Almost half of affluent Chinese travellers plan to take five trips in 2023 – with 70 per cent seeking slow travel over a packed itinerary. Rose Dykins reports

Having surveyed more than 2,000 affluent Chinese travellers in early 2023 – after the China government lifted international travel restrictions after three years – a report offers insights into the preferences and plans of the world’s largest outbound travel market.

Outbound Rebound: The Return of Chinese Travellers, has gathered in-depth findings from affluent Chinese citizens in first-, second- and third-tier cities in mainland China, and Hong Kong. Respondents’ average annual household income is more than RMB 1.4 million (US$209,000). Respondents have purchased luxury travel in the past 12 months and have travelled overseas prior to the pandemic.

The report from global marketing agency Finn Partners and professional research consultancy Consumer Search Group found that almost nine in every ten mainland Chinese respondents said they miss travelling abroad. This sentiment, couple with recent economic optimism for China bodes well for a strong rebound for the outbound Chinese luxury travel market and their overseas travel plans in 2023.

“We already know that there is a strong eagerness and urge to travel after years of border restrictions in China,” says Jenny Lo, managing partner for China of Finn Partners. “We conducted this in-depth study to identify the changes in behaviours, needs, decision-making and expectations of affluent travellers, offering insights to better address the Chinese outbound travel market that is anticipating a faster-than-expected revival”.

According to the report, nearly one in two affluent Chinese travellers are making plans for at least five trips in 2023. On average, they are planning to make 5.9 trips this year, up from 5.6 trips in 2019.

While the 26- to 36-year-old demographic shows the biggest increase in number of trips planned, younger affluent Chinese travellers aged 21 to 25 years continue to be the most frequent travellers.

A distinct majority of respondents say they want to stay longer per trip, with  72 per cent planning to holiday from six to more than ten days in 2023. This brings the average duration per trip to 8.7 days, compared with 8.4 days in 2019. Taking longer holidays is particularly prevalent in the 21 to 25 age group.

In terms of their travel spend, survey respondents in the to 20 percentile of wealth are willing to spend an average on RMB 284,000 (US¢43,388) in 2023. The increase in travel budget is more evident in the 36+ age group, as well as those from Tier-1 cities.

More than one third of respondents also plan to fly in first or business class, while one in two choose to stay in upscale or luxury hotels on their next leisure trip.

The report also highlights how slow travel is a priority for respondents, with a focus on the quality of their travel experience rather than the quantity of elements included. More than 70 per cent of respondents desire slow, recuperative travel over an itinerary filled with activities.

Travellers want cultural immersion so they can experience living like locals (58 per cent), to take more road trips (56 per cent), to take better care of themselves (56 per cent), and to attend more events (51 per cent) in their future holidays.

Eight out of ten travellers say they are more willing to pay for experiences over tangible products, particularly those from Tier-3 cities (86 per cent). This indicates the growing potential of authentic and personalised travel experiences for the luxury Chinese travel market, centred around savouring  local sights and culture.

“What we are seeing among more affluent and experienced travellers are different mindsets and habits,” says Simon Tye, executive director of Consumer Search Group. “We are seeing less desire for a frenetic pace of travel and itineraries that are deliberate. Millennials and Gen Z are more laid-back, they prefer experiences where they can interact with locals in meaningful and authentic ways.”

A behavioural trend confirmed by the survey is that respondents want to revisit destinations where they have had positive experiences and fond memories, after missing out on travel for more than three years. They are keen to repeat the good times they have had in the past, and therefore will prioritise their all-time favourite destinations. These destination include Japan, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the US, New Zealand and Canada.

Culinary experiences remain a strong driver for leisure travel, but for 60 per cent of respondents, natural scenery is their first priority, particularly amongst those aged 36+ (69 per cent). Chinese outbound travellers are also looking to incorporate wellness into holidays (56 per cent), while one third would prefer experiences including camping, hiking, outdoor adventures and cultural immersion. Shopping remains a popular holiday activity, but interest in this wanes over younger age groups.

Other interesting insights from the report include:

  • Hotel brands  are becoming a deciding factor in destination choice, especially among Gen Z travellers, with 26 per cent planning their holidays based on locations where their favourite hotel brand has a property.
  • Chinese travellers are keen to build social connections on the road. They hope to interact with new people in the accommodation they stay in, seeking a sense of conviviality as well as design-centricity.
  • Pre-pandemic levels of international business travel are expected to resume for mainland Chinese travellers in 2023, at an average of 2.1 trips annually.
  • As well as the desire to travel overseas, “staycations” are also becoming more popular, with 80 per cent planning to continue domestic travel, and 3 per cent expecting to take four to ten staycation trips in 2023. This highlights the tremendous growth in China’s domestic travel sector over the past three years.