ForwardKeys reveals the secrets of wooing Chinese tourists

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Over the past decade, Chinese global outbound travel has boomed, and Chinese tourists have gained an outstanding reputation for their ability to shop. Their appetite for branded luxury goods has made them the most sought-after segment of the tourism market.

Insights shared during the World Travel Market in London by ForwardKeys, which predicts future travel patterns by analysing 17 million flight booking transactions a day, reveal four important factors that destinations need to consider if they are to secure a larger share of the Chinese outbound tourism pie. 

They are the development of direct flights, visa convenience, sensitivity to the Chinese holiday calendar and a reputation for being a safe place to visit. The insights came from an analysis of the success of the EU-China Tourism Year, carried out for the European Travel Commission.

The increase in Chinese travel to Ireland during May-August 2018 illustrates the value of new direct flights. Ireland experienced a negative 2017 and a decrease of 7.8% in the number of Chinese arrivals during January-April 2018. However, three new routes reversed the downward trend and resulted in a 4.1% uplift in Chinese visitor arrivals during May-August. Other examples include Belgium and Greece, where new direct routes led to growth in Chinese visitors during May-August 2018.  

The benefits of visa reform were particularly notable in Serbia which experienced a 173% increase in flight arrivals from China in 2017 after the country waived visas for Chinese tourists on 15 January. Serbia also saw triple-digit growth in Chinese arrivals during the first eight months of 2018. ForwardKeys has previously reported other substantial increases in Chinese tourism due to visa relaxation policies, most notably to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Sensitivity to the Chinese calendar is important because holidays such as the Chinese New Year and China’s National Day Golden Week see very large numbers of people seeking overseas trips in order to utilise both public holidays and annual leave. 

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “A good understanding of the subtleties of Chinese holidays will greatly help the industry to plan, anticipate and capitalise on demand. Destination marketeers can better time their campaigns, hotel managers can better prepare to make Chinese visitors feel welcome and retailers can stock items more likely to appeal to the Chinese tourist.”

Security concerns are crucial too. After a wave of terror attacks afflicted Continental Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in 2015 and 2016, Chinese visitors stayed away. However, as those destinations have been seen to be safer, the Chinese market has recovered. For example, Turkey, which is benefiting from the China-Turkey Tourism Year 2018 and an improved security image, has seen a 69% year-on-year spike in arrivals between January and August this year.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), 223 million global outbound trips were made by mainland Chinese travellers in 2017. They spent €228 b last year, placing China at the top of UNWTO’s list of high-spending source markets for the seventh year in a row.

Even though the growth rate of Chinese outbound travel has tended to slow over the years, the market is far from saturated. ForwardKeys data showed that the average annual growth of air departures from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao SAR, collectively was +9.4% between 2013 and 2017.

EU destinations have seen Chinese arrivals for the first eight months of 2018 rise by 4% year-on-year, with forward bookings running 4.7% ahead – compared to a global average of 3.6%. These numbers might have been even higher if it were not for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, which drew Chinese fans during the summer. Nevertheless, this trend bodes well for the EU in the long term.  “This research and analysis by ForwardKeys is vital for policymakers, tourist boards, travel professionals and others in the trade to understand this vast market and how actions by governments can boost the positive economic benefits of Chinese tourism – or conversely, have a seriously detrimental impact, costing millions of dollars,” Olivier Ponti added.