Chinese Travel Report I: Young Travelers Want Local Over Luxury

Luxury department stores once held huge appeal for China’s globetrotting tourists, but now that Chinese travelers can get most of their favorite high-end brands in China, they’re saving more of their time and money for more atypical global adventures.

This is the forecast for nearly half of Chinese travelers according to a new study by Hotels.com and the market research firm Ipsos. The seventh edition of their Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) emphasizes “culture” and “educational experiences” as important in determining travel destinations for Chinese tourists, particularly with millennial and Gen-Z markets who seek adventures unique to their destinations.

The report surveyed more than 3,000 Chinese consumers who had traveled abroad over the last 12 months. Roughly half of the respondents were from large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, while the other half hailed from smaller cities. For these increasingly independent travelers, it was imperative to have “out-of-the-box” and “authentic” experiences and to visit new countries. So while major landmarks and shopping malls still hold appeal, many Chinese travel itineraries are no longer complete without activities such as music festivals, international film festivals, or tours at contemporary art museums.

Of course, social media fuels many of these newfound desires. Over 40 percent of millennial and Gen-Z respondents said they share their cultural experiences through selfies that express their individuality to friends and family by the uniqueness of their holiday and no longer solely by what they wear or own. It’s not surprising, then, that over half of the CITM respondents said they wanted to stay in unconventional accommodations when traveling, “such as a treehouse, warehouse, or glamping.”

But for hotels, localization and authenticity are becoming more important factors than in the past. Half of the respondents said that they stayed at “independent hotels with local flavor,” while 33 percent tried boutique hotels, and just under half had stayed at international chain hotels. Overall, it seems as if travelers are increasingly looking for access to cultural heritage sites, authentic artisans, and historical landmarks during their international stays.

“While feeling welcome is clearly an important factor in choosing destinations, it doesn’t necessarily override the desire for new experiences,” the report summarized. “Chinese travelers are still visiting Asia but they want to expand their horizons, even if it means going outside their comfort zone and doing without some of the familiar services.”

What’s driving this? Other than advice from friends, celebrities, and KOLs on social media, it’s culture—much in the way the “Lost in Thailand”-effect helped bring more than 4.7 million Chinese travelers to that country in 2013. Film and television continue to play a vital driver in trip planning, with 62 percent of respondents saying that it was their main inspiration for travel. The report cited France, North America, the United Kingdom, and Latin America as destinations that have become popular as a result of films and television. So, as is often the case, we’re seeing that younger generations are heavily influenced by what they see on screens.

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