China’s rapid urbanisation is driving the popularity of island travel among Chinese tourists, a recent report commissioned by ITB China revealed.
Island escapes have surged in popularity over the past few years, as beaches are rather rare in China despite its long coastline and are also often overcrowded during holiday seasons.
Several travel companies are reporting an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35 per cent in the next three years, while the market for island travel currently already exceeds RMB100 billion annually (approximately US$146 million).
According to interviewed experts, a main driver behind the growing interest in island travel are the visa-free policies for island destinations. The growth expectations are being fuelled especially by Chinese millennial consumers, with 30 per cent of expressing the desire to go on an island trip within the next three years.
The research further highlights that from the perspective of Chinese travellers, islands are typically associated with romance, adventure and escapism. According to Kairos Future’s text analysis of social media posts on the topic of island travel, privacy is a key trend, correlating closely with the notion of romance. Segments that stand out among island travellers include soon-to-be-wed couples engaging in destination photoshoots, newlywed couples on their honeymoons, and adventure seekers looking for activities such as scuba diving.
In the past years the perceived image of some island destinations important to the Chinese traveller had suffered due to operated ‘zero‑dollar’ tours that included unannounced mandatory shopping trips. This phenomenon might soon come to a complete end, following shifting values among Chinese consumers paired with an increased control and regulation by destination government authorities having identified and addressed this issue.
The Indonesian Tourism Association, for example, began to intensively regulate low-cost tours in 2018 and Bali, one of China’s top island destinations, has seen all tour-related shopping sites close. Since 2016, Thailand has also taken drastic action to eliminate ‘zero-dollar’ tourism.
As the purchasing power and travel knowledge of Chinese consumers continue to grow, vendors are seeing an increasing number of tourists choosing customised tours to meet their specific travel needs.
Next, travel tips is one of the largest themes in the analysed travel-related social media posts. By exploring destinations through social media, and developing preferences for activities on their itinerary, Chinese consumers are prepared to make informed decisions about their travel plans.
On top of beaches, more diversified, niche activity offerings – including hiking active volcanos, whale watching, and jungle adventures – reflect a present shift towards experiential tourism.
Over the next three years, more than 70 per cent of island tourists are expected to opt for tailored or self-guided tours. Identifying each island’s differentiators and understanding market demands will allow vendors to engage in more precisely targeted marketing and advertising campaigns, thereby attracting more customers.
Island travel demandfor the Chinese is also strongly influenced by depictions in media, with films, TV, and social media that highlight previously-unknown islands attracting the attention of new travellers.
The ITB China Travel Trends Report was created in collaboration with the international consulting and research company Kairos Future. It will be presented at ITB China, set to take place from the May 15-17, 2019 in Shanghai.