The world at their fingertips

China’s “super-tourists” are going further afield, for longer, and in larger numbers. Vision explores the ways in which Chinese destination habits are changing, and what impact this will have on the global tourism economy

Picture the scene.  A packed tour bus pulls up at one of the world’s many wonders and out jumps a throng of Chinese tourists adorned with high-tech cameras, eager to explore their latest surroundings. It’s not an altogether unfamiliar description, but new research shows China’s travel habits are evolving to the extent that this may well soon be a scene from the past – particularly for the wealthy. A trend towards more adventurous, self-researched holidays has seen organised tours diminish in popularity, while social media and word-of-mouth advice is leading China away from traditional European destinations in favour of less well-trodden routes.

The number of Chinese outbound tourists amounted to a staggering 98 million last year, according to this year’s annual Hurun Report, with tourism well established as the supreme leisure pursuit for China’s wealthy in 2013 – followed by the more traditional pastimes of reading and tea tasting in second and third position respectively. And with the country’s tourism economy projected to continue in its upward trajectory, China’s wealthy and so-called ‘super tourists’ represent a key market for the international travel and tourism industry.

According to the report, online social media has become the most important source of information for China’s wealthy when planning a trip abroad. Online social media, dominated by micro-messaging and micro-blogging, is the most popular source of information. Two-thirds of those planning to travel use online material when shaping their itinerary, and since China uses different search engines and social-media platforms to the rest of the world, success largely depends on being blogged about on these platforms.

chinese travelling habits
For dream travel experiences, nearly half of the super tourists choose natural adventure or self-drive trips, followed by 34% choosing Antarctic or Arctic travel tours, while island and marine-related holidays, romantic cruises and sailing events are also popular

Sightseeing is by far the top reason given for travelling abroad by wealthy travellers, followed by shopping and then business travel. In the last 12 months, Australia has jumped from seventh to first place to become the preferred international tourist destination, while Dubai, the Maldives and Hawaii are rising rapidly in popularity due to their distinctive characteristics. Europe, once considered a holiday destination for the aspirational, has seen its popularity fall, with just three top 10 destinations this year compared with last year’s five.

Considering China’s appreciation for retail therapy, it is little surprise that Dubai, with its world-leading malls and tax-free shopping, has risen up the destination ranks in recent years. The report found that Chinese tourists – who took the top spot in terms of spending for the fourth consecutive year – mainly shop at specialty stores or brand retailers, preferring fashion and apparel, followed by jewellery and watches, all of which Dubai has in abundance.

Yet with only five percent of China currently holding a passport, its tourism economy looks set to swell as more and more travellers start to venture further afield. Antarctic or Arctic travel tours are already high on the agenda of those polled, while South and Central America have been named a ‘must-visit’ destination for the next three years. For the foreseeable future at least, China is bucking the global tourism slow-down and their sense of adventure clearly knows no bounds.