2021 trends in Chinese outbound tourism

Time to prepare

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

“When you shake the ketchup bottle, none will come and then a lot’ll.” Such urban wisdom comes to mind when looking at the many wrongs starts in the Chinese outbound tourism in recent months, with special travel arrangements between Hong Kong and Singapore airports, for Chinese visitors to Phuket, for Chinese businessperson travelling to Japan etc., all being nixed by new outbreaks of SARS2-CoV19 in Southeast and East Asia. The number of infected and death cases is small compared to Europe or South Asia or the Americas. Many Asian countries are still reporting zero or single-digit numbers per day. However, even small outbreaks are answered by drastic measures by governments who thought that they had got rid of the virus already.

The Chinese government, in particular, put cities with many millions of inhabitants under strict lockdown in the last weeks, especially as new CoViD-19 cases could not all be explained away by imports of the virus travelling on the packaging of imported foodstuff or other products. Even for the Chinese New Year Golden Week travel restrictions may be put in place, unlike the last Golden Week in October 2020, which saw more than 700 million trips by happy Chinese domestic travellers within one week. 

However, like the ketchup in the proverbial bottle, the next wave of Chinese outbound tourists will rush out only stronger after the additional delays. To prepare for them, a look at some of the trends in the post-virus outbound travel of 2021 is certainly useful.

Livestreaming – Livestreaming started in 2019, but saw a big boom in 2020. In 2021 consumers, including outbound travellers will continue to explore emerging platforms such as Kuaishou and Bilibili. For KOC (Key Opinion Customer) marketing live streaming will be an effective way of reaching new audiences.

Domestic destinations as competitors – The forced concentration on China as the only possible destination in 2020 brought for many Chinese the experience that there are still many new and unexplored places also within China. Combined with the government support for “patriotic” tourism, places like Hainan, even though the pricing, quality of attractions, and level of service are still below the level of other tropical islands such as Phuket or Bali, are seen by many as an alternative destination with enough bragging power. Visiting a countryside destination in Sichuan or a smaller city close to a Tier 1 city does not automatically signal anymore that you are too poor to travel abroad, but might show your sophistication to your peers in some social strata.

Skiing – With the Winter Olympics in Beijing 2022 coming closer, skiing and other winter sports will become more popular in China. Local infrastructure has improved, so more Chinese will be able to learn the basics before venturing out to international winter sports destinations, no longer afraid to embarrass themselves in front of foreign eyes.

New destinations – Chinese travellers, locked into their own country, had enough time to dream about and pick up information about new and less-visited destinations. Smaller countries and less visited areas within popular countries will have a bigger chance than before to attract Chinese travellers if they offer them good reasons to visit with bespoke services.

Travel retail – For retailers, the need to have a greater online presence including hotel delivery services or click and collect arrangements with the help of Apps will become apparent. Chinese also start to care more about environmental and ethical issues: Is the brand or retail chain doing enough to be perceived as placing planet before profit?

And then a lot’ll – The days are getting longer again in the Northern Hemisphere, about 25 million persons have received a vaccine against SARS2-CoV19 already. Furthermore, as more vaccines become available by the week – there is good reason to be optimistic that 2021 will turn out a much better year for Chinese outbound tourism than 2020. Time to prepare.

As always, all best wishes for the week from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI Weekly team!

PS.: Since the beginning of the year, this COTRI Weekly editorial is now also available every week as a video on our YouTube.

COTRI Intelligence

COTRI Intelligence is the indispensable source of weekly consulting, analysis, data and news for everybody seriously interested in the post-pandemic Chinese outbound tourism market and changing Chinese consumer preferences.  COTRI Intelligence is published by COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and edited by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS. Regional partners and Content partners [...]

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