Convergence of favorable factors leads to boom in Chinese travelers

By Huang Ge Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-15 19:38:01

A growing number of Chinese tourists have been traveling overseas this year. The trend has been driven by rising incomes and more welcome government policies. Still, there has been a shift in the most popular destinations. Chinese tourists in general turned away from the once popular destination of Hong Kong. Japan became the new hot spot this year, especially after the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea in May. Overall, Chinese overseas travelers will have more places to go. Furthermore, they will also benefit from the yuan's inclusion in the IMF's Special Drawing Rights basket.

Chinese tourists shop in Japan. Chinese tourists flooded Japan during this year's National Day holidays, with many visiting Tokyo's duty free stores. Photo: CFP

Winter's low temperatures haven't cooled Chinese people's enthusiasm for traveling abroad.

Over the last month, one travel agency in Beijing had booked up 70 percent of its short tours to countries around China during Christmas and New Year's Day, said one agency employee, who required anonymity.

Japan and South Korea are the top choices of many clients, she told the Global Times on Monday, with more people traveling independently, meaning without joining a tour group.

There has been a boom in overseas travel in China in 2015. Over the last three years, China has topped the rankings of countries that send the most tourists overseas, according to China Tourism Academy (CTA), a research institute under China National Tourism Administration (CNTA).

China's overseas tourists have also had the most purchasing power.

The CTA forecast in August that the number of tourists from China will grow 16 percent on an annual basis to 120 million in 2015, and they will spend nearly 1.1 trillion yuan ($170.8 billion).

The growth in overseas tourists is mostly the result of rising incomes, favorable government policies and the appreciation of the yuan against many of the world's currencies, experts said.  

"China's outbound tourism market is full of potential," said Lin Wenbing, an analyst at Beijing-based market research firm Analysys International.

Changing destinations

Over the last few years, Chinese tourists have been favoring destinations in Asia, but more recently there have been a shift in their most preferred places to go.

The five most popular destinations for mainland tourists in the second quarter were Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, according to CNTA. France came in near the bottom of the top 10, followed by the US and Malaysia.

Hong Kong, once the most popular destination for mainland tourists, has lost its No.1 place. The number of mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong has dropped largely due to local residents' protests against mainland shoppers.

A 20-something Beijing resident, who only gave her surname Zhang, said Hong Kong wasn't the paradise of low prices that she had hoped for.    

"Actually, some products sold in Hong Kong were not as cheap as I have expected," she told the Global Times on Monday.

Zhang said she would not consider traveling to Hong Kong a second time; instead, she is more interested in Japan, with its scenic view and inexpensive, unique products.

From January to May, South Korea was the No.1 destination for Chinese tourists. However, tourists abandoned the country after the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, on May 20, and Japan took over the top spot.

Now's the time

Japan is attractive to Chinese travelers because of its favorable visa policies and the relative weakness of the Japanese currency yen, experts said.

"The swift shift of Chinese tourists to Japan was aided by Japan's new visa regulations, which made it easier to visit the country," said Lu Lingli, an industry analyst with the Shenzhen-based market research firm Zero Power Intelligence.

The yen's recent weakness against the yuan has also given Chinese tourists more purchasing power in the country, Lu told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Furthermore, Japan also cut tariffs on home appliances, clothing, food, cosmetics and medicine.

On average, each Chinese tourist spent around 285,300 yen ($2,350) in Japan during the second quarter, compared with the average spending of 180,000 yen by tourists from other countries, Japan's official data showed.

"Chinese travelers make a large contribution to Japan's tourism earnings and buy a lot of Japanese products, which to some extent drives the country's economic growth," Lin said.

Several Chinese airlines have launched new routes to Japan this year. Spring Airlines, China's largest low-cost carrier, opened five new routes to the country in March.

In June, the company announced plans for five more direct flights from China to the city of Nagoya in central Japan, in an effort to take advantage of  Chinese tourists' growing interest in traveling to the country.

"I'm crazy about shopping in Japan," said a white-collar worker in Beijing surnamed Chen, who took a seven-day trip to Japan in June.

"I bought many big-brand cosmetics and bags there for my friends because of the much cheaper prices there."

Women made up 64 percent of Chinese overseas tourists in the first half of 2015, according to GoldPalm, a Shanghai-based travel consultancy.

They were drawn to neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan, which are well-known for their high-quality cosmetics and clothes.

Next stop

Although countries like Japan, South Korea and Thailand are the current top choices, Lu believes Chinese people will soon be eying more distant destinations.

"Instead of traveling around China, more Chinese travelers will choose to go farther away, so Europe and North America will become their next preferred choices," Lu said.

As more countries allow Chinese tourists to enter without visas, or offer visas on arrival, the market for overseas travel is expected to grow in China, Lin said.

There are also more ways that Chinese people can travel abroad.

For example, overseas cruises are gaining in popularity in China. About 1.7 million Chinese tourists took a cruise in 2014, an increase of 43 percent year-on-year, Lu said.

"It's a new form of travel that will attract a lot more tourists in the future," Lu noted.

Chinese travelers will also benefit from the yuan's inclusion in the IMF's Special Drawing Rights basket on December 1.

"More and more countries will take the yuan as a common currency, which will allow Chinese travelers to spend the yuan directly while travelling abroad," Lu said.

"That will further simulate the spending by Chinese tourist."

Most Chinese traveling overseas will be from first tier-cities like Beijing and Shanghai due to their strong economies, Lin said. But residents from some second-tier cities will also travel abroad in greater numbers.
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