As the rise of online flight and hotel booking sites shook up the global travel industry by replacing travel agents across the world, many Chinese travelers continued to opt for the old-fashioned method of calling up an agent or even visiting them in person to book. This has finally started to change dramatically as Chinese travelers become increasingly confident with a growing number of online booking options.
According to the 2015 China International Travel Monitor report recently released by Hotels.com, the percentage of Chinese tourists who used a travel agent was cut by more than half compared to last year—only 13 percent in the 2015 study said they had done so, compared to 34 percent in 2014. At the same time, the number of travelers using an online booking source has soared this year, rising from 53 percent in 2014 to 80 percent in 2015.
As Chinese consumers adapt to mobile technology, it has been an important factor in the growth of online booking. The percentage of travelers using smartphone apps for travel booking more than doubled in one year, rising from 17 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2015.
One area of the travel-planning process in which the digital world hasn’t completely replaced real-life contacts, however, is recommendations for where to stay. Word of mouth is still the top information source for Chinese travelers. Advice from friends and colleagues is a factor for 45 percent of Chinese travelers, while online reviews follow at 42 percent. Meanwhile, information from family came in third at 38 percent.
The results of the study are noteworthy for luxury retailers and hoteliers alike. While hotel companies clearly need to up their presence and monitor their e-reputation on Chinese booking sites if they’re not already doing so, retailers should take note that traditional Chinese travel itineraries are quickly evolving with a greater degree of autonomy in trip planning, including extensive online research of tailored tour packages or completely self-booked trips. This means that the most sophisticated customers will be visiting boutiques and shopping centers because they took the time and effort to build it into their trips—not just because the tour bus dropped them off. This development means that both retail and hotel brands need to up their marketing efforts to appeal to Chinese travelers while offering a high-quality experience that will make them want to recommend the location to family and friends.