As Jing Travel has previously reported, the international car rental market is heating up as Chinese tourists are increasingly seeking out types of tourism that are both family-friendly and more independent than traditional tour groups. For Chinese tourists, self-drive travel is the best of both worlds: it allows a tight itinerary that includes many destinations—much like group tours—yet can be completely personalized without any unwanted sights or “forced shopping” stops along the way.
However, Chinese tourists still find it difficult to embark on self-drive tourism in many destinations because of bureaucratic hurdles. Fortunately, a growing number of destinations allow Chinese driver’s license holders to rent cars and hit the roads. Here are some of the top destinations for Chinese self-drive tourists:
- The United States
The United States is without a doubt the number one destination in the world with self-drive tourists, and has long been a popular destination for tourists of other nationalities looking to experience its scenic landscape and countless sights scattered along its famous roads and interstate highways. Chinese tourists have been quick to tap into this trend, with both regular car rental and rental RVs increasingly popular among America’s Chinese visitors. The 10-year visa program for Chinese tourists rolled out by the United States in 2015 has also made it easier for Chinese tourists to return to the country to keep exploring its many sights—with self-drive tourism being a great way to venture beyond the beaten track. Agreements between large Chinese tourism companies such as Ctrip and car rental companies in the U.S. have also made it easy for Chinese tourists to pre-book rental cars and RVs before departure. Such partnerships haven’t only helped make self-drive tourism in the U.S. more accessible, but has also driven prices down because of the scale offered by China’s tourism giants.
Much like the United States, Australia’s vast and scenic landscape and the many exciting sights offered across the country make it an ideal destination for China’s self-drive tourists. A newly introduced 10-year visa program, as well as the large Chinese population in Australia, have also given tourists excellent reasons to come back for more—often in the form of self-drive travel. In spite of its popularity among Chinese tourists, self-drive travel in Australia has not been without its problems: left-hand traffic takes some getting used to for Chinese drivers who are used to right-hand traffic, and has caused headlines related to car accidents caused by Chinese drivers on the wrong side of the road. Even so, Chinese self-drive travel is on an upward trend in Australia, with RV rentals also being on the rise among tourists looking for the highest level of flexibility in their travels down under.
Germany and France are among the countries topping the list for Chinese tourists’ most preferred destinations for self-drive travel, and it’s not hard to understand why. Germany’s famous autobahns and the diverse culture, cuisine, and sights offered within relatively short distances in Europe make it an ideal destination for self-drive tourism. Instead of being stuck on a tour bus doing a multi-country road trip throughout Europe, Chinese tourists traveling by rental car can freely choose between the many interesting places the continent has to offer without being bound to a fixed itinerary. Harmonized license requirements throughout the EU and tourist visas being valid throughout all Schengen countries make for seamless driving experience without any problems crossing borders in continental Europe. While European gear shift cars may pose a challenge to some tourists, it’s no longer difficult to find rental cars with automatic gearboxes.
- New Zealand
Similar to Australia, New Zealand has become a popular self-drive tourism destination for Chinese tourists looking for beautiful landscapes and scenic roads. However, more than in any other destination, Chinese tourists have been under scrutiny in New Zealand after many accidents involving Chinese tourists have occurred on its roads. Deadly crashes and irritatingly slow rental car drivers have made Chinese self-drive tourists a big topic in the local press, with some calling for barring Chinese driver’s license holders from driving in the country, and some travel companies carefully screening Chinese tourists looking to drive on their trips in New Zealand. While Chinese tourists may be under increased scrutiny in New Zealand, self-drive tourism in the country is growing in popularity as many Chinese tourists are venturing to the country to experience adventure tourism, ecotourism, and other exciting types of tourism popular with independent travelers.
- Southeast Asia
While car rentals aren’t uncommon with Chinese tourists in many Southeast Asian countries, an even larger number of self-drive tourists in the region are actually crossing the border from China by land in their own cars. Thailand and Vietnam specifically have become increasingly popular among Chinese car owners looking to explore their rich tourism offers by land. Even though rules and regulations vary among Southeast Asian countries, Chinese driver’s license holders can travel to some of the most popular destinations in the region by car without much trouble, including neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Malaysia, which can easily be reached by road from Thailand. Growing concerns about safety and ecological harm have led to increased regulation in Thailand as Chinese self-drive tourists have been pouring in, but for most purposes, self-drive tourism is still an easily accessible and popular type of tourism for Chinese visitors in Southeast Asia.