The North and South Poles are increasingly popular travel spots for China's rich. (Flickr/Christopher Michel)
This article was published earlier in our weekly newsletter. Sign up through our “Newsletter Sign Up” box on the right.
Amid a boom in middle-class Chinese shoppers arriving by the busload via group tours to tourist hotspots like Bangkok and Jeju Island, exclusive luxury brands are especially interested in the travel habits of China’s high-net-worth travelers. According to Hurun’s annual report on China’s richest jetsetters, wealthy tourists are increasingly searching for unique destinations and experiences as they travel off the beaten path and prioritize leisure over shopping.
The Chinese Luxury Traveler 2015 report surveyed Chinese travelers who spent US$30,000 or more on travel over the past year (although the average amount spent among participants was $58,000), finding that their preferences are unique from China’s mass travel market.
Most notably, this experienced group of travelers is saying “been there, done that” to destinations most popular with China’s 100 million-plus outbound travelers, opting instead for more obscure locales. The North and South Poles were particularly popular, with 34 percent of wealthy respondents heading to the South Pole over Spring Festival—making it the top destination among this elite group for the holiday. Visitors cited the mystical landscape, rare wildlife, and novelty of the trip as the main reasons for the visit.
Japan, Bali, South Korea, and the Maldives were the next most popular destinations for Spring Festival, while Europe tops the list of future “dream destinations” for this group, followed by the United States, Africa, and the South and North Poles. Wealthy Chinese travel habits do share some similarities to their more mid-range counterparts, since Japan and South Korea are also top spots for China’s outbound tourist bloc as a whole. Experiential luxury is a main priority even for top shopping destinations, however—in Japan, the number one reason cited for visiting was “leisure,” followed by “shopping” and “food.”
The “unique” and “experiential” mindset carries over to shopping for this group of travelers. While they still love to shop when traveling, the number one category of item they purchased was “local specialities”—highlighting their search for the unique and one-of-a-kind. A total of 56 percent of shoppers opted for these local souvenirs, but luxury shopping is still important too—handbags and apparel were close behind at 53 and 48 percent, respectively.
The main luxury brands set to benefit from this trend are hotels, given the fact that Chinese travelers will be willing to budget more for lodging, spa packages, and dining as they prioritize experiences over shopping. As shopping also remains a key priority, retailers can boost their appeal to Chinese visitors by offering special localized items and a unique, high-quality in-store experience to make sure this group’s shopping time is just as enjoyable as penguin-spotting or scuba diving.