As China enters its annual peak travel season, Chinese media is projecting a new Spring Festival travel record. An estimated 9 billion domestic journeys will be made during this period, nearly double the 4.7 billion trips recorded during last year’s rush, following the lifting of stringent Covid-19 restrictions.
Travel platform Ctrip reported a 540 percent surge in overseas travel bookings this year compared to last Chinese New Year. Plus, the average cost of a booking has increased 32 percent year on year.
Peak revenge travel
The public holiday for Chinese New Year in China is typically seven days long. In some years, like 2024, it’s extended to eight days because of the lunisolar calendar. China Daily noted that when the eight-day holiday was announced in October 2023, demand for travel spiked.
“This might be the biggest National Day ‘golden week’ holiday ever,” says Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.
Travel from mainland China to Southeast Asia has surged 1,026 percent compared to last year in terms of travel bookings. Air travel to the region jumped 864 percent. The most favored destinations are Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia, according to Ctrip.
Thailand has emerged as the preferred choice for many Chinese tourists — bookings are up 101 percent. Bookings for Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia ticked up 499 percent, 584 percent, and over 1,000 percent, respectively.
“Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, and Japan are traditionally favored, but there’s a growing interest in new luxury hotspots such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar,” says professor Haiyan Song, professor in International Tourism at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Other destinations woo Chinese tourists
Saudi Arabia has launched successful campaigns to attract Chinese tourists. On November 17, over 13,000 people attended the Saudi Souk Festival in Shanghai, showcasing the country’s culture and heritage.
Additionally, the country’s feature in the Chinese reality show Divas Hit the Road, featuring celebrities like Dilraba Dilmurat, led to a 772 percent spike in searches for “Saudi Arabia” on Qunar after the show’s airing. On Xiaohongshu, related hashtags have garnered millions of views, indicating growing interest in following the show’s travel itinerary.
Malaysia is moving up Chinese tourists’ list of preferences thanks to the recently announced 30-day reciprocal visa-free policy, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of China-Malaysia diplomatic relations. The policy change has fueled a surge of online searches in China for Malaysia-related travel.
Luxury travel preferences shift
“There’s been a rise in affluent experienced millennials who seek authentic and personalized experiences, interacting with locals and immersing themselves in local culture,” says Emily Cheung, founder of Shake to Win, a Chinese cultural travel platform that connects China’s travelers with global cultural institutions.
Accommodation choices are changing as well. Travelers are increasingly looking beyond luxury to cultural engagement. This trend towards meaningful and immersive experiences reflects a broader shift in global travel. Destinations offering a blend of high-end amenities and deep cultural immersion are increasingly finding favor.
“Younger Chinese tourists prefer socially responsible and environmentally-friendly luxury products and services,” says Song. “Destinations should promote such offerings through various channels.”
The power of social
Attracting this lucrative segment of tourists requires an understanding of their unique preferences and the use of digital platforms.
“Visa-free policies and Chinese social media like Xiaohongshu, Weibo, and Bilibili are key to attracting Chinese tourists. Easy online payment options are also crucial,” Song says.
He points to the growing preference among younger Chinese tourists for socially responsible and environmentally-friendly luxury products.
On the role of influencers, Cheung says that “many influencers and KOLs are showcasing locations with compelling stories and a personal touch, shaping travel decisions among younger, digitally savvy tourists.“
KOL content shared on platforms like Xiaohongshu and Douyin is key in shaping narratives and perceptions about destinations. Engaging with Chinese tourists through the platforms they frequent, like WeChat and Xiaohongshu, is crucial, and collaborations with influencers who resonate with the target demographic can significantly boost a destination’s appeal.
Xiaohongshu, one of affluent consumers’ most popular apps for researching destinations and experiences, has a history of boosting interest in destinations.
Adapting to a new landscape
Changes in luxury travel require destinations to adapt their marketing strategies, particularly during peak travel seasons like Chinese New Year. Cheung stresses that “providing personalized local experiences will be a significant factor when appealing to luxury Chinese travelers.”
Tailoring experiences to align with cultural nuances, especially during significant festivals like CNY, could be a key differentiator. Additionally, understanding the importance of family and multi-generational travel in Chinese culture and offering suitable packages and experiences can help destinations stand out. CNY is a family holiday after all, akin to Christmas in Western culture.
The path forward lies in embracing digital engagement, offering personalized and culturally rich experiences, and committing to sustainability. In this fast-evolving landscape, destinations that can adeptly blend traditional luxury with these new elements are poised for success.