Chinese travelers have been exposed to a number of security issues on the road in recent months, from bus fires, to robbery, to terrorism—all of which has understandably dampened the outlook for outbound tourism from the mainland. That paired with recent data from the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) makes the situation appear even worse. The number of visits to certain European destinations by Chinese tourists is dropping, and China’s outbound traveler numbers overall grew just 3.4 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period the year before.
However, according to COTRI, the future of Chinese travelers headed abroad isn’t as bleak as it looks. Interest in overseas travel is still robust and growing outside of Greater China, with 18 million arrivals in the second quarter of this year. The main trend that’s shifting is that the places Chinese tourists are headed are changing.
One major factor for the overall growth slowdown from January to June of 2016 is the waning of tourism from the mainland to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The second quarter was the first time that the number of visits to Greater China made up less than half of the outbound tourism visits around the world, with 15.8 million arrivals. The number of visits to these three destinations combined dropped 7 percent in the second half of 2016, fueled by a number of factors that have been affecting visitor rates there for many months.
In Hong Kong, for example, the number of visitors from the mainland dipped 5.4 percent in the second quarter thanks in part to travelers being deterred by the political environment and a shift in interest in other luxury shopping destinations like Japan. Taiwan’s tourism numbers were negatively affected after Beijing announced they would be suspending diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In Macau, the number of visitors rose nearly 1 percent in the second quarter of 2016, but it was only a slight rebound compared to a huge tourism slump thanks to President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign discouraging mainland Chinese from heading there to gamble.
Still, even for Greater China, there is positive news. While the first quarter of this year experienced a 9.9 decrease in tourist flow from the mainland, that number was reduced to 3.7 percent in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, outbound travel to everywhere else around the globe rose 16 percent in the first half of the year. Top destinations for Chinese travelers according to COTRI data were Thailand, South Korea and Japan. While this alone isn’t an unexpected trend, outside of the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese travelers exhibited a growing interest in new destinations. This, COTRI director Wolfgang Georg Arlt said at a International Tourism Studies Association conference last week, can partly be attributed to recent terrorist attacks in parts of Europe.
“The current anxiety surrounding terrorist attacks in a number of European countries, as well as in Thailand, will not reduce the total number of outbound trips in the coming months, but rather lead to a shift away from places considered unsafe to supposedly safer, alternative destinations such as Italy, Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.
The United States was another “alternative” destination on this list, experiencing double-digit year-on-year growth at 17 percent.