Who is leading China’s outbound travel boom?

    China’s outbound tourism rebounded strongly in early 2024, driven by young travelers and a growing number of older tourists.
    Young Chinese tourists are adventurous, culturally inclined, and eager to expand their horizons. Image: Getty Images
      Published   in Travel

    China's outbound tourism sector showed robust signs of recovery in the first half of 2024, buoying global travel retail, hospitality, and luxury brands. Notably, this resurgence is driven not only by younger demographics but also by older travelers and Gen Z women, according to the latest quarterly Travel Sentiment Survey by China Trading Desk (CTD).

    The survey, polling 15,000 Chinese travelers, reflects a broadening market base and sustained growth in international travel among Chinese citizens.

    During May's Golden Week holiday, more than 1.5 million Chinese travelers ventured abroad, reaching 87% of the outbound travel numbers seen in the same period in 2019.

    This figure underscores a strong rebound. CTD's survey indicates that the second quarter of 2024 outpaced the first in travel activity, with a marked increase from April through June.

    Data: China Trading Desk
    Data: China Trading Desk

    The survey reveals that 59% of outbound travelers in Q2 were female, with 63% aged 18 to 29. Notably, 58% were first-time overseas travelers, and 61% plan one to two international trips in the coming year. Booking patterns show a dual trend: nearly 70% book within a month of travel, while a growing segment plans three to six months ahead, indicating both spontaneity and careful preparation among Chinese tourists.

    A significant shift sees over 20% of Q2 travelers aged 35 or older, signaling increased participation from older demographics.

    "Our Q1 survey showed young educated women leading China's outbound travel," said Subramania Bhatt, founder and CEO of CTD. "Q2 data reveals older travelers are increasingly joining the trend, visibly expanding China's international travel market."

    Evolving preferences#

    CTD’s findings align with recent reports: Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea remain popular destinations for Chinese travelers. However, interest in Europe and Australia is growing, reaching 10.1% and 8.2% respectively.

    "This blend of familiar and new destinations reflects a desire to balance comfort with novelty," said Subramania Bhatt, CEO of CTD.

    Travel intentions remain strong, with 39.4% of respondents planning overseas trips within six months, up from 37.1% in Q1. Nearly 45% plan to increase their international travel frequency. The 18-29 age group (70.6%) and Tier-One city residents (62.35%) show the highest enthusiasm, indicating a young, affluent segment eager for more global experiences.

    Q2 saw rising interest in health, wellness, and nature tourism. Travelers increasingly seek destinations offering natural landscapes and wellness activities. "This shift towards health-conscious travel creates opportunities for destinations and providers to meet evolving demands," Bhatt noted.

    Economic factors (23.7%) and health and safety concerns (20.7%) primarily influence travel plans, underscoring the need for destinations to address safety and affordability.

    Who is traveling?#

    Chinese outbound travelers are predominantly well-educated urbanites, with 52.6% holding bachelor's degrees and 59.1% living in Tier-One cities. This profile highlights the importance of targeting educated urban populations in travel marketing.

    Independent travel remains popular, especially among younger tourists. About 41% of travelers aged 18-24 prefer independent trips over group tours, a preference shared by 53.8% of all respondents. This trend signals growing demand for personalized, flexible experiences.

    Data: China Trading Desk
    Data: China Trading Desk

    Digital platforms are central to Chinese tourists' travel planning. Travel apps like Ctrip or Qunar are favored by 20.4% of respondents, while 18.4% use Xiaohongshu and 12.2% prefer Douyin. This digital reliance underscores the need for a strong online presence and strategic influencer partnerships to engage Chinese travelers.

    Booking habits lean towards spontaneity, with 69% securing tickets less than a month before travel. Yet 16.5% plan one to six months ahead, indicating a mix of impulsive and planned travel behaviors. Most travelers (59.2%) opt for five to ten-day stays, while 18.2% prefer ten to fifteen days, suggesting a trend towards immersive experiences.

    What this means for luxury#

    CTD’s Q2 2024 Travel Sentiment Survey offers key insights for luxury brands targeting Chinese outbound travelers. Notably, 43% of travelers plan to spend at least 25,000 RMB ($3,439) on their trips.

    High-end accommodations are preferred, with 61.8% of respondents choosing four-star and above hotels. This trend presents opportunities for luxury hotels to offer tailored experiences meeting expectations for quality and exclusivity.

    Competitive pricing (25.7%) and discounts (23.2%) remain primary motivators for luxury purchases abroad, underscoring the importance of strategic pricing. Younger travelers, particularly those aged 18-29, increasingly seek diverse and unique luxury products, indicating a demand for distinct, personalized shopping experiences.

    • China's outbound tourism is rebounding strongly, with May 2024 Golden Week travel reaching 87% of 2019 levels and Q2 2024 outpacing Q1 in travel activity.
    • The traveler demographic is diversifying, with over 20% of Q2 travelers aged 35 or older, signaling increased participation from older age groups.
    • Brands should focus on digital platforms for marketing, as Chinese tourists heavily rely on travel apps (20.4%), Xiaohongshu (18.4%), and Douyin (12.2%) for travel planning.
    • Luxury brands should cater to high-spending travelers, as 43% plan to spend at least 25,000 RMB ($3,439) on their trips, with a preference for four-star and above accommodations.
    • To capitalize on evolving preferences, destinations and providers should emphasize health, wellness, and nature tourism offerings, as Q2 saw rising interest in these areas.
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