The future of Chinese outbound travel trade: Dragon Trail Research

As Chinese outbound travel restarts and major international travel industry events return to the country, Dragon Trail Research conducted a survey between June 7 and July 3, 2023 with mainland Chinese outbound travel agencies to uncover the best way to work with the trade in 2023, and the products most in demand with overseas destinations and travel suppliers.

The Chinese Outbound Travel Trade Survey 2023 provided an overview of the overall Chinese outbound travel market, with practical applications for product development. The most popular travel product sold by travel agents this year was FIT, with group tours limited in size to 20 or fewer travellers. Millennials were also the core customer group for Chinese travel agents selling outbound trips.

The survey showed that clients value quality and comfort, interesting destinations, and unique experiences over low prices

As for whether there were changes in what clients value the most when choosing a travel product, quality and comfort, interesting destinations, and unique experiences rank much higher than low prices. Plus, popular holiday themes proved to be beach and island, and family trips.

The full recovery of the outbound Chinese travel market still faces significant obstacles, among which visa applications and high prices are the most onerous, according to the travel trade. Still, survey respondents were eager to meet international partners once more, with offline events chosen as the most helpful way to receive information from overseas destinations and businesses.

Meanwhile, online platforms, such as WeChat, should not be overlooked, as more than half of respondents said online training courses and live webinars were the most useful resources for them when dealing with overseas destinations.

Based on the survey’s findings, Dragon Trail Research has the following eight recommendations for B2B engagement.

Time to meet in person
During the pandemic, some questioned whether in-person events and meetings would ever return. The answer from the Chinese travel trade is a resounding “yes.” 61% said that meeting at an offline event would be their preferred way to work with overseas travel destinations and businesses, while 70% said they are currently making sales to consumers at in-person events – the leading sales channel.

Invest in online training
Digital channels are also vital to both training and sales. 56% of travel agents said that online training courses and live webinars would help them to work with overseas suppliers. Digital channels – particularly WeChat – are also popular for travel agents making sales to their clients.

Millennial market dominates travel trade sales
Post-90s travellers are driving travel agent business in 2023, followed by the generation born in the 1980s. Whether engaged in B2B or B2C travel marketing and sales, it is important to consider the behaviour and demands of Chinese millennials.

Focus on independent and small group travel
With the number of countries where Chinese travel agents can sell group travel products still restricted to less than half of pre-pandemic levels, bookings for independent travellers are considered the most popular product type by 42%, ahead of group tours (34%) and customised travel for private groups (24%). Small group sizes of 20 people or fewer are also popular.

Natural settings, family travel, and special experiences are selling best
Travellers value experiences, relaxation, nature, and family time in 2023. According to travel agents, beach and island (37%) is the leading travel theme, followed by family travel (33%). Nature, arts and culture, as well as adventure/sports, are also popular themes for travel products booked through an agency.

Quality and experiences valued over low prices
When asked about what their customers value most when booking travel, travel agents overwhelmingly chose the quality of products and experiences offered in destination over low prices.

Leading obstacles to recovery
China reopened more than six months ago, but there are still obstacles impeding the travel trade’s recovery. The top barriers to selling outbound travel are difficulties in getting visas, and the high prices, especially airfares.

Prioritising Chinese-language communications
When it comes to materials and communications from overseas destinations and tourism suppliers, Chinese travel agents strongly prefer to use Mandarin. More than half are happy communicating in English, but are not as comfortable doing business in other foreign languages.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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