Promising outlook for China outbound market

China is reopening from January 8, 2023 and the co-authors of e-handbook 88 Practical Ways to Prepare for the New Wave of Chinese Visitors say “trusted destinations will be prioritised by many Chinese travellers in the first months”.

Check-in Asia CEO Gary Bowerman noted “patterns of choice could be similar to the late-2010s”.

Travellers from China have been researching and planning their trips for three years

Bowerman continued: “Popular vacation destinations will likely include Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Bali, Maldives, maybe Sri Lanka, plus neighbouring countries like Laos and Vietnam.”

The first wave will also comprise VFR (visiting friends and relatives) travel to North America and Europe, he added.

Seasonality will be an important factor in choosing a first vacation destination, as will flight availability, cost and ease of access related to the visa situation.

Bowerman warned that countries that make it difficult for Chinese to enter would likely get overlooked.

China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) founder and director Wolfgang Georg Arlt observed that Chinese tourists were better informed than ever.

Arlt said: “The Chinese have had three years to dream about travel, participate in virtual tours and have researched carefully the destinations that interest them. They will know exactly what they want and – very importantly – what they don’t want from their first overseas trip in three years.”

He added: “Chinese tourists will be determined to visit new locations, smaller cities and will be more interested in immersion in local culture and meaningful tourism.

“Everything will be about the ‘backstory’ – how Chinese tourists can go beyond the obvious to penetrate the deeper cultural narratives that will bring alive their travel experiences and, of course, photos and videos.”

The COTRI chief noted that expectations of technology-enabled convenience will surprise unprepared destinations, and understanding how advanced Chinese consumer tech had become over the past three years would be a big challenge.

Destinations, Arlt advised, should also be prepared for some Chinese travellers spending a little more frugally than in pre-pandemic years.

With the rollercoaster development of China in recent few weeks, China outbound forecasts will be subject to frequent revisions.

At press time, COTRI forecasts 58 million outbound trips (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) in 2023.

The first quarter of 2023 will almost exclusively comprise non-leisure trips, while 2Q2023 will see the start of leisure tourism despite problems with passports, visas and air ticket prices and an increase in 3Q2023 with partial solutions.

COTRI also predicts that 4Q2023 will see a “normal seasonal decrease evened out with more business events, including fairs, the disappearance of passport and visa problems, lower air ticket prices and the first special discount offers”.

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