Belt and Road Initiative spurs upmarket Chinese travel to novel destinations

Tourists in Chefchaouen, Morocco

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has sparked a surge in Chinese upmarket travellers visiting new destinations like Belarus, Croatia, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Serbia, as visa requirements become easier and more direct flights become available.

According to Chinese luxury travel agents attending ILTM China 2018 and industry observers TTG Asia spoke to, the increase in traditional and non-traditional “media attention” on “new” destinations has been fuelling demand in the last two years.

Tourists in Chefchaouen, Morocco

Bamboo Zhou, CEO and founder of 8 Continents Travel, said: “Experienced Chinese upmarket travellers are looking to explore new places and most now (offer) visa-free or offer visa-on-arrival, to Chinese travellers. Direct, or one-stop, flights now available are also making a difference.

“If new destinations are traveller-friendly, have different culture or something new to offer, our clients are interested as long as they feel safe,” he noted.

Agreeing, Sparkle Tour assistant general manager, Aymeric Naudin, added: “Central Asia and Africa are also opening up and places like Kazakhstan, where a Ritz-Carlton hotel opened in the capital Astana two years ago, are booming.”

Elsewhere, Naudin said direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Quebec are drawing Chinese upmarket travellers on short six- or seven-night trips to visit Montreal, Quebec City and Charlevoix for whale watching, ice festivals and the autumn colours, etc.

“Each season is different and luxury experiences in Eastern Canada are more reasonable (in pricing) compared to other parts of North America and Europe,” he noted.

Fanny Liao, director of Letravels, observed an uptick in interest to visit North Korea among Chinese upmarket travellers in their 40s and 50s at the beginning of this year.

Liao said: “We organised trips in March and June and we have requests to go to Pyongyang during the September 9 Independence Day celebrations to participate in the parade, experience local life, take a helicopter tour and play golf. Unfortunately, hotels there are not taking any bookings and we have to postpone the trip.”

Meanwhile, Minjuan Deng-Westphal, head of research at China Outbound Travel Research Institute (COTRI), said China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism is forecasting that 150 million Chinese visits to BRI region destinations will take place and generate US$200 billion in spending between 2016 and 2020.

COTRI has updated its 2018 forecast from 154 million to 160 million, and further projects the figure will reach 200 million in 2022, 300 million in 2027 and 400 million by 2030.

ILTM China 2018 will be held in Shanghai from October 30 to November 2.

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