Grand Touring: Luxury Travel’s the New Prada Bag for Young Chinese

New Chapters, a British boutique travel agency based in London, is carving out an unusual specialty: it serves affluent Chinese consumers, specifically Chinese parents who wish to educate their children on Western culture. The company’s trips carry themes from “Aristocratic Britain” (events include grouse shooting) to “Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Europe” (a highlight is a tour of the Waterloo battlefield) to a look at the UK contemporary art scene. It includes studio visits, painting lessons, and curatorial advice.

The agency’s elaborate, pricey excursions— they cost from about $8,000 (55K RMB) a week per person to about $22,500 (150K RMB) for three weeks—combine cultural experiences with educational lessons. It’s a bit of a modern-day interpretation of “The Grand Tour.” That was the 18th and 19th-century phenomenon in which the children of wealthy parents went sent on a circuit around Europe to educate themselves in culture, language, history, and manners.  Through New Chapters, families explore destinations like England, France, Belgium or the Galapagos islands. But most tours immerse guests in the British way of life and culture – from the Royal Family, to Shakespeare and Churchill, to British country life.

“China’s elite, those who have made their fortunes through manufacturing or technology, have a fascination with British culture and revere the aristocracy, seeing it as a model for how they can pass their own wealth on through the generations,” commented Esther Leong founder of New Chapters in 2013. “‘Learning through doing’ holidays are the logical, next-step extension of sending their offspring to prestigious private schools such as Harrow, Eton or Westminster.”

The so-called “learning programmes” throw the kids into the deep end, sometimes quite literally. Lily Yan, who works in Beijing’s financial industry, went on the “British Maritime History” trip with her daughter in 2016. She recalls: “When learning to sail on a small boat, it’s inevitable to fall into the water. A regular travel agency would have staff jump into the water to save you immediately, but for this program, the children learn to get back on the boat through the coach’s guidance. It was a rewarding learning experience.” Travel is “a good way to immerse in knowledge and reinforce values that can’t be taught in normal settings, says Yan.

The agency’s specialty came as a surprise, even to its founders. “At the start, we are more focusing on lifestyle experiences, it was created for Chinese people who were spending time in the UK, to navigate their way around British society,” says Esther Leong, agency co-founder. “Actually over time, our clients have led us to this educational travel service.” Now they have hosted nearly 30 trips, for about 600 people.

Overall, Chinese outbound tourism is undergoing a revolution. A new breed of Chinese tourist isn’t just spending more – 20 percent of luxury travelers have spent over 500,000 yuan, approximately £50,000 a year on tourism, whilst the number of Chinese high net worth individuals has risen nearly nine times in the last decade.

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