Our new research finds that Chinese tourists are broadening their horizons in many ways.
The myths abound. Ask any tour operator about Chinese visitors, and you’ll likely hear the same stories. Chinese tourists are mainly interested in shopping. They only want to see the main sights and are not interested in exploring a city’s byways and hidden gems. They will only eat Chinese dishes and are reluctant to try other cuisines.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Our new survey of more than 2,000 Chinese tourists explodes these myths, and others:
- Not all Chinese tourists are keen on shopping. Instead, some attach more importance to the travel experience.
- Visiting landmarks is no longer Chinese visitors’ primary goal. A majority now prefer to immerse themselves in local life.
- Short outings remain popular, but long-distance tours and niche travel products are rapidly gaining favor. Chinese visitors are staying in one place longer. And more young people, who prefer to take their time while traveling, are joining the flock.
- Chinese tourists do not confine themselves to just Chinese food. They are more willing to try exotic foods, and fine dining enjoys even greater popularity.
China’s tourists are worth getting to know better. In 2017, Chinese travelers took more than four billion trips in-country and 131 million trips overseas. China is already the world’s largest outbound travel market, and is set to grow further. By 2020, we expect that more domestic travelers will graduate to overseas trips, pushing annual outbound traffic to 160 million. More than 70 percent of Chinese tourists travel with family and friends; as a result, these groups are the world’s highest spenders per single trip. Spending has more room to grow: we expect annual growth of 6.1 percent for the next couple of years.
None of this means that the classic guided-travel package is on the decline. But demand for semi-self-guided tours, high-end travel packages, and other customized experiences is growing quickly. We analyzed China’s outbound tourists’ preferences and behaviors, financial status, consumer decision-making process, and consumption patterns. Whereas our previous research found monolithic tendencies, we can now discern eight distinct segments: value-seeking sightseers, individualists, sophisticates, aspirants, novices, “unpluggers,” backpackers, and shoppers (exhibit).
As they say huānyíng (or welcome) to the new Chinese tourists, travel agencies, travel-oriented retailers, hotels, and other related industries should target specific segments and develop precisely positioned offers. For example, unplugged and novice travelers are more willing to join big package tours, as these segments are more price-sensitive, enjoy visiting tourist attractions, and prefer relaxed arrangements. Aspirants pay more attention to quality rather than price and seek to join high-end package tours. Individualists and sophisticates want unique, high-quality experiences, such as customized activities and fine-dining excursions. Meanwhile, local customs and a diversity of outdoor activities appeal to backpackers.
Across all segments, travel companies need to reckon with the growing preference for omnichannel search and purchase. Chinese travelers often compile a comprehensive shopping plan by reviewing online recommendations, consulting with friends, talking with travel agents, and so on. Even after they arrive at their destination, visitors will continue to search for information about shopping.
Our survey also revealed some changing preferences about hotels. Fifty-six percent of travelers across all segments look for mid-range hotels. In pursuit of quality, 21 percent of aspirants seek luxury hotels, and base their choice on key opinion leaders and social media. The same proportion of individualists opt for a luxury hotel in search of a unique travel experience. Budget hotel operators should be thinking about the 31 percent of unplugged travelers who don’t care as much about accommodation.
Download Chinese tourists: Dispelling the myths, the full report on which this article is based (PDF–1.3MB).
Download the full report in Chinese (PDF–2.6MB).
About the author(s)
Guang Chen is a partner in McKinsey’s Hong Kong office, where Jackey Yu is an associate partner; Alex Dichter is a senior partner in the London office; Steve Saxon is a partner in the Shanghai office; and Peimin Suo is a specialist in the North America Knowledge Center.