China, the future of travel

Boutique Hotel News reports from the launch of a revised version of Roy Graff’s guide to Chinese outbound travel.

Chinese tourism expert Roy Graff launched an updated version of his book China, the Future of Travel, at the Hotel Cafe Royal in London’s West End last week.

The founder of ChinaContact has revised the book and intends it to examine the phenomenon of the Chinese traveller, to set in to context the media hype about the subject, and to provide deeper insights about the market to travel, hospitality and retail professionals.

Graff kicked the event off by saying the old cliches about outbound Chinese tourists are no longer true. “The sheer size of the market means that there is a demand for all types of travel. This includes less obvious options such as adventure travel and cultural tours. If you are catering specifically for the Chinese market, it should be done in an understated way so they don’t feel singled out and made to feel as if they are being treated differently from other nationalities.”

He also expects the huge surge in Chinese traveller numbers to continue, predicting that double-digit growth in outbound Chinese tourism will continue for at least the next five years.

As well as wanting to be treated in a similar manner to travellers from other countries, the habits of the Chinese travellers are diversifying and can no longer be pigeon-holed.

Graff says high level travellers tend to use the same hotel brands they know and use in China. But younger travellers and those who mix business with pleasure prefer more individual properties and boutique hotels. In fact, younger generations are more adventurous in terms of location and food, and will try things that their parents wouldn’t dream of – or approve of!

This new attitude has given rise to what Graff describes as the SIT – the semi-independent traveller. These people are no longer travelling in large organised groups, covering several countries in just a few days. They tend to travel in smaller groups of family or friends, and want to shape their own itinerary. They want to experience local culture, which is difficult to do in an anonymous, generic five-star hotel – offering an opportunity for boutique and independent properties. Middle class Chinese families are increasingly using private rooms in youth hostels to save money.

The event made clear that the UK needs to work to keep up with other countries when it comes to attracting Chinese guests. Recent visa issues have been well documented, and the situation has undoubtedly improved. But the US, for example, now offers a 10-year multiple entry visa to Chinese travellers, and several US states have tourist offices in China, and engage Chinese PR companies. Australia offers a three-year multiple entry visa and sees China as its number one inbound market.

But the UK is succeeding in some respects: according to VisitBritain, the average length of stay of a Chinese traveller in France is three days, in the UK it is 11 days.

A key learning is the way Chinese travellers book their journeys and accommodation, and the way they use social media. China is leading the world in terms of connectivity and mobile smart phone usage, and running in parallel with that is the fact that word of mouth and recommendations from friends are very influential. Instagram is banned in China but local network WeChat has 1.1 billion accounts registered. Trip Advisor paid to translate lots of the existing reviews on its site when it launched in China, but it didn’t work and the Chinese didn’t believe them. The site had to incentivise Chinese travellers to leave reviews.

Airbnb has launched in a big way in China, partnering with travel site Qyer, and is quite successful already. Individual travellers need a hotel booking confirmation to receive a foreign travel visa. But travellers are getting round that by booking with an OTA, then cancelling their booking and using Airbnb.

Graff said that a different marketing strategy is needed for travellers from Hong Kong and Taiwan – they don’t need a visa to travel to the UK and Europe. They are generally wealthier and more confident – but don’t forget they use traditional Chinese characters as opposed to the simplified modern characters.

Click here to buy a copy of China, the Future of Travel.

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