Retailers and hospitality companies marketing to Chinese travelers with group tours in mind may soon need to adapt their strategy. A new study by TripAdvisor that revealed trends among China’s pool of independent travelers shows they are increasingly more experienced, as well as spending more and taking longer trips. These trends, led by China’s “free independent travelers,” or FITs, are due to increase over the next two years.
The findings were sourced from an online survey conducted by Phocuswright in November of last year, which polled 3,143 outbound tourists from the mainland between the ages of 18 and 44. They were proactive trip planners and had traveled at least once outside the country within the past year, while having taken an average of 5.5 international trips in their lifetime. Just over 40 percent of those surveyed were born after 1980, 77 percent were college graduates, and 44 percent were “relatively affluent,” or earned a monthly salary of about $2,300 or more. Most came from first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but most interestingly, a quarter of those surveyed were from Guangdong Province.
Quantity is increasingly important for travelers when planning their vacations. The number of outbound trips from the mainland grew 20 percent from 2014 to 2015, and for most FITs, those trips were four to six nights (40 percent), while 34 percent preferred vacations that were three days or less. That number is expected to grow by 2018, with more than half of the respondents saying they plan to vacation for longer periods, and spend more while they’re at it.
For now though, just over 25 percent of the vacationers surveyed took trips that were more than seven days, and a whopping 90 percent of the total surveyed stayed close to home. The majority of these short-haul journeys were to Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Travel to the United States comes in fourth place in terms of preference, while France ranks number seven, just ahead of the United Kingdom. France’s lower ranking may be linked to the recent terrorist attacks that took place in Paris as 65 percent of those surveyed ranked safety and stability during travel “extremely important.”
This doesn’t mean that jet-setters will favor traveling in Asia forever. According to TripAdvisor’s report, “while short-haul destinations in East Asia (especially in Greater China) remain a top choice for outbound Chinese FITs, there is also strong interest in long-haul travel to Europe, Australasia, and North America in the next two years.”
TripAdvisor’s study also confirmed an ongoing trend in which millennials are increasingly planning trips based around the experiences they desire as opposed to where they want to shop. Less than half of all respondents in this survey said that shopping was the most important deciding factor for them when planning a destination. More respondents were instead looking for a place to wind down, and 47 percent cited a dominating interest in their travel destination’s culture and history.
Still, shopping takes up most of the FIT’s travel budget. Those surveyed spent an average of just over $2,700 per trip, and those from Beijing spend the most at just over $4,000. Shoppers spent the most money in the United States and Canada, making it critical for businesses in those countries as well as other desired international destinations to keep on top of this emerging FIT market. “China’s growing number of FITs present vast, untapped opportunities for global tourism service providers and hospitality businesses,” said Leo Lin, TripAdvisor Mao Tu Ying’s Chief of Staff. “Businesses with the goal of attracting Chinese FITs not only need to come up with a strong, tailored strategy, but be prepared to constantly adapt to evolving expectations.”
As companies develop programs to cater to Chinese visitors, they should also keep in mind that 41 percent of those surveyed are proficient in English and are increasingly less likely to be among the stereotype package tour group. They’re actually quite the opposite from their older counterparts, with a third being last-minute planners, fitting in nicely with the behaviors of a more adventurous wanderlust.