinese say they miss traveling abroad. This, coupled with economic optimism, bodes well for a strong rebound of what was once the world’s largest outbound travel market. “Outbound Rebound: The Return of Chinese Travelers”, the latest industry report presented by global marketing agency Finn Partners and professional research consultancy Consumer Search Group indicates that mainland Chinese travelers intend to boost their pre-pandemic pace of overseas travel this year.
A survey was conducted from January 10 to 24, 2023, just days after the China government lifted international travel restrictions after three years. The 20-minute-long questionnaire gathered valuable findings from over 2,000 affluent Chinese in first-, second- and third-tier cities in mainland China, and Hong Kong. The respondents’ average annual household income is over RMB 1.4 million (USD 209,000), with purchases of luxury travel and products in the past 12 months. All respondents have travelled overseas prior to the pandemic.
“We already know that there is a strong eagerness and urge to travel after years of border restrictions in China,” said Jenny Lo, Managing Partner for China of Finn Partners. “We conducted this in-depth study to identify the changes in behaviors, needs, decision-making and expectations of affluent travelers, offering insights to better address the Chinese outbound travel market that is anticipating a faster-than-expected revival”.
Whet the Wanderlust
About one in two affluent Chinese travelers are making plans for at least five trips in 2023. On average, they are planning to make 5.9 trips this year, up from 5.6 trips in 2019. While the 26- to 36-year-old demographic shows the most significant increase in number of trips, younger affluent Chinese travelers aged 21 to 25 years continue to be the most frequent travelers.
Aside from more frequent leisure trips, a majority want to stay longer per trip. 72% plan to vacation from six to over 10 days in 2023 — bringing the average duration per trip to 8.7 days, versus 8.4 days in 2019. Indulgence in longer vacations is prevalent in the 21 to 25 age group.
Ready to Splurge on Luxury
The affluent segment plans to increase spending by 15% to RMB 102,500 (USD 15,299) in 2023, 22% more than the budget set aside by Hong Kong travelers. The increase in travel budget is more evident in the 36+ age group, as well as those from Tier-1 cities. Meanwhile, the well-heeled segment (survey respondents in the top 20% percentile) is willing to spend an average of RMB 284,000 (USD 42,388).
More than one third of affluent Chinese travelers plan to fly in first or business class, while one in two choose to stay in upscale or luxury hotels on their next leisure trip.
Take it Slow, Experience is Priority
Gone are the rushed, major attractions-packed tours as the affluent Chinese evolve from tourists to travelers. Over 70% of respondents desire slow, recuperative travel over an itinerary filled with activities. Travelers plan to immerse themselves like locals (58%), take more road trips (56%), take better care of themselves (56%), and attend more events (51%) in their future holidays.
Eight out of ten travelers are more willing to pay for experiences over tangible products, particularly those from Tier-3 cities (86%). This points to the growing potential of authentic and personalized travel experiences, where one savors the local sights, sounds and culture.
“What we are seeing among more affluent and experienced travelers are different mindsets and habits. We are seeing less desire for a frenetic pace of travel and itineraries that are deliberate. Millennials and Gen Z are more laid-back, they prefer experiences where they can interact with locals in meaningful and authentic ways,” said Simon Tye, Executive Director of Consumer Search Group.
Good Experience Drives Loyalty
The survey confirms that Chinese travelers long to revisit destinations where they had positive experiences and fond memories, after missing out on travel for more than three years. They are keen to repeat the good times and pleasant experiences hence prioritize all-time favorite destinations including Japan, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, New Zealand and Canada.
Affluent Chinese travelers also tend to choose hotel or resort brands where they had good personal experiences in the past. Star-ratings and positive word-of-mouth also carry great potential for repeated visits.
Live to Eat but Bask in Nature
While culinary experience remains a strong driver of leisure travel, 60% of travelers consider natural scenery as their first priority, especially among those aged 36+ (69%).
Chinese outbound travelers are also keen to incorporate wellness in their holidays (56%), with one-third prefer experiences including camping, hiking, outdoor adventures and cultural immersion. While shopping remains popular among them, interest in this activity wanes over younger age groups.
Hotel Brands Influence Destination Choices
Majority of travelers decide on a destination first before making hotel choices, but this decision process is declining. Instead, hotel brands are becoming a deciding factor in destination choice, especially among Gen Z travelers, with 26% plan their vacations around locations where their favorite hotel brand has a property.
The expectation on the roles of a hotel or resort has also expanded. With Chinese travelers being keen to engage and build social connections on the road, they hope to meet and interact with new people in the accommodation they stay in, shifting their preference towards community-minded and design-centric hotel properties, where there is a sense of conviviality, impeccable hospitality, and aesthetics.
Business Travel Returns
Mainland Chinese expect to resume their pre-pandemic level of international business travel this year, at an average of 2.1 trips — consistent with optimism towards post-pandemic recovery. While globally, business travel is facing a slower return amidst economic concerns, work-related trips from China are expected to rebound on the back of client servicing needs, internal engagements, conferences and industry events.
Staycations to Stay
Even as there is strong sentiment to travel overseas, “staycations” are also becoming more popular, with 80% planning to continue domestic travel, while 31% expecting to take four to 10 staycation trips in the next 12 months.
“This augurs well for domestic tourism which has grown tremendously over the past three years. With the government pump-priming development of attractions and experiences across China, we anticipate that domestic tourism will continue to be in demand even as international outbound travel continues to pick-up,” added Lo.
The “Outbound Rebound: The Return of Chinese Travelers” report also provides in-depth insights into other areas of interest, including key factors influencing decision-making, satisfaction levels of destinations, the value of loyalty memberships, the consumer decision journey, among others.
Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales. She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.