Chinese travel market at the crossroads of transformation
The Chinese travel market is on the precipice of change, heard audiences at the fourth edition of ITB China that concluded this September. The premier B2B travel trade show, held live after three years, saw the participation of around 10,000 attendees, with more than 700 top-level Buyers, and 360 exhibitors representing nearly 60 countries.
“After three years, the world comes together again at ITB China, and the timing for the event in September couldn’t be more opportune as the Chinese travel industry stands at the brink of a positive future,” David Axiotis, General Manager of Messe Berlin (Shanghai) said at the time.
The demand for travel has definitely returned, said speakers, but instead of faraway places, the Chinese traveller currently prefers destinations close to home. Besides this, the reason for travel has shifted for most travellers, who are now looking for quality, experiential journeys.
Jeff Zhen, Managing Director of Shanghai C&D Wanda International Travel and MICE, said during a session on ‘Dynamic MICE: Facing a Dynamic market’ that the domestic travel market isn’t seeing a lot of outbound travel. “We last engaged in [major] outbound travel in 2018. We now want to engage with places less travelled, less discovered. Middle East and Africa as a market becomes very important here – especially since it’s so safe. Customised travel demand is up as well, for small groups.”
Anthony Yan, General Manager of Grand China MICE (Shanghai) Co. Ltd, meanwhile, said that flights have recovered, but are not back to the levels of 2019. Because there’s such a backlog, getting visas to places such as Europe have become a lengthy process and anyway the hotel prices in Europe, owing to revenge travel demand, are 50 per cent over pre-pandemic levels. This is driving more domestic travel and travel to places near China.
While it grapples with the shift in consumer behaviour, the industry itself is redefining how things are done. For one thing, there’s a major digital shift. Platforms such as TikTok are becoming mediums with which the travel industry big-wigs, such as Trip.com, are engaging with potential clients. Trip.com has, for example, started a ‘Boss live streaming’ series where its top executives host live sessions to showcase travel destinations, unveil exclusive deals, and engage directly with their audience.
UTour has launched a hybrid model to draw its guests; while it’s been engaging with people on digital platforms such as WeChat and Micro-blog, it’s also launched physical stores in Beijing where clients can interact with people and find what’s right for them. The tour company also found that there’s a surge in people wanting long-duration trips. It’s data points to 10-day outbound trips seeing a surge. This enthusiasm is further evidenced by the rapid selling out of its 121-day “U-Tour Travel Around the World” cruise.
It’s data also points to a rise in tailored travel itineraries and season-based products. And Trip.com predicts a rise in demand for destinations that offer rich cultural experiences.
As more and more young people travel, the expectations of a tech-savy way to engage are also on the rise. Ahead of ITB China, Jane Sun, CEO of Trip Group, said: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is redefining the industry and Trip Group has been investing in cutting-edge technologies as part of our ongoing efforts to enhance the overall travel experience for our customers.”
“Apart from technologies, new demands and trends have emerged in the past few years, and it is important for businesses to build resilience and agility, and adapt to the ever-changing needs of customers. We look forward to engaging and collaborating with our partners to bring this industry to new heights,” Sun added.
This need to incorporate AI into the customer experience was echoed by a number of people at the event as the need for more digital offerings increases.
Grace Gau, Deputy Director China, Switzerland Tourism, spoke at a session entitled ‘How to Catch up with the changes from both supply chain and customer demand for Chinese-themed and customized travel industry?’. She said it’s important for companies to find their niche, indulge in smart allocation of resources and up their use of technology and AI when communicating with their clients.
The next ITB China 2024 is scheduled for May 27 to 29 in the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Center.