After being ignored for years, China’s outbound tourists have become a prime target market for the global tourism industry. As foreign hospitality professionals see it, the mainland market is brimming with potential. Rising personal incomes – and depreciated currencies in some Western countries – mean that more travelers are eager to visit destinations outside mainland China.
According to the China Tourism Academy, more than 57 million Chinese tourists are expected to travel abroad in 2011, up from 54 million last year. In 2000, there were only 10.4 million outbound departures from China.
The economic gains are even greater, given that the pastime of choice for many Chinese travelers is shopping for luxury goods. In Japan, for example, visitors from China spend about US$1,300 per trip, compared with US$790 for Taiwan visitors and US$280 for Americans.
Chinese outbound tourism may be on the rise, but few destinations can rely on sustained growth. International hospitality providers must do more to understand travelers from China so they are better equipped to attract and serve this emerging market. It is all too common for travelers to be promised customized products and a special welcome at their foreign destination, only to be met with customer service lacking basic training and information about their needs.
Many tourists from China, for example, experience problems with language barriers. Luxury retailers in Europe like Louis Vuitton (LVMH; MC.Euronext) and Gucci (PPR; PP.Euronext) address this issue by hiring Mandarin-speaking staff – a strategy that hoteliers and tour organizers should replicate. Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are among the early leaders, attracting travelers by setting up tourism offices in China and offering Chinese-language tourism websites. Meanwhile, the Empire State Building in New York City now offers audio tours in Mandarin.
Tourism leaders should also consider this market’s distinct spending habits: About 73% of Chinese outbound tourists mainly pay in cash – often in large sums – while credit card spending accounted for only 22% of this group’s tourism spending in 2009. The Japan Tourism Agency took the initiative, signing an agreement in July 2010 with China UnionPay (CUP), under which the two sides will cooperate on card issuance, merchant expansion and CUP card promotion. The aim is to provide convenient and secure payment services to Chinese tourists who visit Japan.
A number of US destinations saw an influx of visitors from China during the Christmas holiday thanks to tour packages. Tour groups remain the preferred option for many Chinese who are wary of language problems, complicated visa application processes and a general unfamiliarity with overseas travel. United Airlines (United Continental Holdings; UAL.NYSE), Disneyland Park (Walt Disney Company; DIS.NYSE) in California, the California Travel and Tourism Commission and the Hawaii Tourism Authority responded by launching luxury tours aimed at the China market.
It’s no secret that Chinese consumers are raising their expectations and destinations must respond by raising the bar. Recognizing this, and offering tourists a positive experience, can go a long way in word-of-mouth marketing.
The strength of the aforementioned destinations lies in the fact that they are tailoring their products and services specifically to meet Chinese needs. Countries that fail to do this could miss out on China’s outbound tourism boom.