Why Chinese Will Continue to Travel

COTRI forecasts a 7% Year-on-Year increase of Chinese outbound trips for 2020

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Long-distance travel has been a part of life for Homo Sapiens since they began spreading over the continents and islands of our planet, killing off all other forms of Homos they encountered. Only when the majority of mankind turned into farmers, they stopped moving around much. However, for trade or exploitation, war or diplomacy, religion or science, some continued to spend years on horseback or aboard ships travelling to distant places.

Long-distance travel for leisure, however, is a very recent development. Roman administrators or officers would spend time sightseeing in the far-away regions their duties would send them to, Lord Macartney would have a look at the temples of Beijing during the long months of waiting for an audience with the Chinese emperor to demand free trade. However, travelling thousands of kilometers just for fun remained much too time-consuming, expensive and dangerous until the 19th century. To move Around the World in 80 Days was a fantasy Jules Verne developed in 1872 only. Modern leisure mass tourism, with 200 million or more trips per year having a nonadjacent country as destination, only developed in the last 50 years.

Modern leisure mass tourists in the 20th century moreover were almost exclusively Europeans and US-Americans, seeing the decision how and where to travel rather as their private, individual, matter, if they did not happen to be a film star. Following in the footsteps of the Japanese, Chinese tourists constitute the biggest group of long-distance travellers who are coming from a collective culture and for whom the judgement of their travel behaviour by their peers is of great importance. International travel experience is – and will continue to be – an important part of the consumption pattern of those who see themselves as belonging to the In-group of the Chinese society, the 10% who made it and who constantly need to proof that they are still have a legitimate claim for the membership in that group.

The majority of international, especially intercontinental, travel of Chinese is done for non-leisure purposes, for business, MICE, VFR, studies, health etc. With the 2019 n-CoV scare over, most of this international trips which had to be postponed, will be taken. Moreover, different from „Western“ individual consumption patterns, also the leisure-based purposes will be made up for at a later time. We could see this pattern after SARS, Avian Flu and other periods of travel restrictions, and we will see this pattern again after the 2019 n-CoV hype has ended.

According to COTRI ANALYTICS, 2019 witnessed 170 million border-crossings from Mainland China, out of which 74.5 million went to Greater China (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) and 95.5 million went beyond. The fall from 27 million to 16 million arrivals from Mainland China to Hong Kong, unrelated to the virus, in the second half of 2019 is the most important factor in the lower-than-expected total number for China’s outbound trips in 2019.

Based on the assumption that from April the travel restrictions for Chinese travellers will be rescinded, for 2020 a total of 181 million trips from Mainland China, representing a 7% YoY increase, can be forecasted. Greater China will probably see only a small increase of 3%, given the loss of day-trips which will not be taken anymore as well as the continuing political problems resulting from the Hong Kong SAR unrest and the Taiwan election results in the second half of 2019. For trips beyond Greater China an increase of 9% can be forecasted for the whole year of 2020.

With all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY Team