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DECEMBER 2-8, 2011

CHINA DAILY Cover story: Two views

Make hay from the second wave O

utbound tourism in China is entering its second phase, and bringing with it new opportunities and challenges for global tourism service providers.

More and more Chinese are now looking

for travel experiences beyond the ticking off of major sights and the dubious pleasures of forced shopping. With a correctly adapted prod- uct and the right kind of marketing, locations off the beaten track can become popular among affl uent visitors from China. In line with its impressive economic growth,

China has developed into the biggest Asian out- bound tourism source market. Within a dozen years, the annual number of border crossings has grown sevenfold, from less than 10 million in 1999 to probably close to 70 million in 2011. Chinese tourists can now get group visas for almost any country across the world, while the hurdles for individual tourism visas have also been lowered. Today, traveling internationally is an impor- tant element of the accumulation of “social capital” in China’s new consumer society. Have money — will travel. Chinese have been traveling within their own

country for many centuries for pleasure, criss- crossing the country as offi cials, traders, poets, pilgrims, nature seekers or refugees. Outbound travel, however, was not part of that tradition. In the 20th century, turmoil and wars in the

fi rst half and a policy of self-reliance and frugal- ity during the bigger part of the second half prevented the development of outbound travel for any reason other than emigration. Even after the start of the opening up and reform policy in 1978, less than 1 percent of the population annu- ally had a chance to fulfi ll their wish to see the outside world. The fi rst decade of the new millennium has witnessed, in stark contrast to earlier times, a rampant growth of outbound travel. About 70


percent of all outbound trips from China only happened within the last six years. When global tourism contracted due to the economic crisis in 2009, China’s outbound tour- ism still managed to rise by 4 percent, bouncing back to 20 percent growth rates in 2010, both in number of travelers and in terms of spending. Today, Chinese travelers spend more than $10 billion annually while traveling abroad, more than the total income from foreign inbound visitors to China. China is already the biggest domestic tourism market in the world by number of trips, and the

Chinese Outbound Tourism Research Institute projects that the China outbound market will account for 10 percent of the global internation- al tourism market within the decade, propelling it to the top of global tourism source markets before 2020. Chinese tourists have turned into a major

target group for destination marketing organiza- tions and tourism companies in major destina- tions around the world. They have had to learn that Chinese group tourists have their own distinct expectations and needs, and that success in the Chinese outbound market requires careful

reach Beijing until late on a Friday night follow- ing a fl ight delay. The fl ight delay was the least of Zeng’s wor-

Bring down the barriers A

ndy Zeng, the chief executive of Hua Yuan International Travel Co Ltd, was worried because one of his travel groups from Europe was not due to

ries. His main concern was for his company’s tour group leader, who had to persuade group members to stay on in Beijing until visa formali- ties were completed the following Monday. When Chinese tour groups return from overseas, some countries insist that group members’ visas be cancelled. The entire process turned out to be an extremely expensive aff air for Zeng and his company.

Such cases have become commonplace in Chi- na in recent times as strict and troublesome visa issuance, interview and cancellation policies of several countries have irked tourists and resulted in travel agencies being sued by tourists. According to the National Tourism Admin- istration, there were 57.39 million Chinese

outbound tourists in 2010, 1.5 times that of the United States, and 3.5 times that of Japan. More than 90 percent of these tourists traveled abroad for private purposes. The number of Chinese outbound tourists reached more than 30 million in the fi rst half of this year and is expected to top 65 million for the whole year. China will continue to lead Asia in outbound tourism, with tourists heading to newer countries and destinations. So much so, that it is fair to assume that China has played an important role in the recovery of the global tourism industry.

A recent study by the China Tourism Academy

reveals that most spending by Chinese outbound tourists was in Europe, followed by the United States. But very often the complicated visa issu- ance, interview and cancellation policies have acted as detriments for outbound tourism to Europe and the US. The visa approval process is tedious and time- consuming even when Chinese outbound tour- ists submit applications for private purposes. Even the most fortunate ones to get a quick visa have to spend a couple of weeks on preparing


product adaptation and new forms of marketing. But despite the eff orts, previously 90 percent

of Chinese travelers stayed within Asia and even those who traveled further concentrated on the most famous sights in the most famous cities in major destinations. Luxury brand retailers in San Francisco, Paris and Johannesburg had reason to smile, but for destinations and compa- nies not located on the beaten track, the much- hyped deluge of Chinese tourists has, until now, been little more than a mirage. With the start of the second wave of China’s outbound tourism, all this is changing. The “New Chinese Tourists”, knowledgeable, sophis- ticated, travel-savvy and predominantly below 45 years of age, are entering the scene. New Chinese tourists look for deeper experiences and closer contact with local host populations during their self-organized trips. Earlier they took photos of themselves in front of the Sydney Opera House or the Eiff el Tower, but are now drawn more to new places and activities. Freed of the commission-driven tour guide, they will purchase more goods for themselves and fewer for their friends and rela- tives back home, as their peers are more likely to travel internationally as well. New Chinese tourists off er an increased chance for destinations and tourism service providers off the beaten track to get a piece of the Chinese outbound market. They will have to make sure that their product is adapted to the special needs and expectations of this new kind of Chinese guest, that their staff are prepared to welcome global yet patriotic travelers and that they make their travel product attractive and prestigious to the customers through social media and other forms of “WOM squared” (word of mouth and word of mouse) communi- cation.

The author is the founder and director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, based in Heide, Germany, and Beijing.


the various documents, waiting for the visa interview and then the approval. Valuable time and enthusiasm is lost in the entire process. To make matters worse, very often when the tourists return from Europe after a long-distance fl ight, they have to deal with troublesome inter- views and cancellation procedures. Nowadays, only a few countries use the visa

interview and cancellation policy. But embas- sies and consulates of Schengen countries, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and some other countries still insist on it. Part of the reason why many of these nations insist on a visa cancellation process stems from their belief that many Chinese outbound tour- ists obtain visas without formal interviews. Moreover, some embassies and consulates also believe that illegal immigration can be eff ec- tively prevented through the visa interview and cancellation policies. The main problem with such a dispensation is that the process can be conducted only at specifi c times on specifi c days, whereas, the cost of transportation, lodging, catering and other expenses during this period need to be

borne by the Chinese tourists. Nowadays, self-guided tours are becoming more and more popular and could very well be the trend for outbound tourism in the future. Thus, it is imperative that embassies and con- sulates adopt a more convenient visa policy and also provide better outbound services. Many nations have already taken the cue and adopted several positive measures to attract more Chinese tourists. Thailand, for instance, has abolished Chinese outbound tourists’ visa fees. Japan has cancelled the regulation that Chinese outbound tourists who want to go to Japan need to have an annual income of at least 250,000 yuan. No country in Southeast Asia requires visa

interviews and cancellation, except for Singa- pore. South Korea does not require any visa interview and cancellation, except for some cat- egories of tourists. On the contrary, when Chinese outbound tourists want to go to Europe or the US, they have to undergo a lengthy ordeal, thereby creat- ing obstacles in the smooth fl ow of tourists. It is hoped that the European Union and the

US take urgent steps to revise their visa poli- cies, so that they can welcome more Chinese tourists rather than extinguish their enthusi- asm.

The author is a PhD from the International Tourism Development Institute under the China Tourism Academy.



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