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The new Chinese traveler is independent and looking for unique experiences

Over 700 million Chinese people travelled recently during “Super Golden Week” which combined the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, according to figures from the China Tourism Academy. And about half of them, or nearly 350 million, travelled by car or bus, generating all-time record traffic jams.

Beyond this massive increase in scale, the face of Chinese tourism is transforming at great speed and in a way that is impacting markets and brands. While traditional package tour based travel is still strong, the rise of the FIT – Free Independent Travelers – is the driving force:

  • These are tourists who travel in smaller groups: singles, couples or small groups of friends as opposed to whole families, and independently as opposed to within large tour groups
  • Travelers who design their own itineraries and are not tied to other people’s schedules
  • With expectations that are centered on experiences rather than status, good deals or shopping opportunities thus resulting in a growing importance of arts, culture, unusual adventures and encounters with local populations in the way people select their travel plans
  • Leading to a more diverse set of destinations with traditional urban hotspots like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Rome or Paris now being complemented by more confidential and nature filled destinations such as Nepal, Iceland, Chile or Filipino islands
  • , scuba-diving, backpacking, cooking, theatre and concerts now part of the range of considerations
  • Travel now taking place all along the year, in a combination of peak times (Golden week and Chinese New Year) and short breaks for which the explosion of car ownership is creating opportunities of short to mid-range trips across Mainland
  • And a major importance of digital as always in China, primarily WeChat but also travel apps, for everything from planning trip itineraries, to booking tickets, finding shops, hotels, museums, restaurants, events, etc. and making mobile payments with WeChat pay.

This is both challenging and creating many opportunities for destinations, businesses and brands targeting Chinese travelers. They need to engage these new breed of more educated, less traditional tourists and offer options to customize and personalize travel experiences to develop a sense of uniqueness and fit with FIT’s emotional aspirations.