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The Secret Lives of Chinese Travelers

Chinese travelers

There’s no doubt that Chinese travelers have taken over from Americans as the highest spending, most sought after demographic in luxury travel. A new study from Hurun Report shows how these new elites travel, where they spend their money and what destinations are on their hit list for 2019. Chinese travelers are becoming increasingly like their western counterparts.

We summarized the key findings.

1. Destinations: In the past year, the top 5 most popular overseas destinations for Chinese high-end travelers were Europe(39%), the Americas (36%), Africa (29%), Southeast & South Asia (23%) and Japan & South Korea (22%). Africa rose fastest, breaking into the top three as it increased from 15% last year to 29%. The Americas increased by 5%, rising to second. Top-placed Europe fell 6% compared with last year.

  Destination Ratio (Change)
1 – Europe 39% (-6%)
2 ↑ Americas 36% (+5%)
3 ↑ Africa 29% (+14%)
4 ↓ Southeast &   South Asia 23% (-21%)
5 ↑ Japan &   South Korea 22% (-2%)
6 ↓ Oceania   & Pacific Islands 17% (-9%)
7 ↑ Polar   Regions 12% (-11%)
8 ↑ Middle   East 11% (+1%)
8 ↓ Hong Kong,   Macao and Taiwan 11% (-10%)
10 * Central   Asia 6% (+6%)

2. Travel themes: the surprise vacation theme last year was islands and beaches. Its popularity seems to have peaked, however, with the selection rate dipping to 13% this year. Travel around the world saw the fastest rate of growth, establishing itself in pole position with an increase from 13% last year to 37%. Polar exploration, the most popular theme last year, fell by 8.5% and takes second place with a rate of 22%. Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report chairman and chief researcher says “Travel around the world ranks at the top, indicating that people are travelling while learning, though interest in Polar exploration has gone down a lot this year”. A prominent new travel theme in recent years, parent-child travel enters the top three with 19%.

3. Vacation destinations for 2019 Chinese New Year: 64% of respondents have chosen to take an outbound trip during Chinese New Year next year. The top three destinations are Australia (20%), Thailand (18%) and New Zealand (17%). 29% of respondents will stay in China. The most popular choice is to return to one’s hometown, with 10%, followed by trips to Sanya and Yunnan close behind with 8% and 6% respectively.

  International Tourism Destination Ratio     Domestic Tourism   Destination Ratio
1 – Maldives 25.9%   1 – Sanya 39.8%
2↑ Japan 22.5%   2 – Tibet 25.9%
3↓ France 21.2%   3 – Hong Kong 24.8%
4↑ Hawaii 19.3%   4↑ Taiwan 16.4%
5↓ Australia 16.2%   5↓ Yunnan 15.9%
6↓ The United   States 15.7%   6 – Macau 13.4%
7↑ Dubai 15.4%   7↑ Sichuan 12.5%
8↑ Swiss 14.9%   8 – Hangzhou 11.4%
9↑ Thailand 11.0%   9↑ Xinjiang 8.4%
10↑ Italy 10.7%   10↓ Qingdao 7.0%
11↓ UK 10.6%   11↓ Xiamen 6.1%
12↓ Canada 9.1%   12↑ Shanghai 5.9%
13↓ New   Zealand 8.6%   13↓ Changbaishan   Mountain 5.6%
14 – Singapore 8.5%   14↓ Beijing 3.6%
15 – Germany 6.8%   15↓ Dalian 3.3%

4. Travel times: the proportion of travelers choosing not to travel at fixed times throughout the year increases by 8% compared with the previous year, up to 45%. With regards to travel during public holidays, the Chinese New Year is the top choice, taking up 23%; the National Day holiday (19%) comes second, while the Labour Day holiday (8%) and Mid-Autumn Festival (6%) are the next most popular. Travelling during the summer holiday season increased once again by 4%, up to 19%.

5. Main travel concerns: the biggest travel worries are traffic safety, with a noteworthy 42%, followed by natural disasters(25%), robbery and theft (22%), being ripped off (12%), dietary hygiene (11%) and travel facility safety (11%). It is clear that safety issues are the biggest concerns for travelers.

6. Travel agency selection: over half of high-end travelers opt for personalised service as the key consideration when a selecting a travel agency, with half choosing a well-planned itinerary. 45% of travelers prioritise problem-solving capacity. Creative itineraries and hard-to-find resources are among the top five factors for consideration, having been chosen by nearly 30% of travelers.

7. Transport: when it comes to domestic airlines, Air China is the carrier of choice among high-end travelers by a considerable margin with 50%; China Eastern comes second, with its selection rate increasing by 7% to 28%; China Southern ranks third with 23%. Among international airlines, Emirates remains in top spot.

     Most Popular   Luxury Hotel Brand
1 – Ritz-Carlton
2 – Banyan   Tree
3 – Four   Seasons
4↑ Aman
5 – Fairmont
6↓ Mandarin   Oriental
7↑ St.   Regis
8↓ Peninsula
9 – Park   Hyatt
10↓ Langham

8. Hotel/Accommodation: Ritz-Carlton is the most popular luxury hotel brand once again. With regards to hotel membership, the Hyatt scheme is the most popular, being preferred by 26% of high-end travelers, up from a mere 3% last year.  

Holiday rentals: in addition to traditional hotel accommodation, 24% of Chinese travelers will consider Airbnb-style holiday home rentals, more or less the same proportion as the previous year. ‘Strong sense of belonging and experience of local life’, ‘lower price’, and ‘family atmosphere’ are their main rationale for taking this route. Rupert Hoogewerf says ‘the performance of the high-end short-stay holiday home market has been weak. However, as traveling as a family grows in popularity, the market is likely to see significant development in the future.”

9. Home stay: 24% of people would choose home stay, maintaining the same level as last year. “Better understanding the local life”, “reasonable prices”, “family atmosphere” are the main reasons for them to choose home stay. Rupert Hoogewerf says, “High end home stay should have a bright future, and lot of people like to travel with two or three families.”

10. Popular cuisine: local cuisine is undoubtedly the most popular style of food when traveling. Other well-received cuisines among high-end travelers, ranked in order of popularity, include Japanese, Sichuan and Hunan, Cantonese, Italian, French and Southeast Asian.

  Culinary Style Ratio (Change ratio)
1 – Local cuisine 39% (-17%)
2 – Japanese 28% (-4%)
3↑ Sichuan   and Hubei 27% (+1%)
4↓ Cantonese 23% (-8%)
5↑ Italian 16% (+6%)
6↓ French 14% (-6%)
7↑ Southeast   Asian 13% (+1%)
7↑ Buffet 13% (-3%)
9↑ South   Korean 10% (+5%)
10↑ Hot pot 8% (0%)
11↓ Creative   cuisine 7% (-12%)
11↑ Vegetarian 7% (+3%)
13↑ British 4% (+3%)
14↓ German 3% (-1%)
15↓ Pub Grub 1% (-9%)

11. Holiday homes: nearly half of high-end Chinese travelers interviewed have purchased holiday homes, with 11% of them in Thailand, 10% in Australia and 5% in both Switzerland and Japan; in China, Sanya is the location of choice, with a selection rate of 12%. The homes have an average floor space of 100m2. Apartments and villas are the favoured mode of residence. In terms of surrounding environs, homes with a sea view are the most popular.

12. Future trends: demand for smart accommodation experiences, including VR, house-viewing videos and AI services, is expected to rise.

Our advice for those in the luxury travel industry is to read this report and align their offerings for Chinese travelers becasue Chinese travelers are going to increasingly drive travel and tourism trends in the years ahead. Actually, they already are!