Not so long ago, the vast majority of Chinese tourists travelled exclusively in large groups on pre-planned itineraries. But things are changing, and changing fast.
A report co-authored by the China Tourism Academy counted outbound Chinese tourists at around 130 million in 2017; by 2025, the number is expected to reach 220 million. And, according to figures from Wegogo, a Chinese social travel platform with nearly a billion monthly active users, some 55-60% (and growing) of those 2017 travellers were what it calls FITs – free independent travellers.
Various factors in China are fuelling it, according to Mak Chee Wah, Wegogo’s Founder and CEO.
What are Chinese FITs looking for? Mak is unequivocal on the subject. “They are trying to seek out very local, very authentic experiences. Hotels are important, but it is experiences that drive bookings,” he explains.
Christopher Ledsham, Chief Communications Officer at the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, has advice for hoteliers looking to attract Chinese FITs. “They must look beyond ‘high-end’ services or rudimentary Chinese-friendly offers like having hot-water kettles in rooms,” he states. Instead they should “consider engaging these experienced travellers with local, experience-based activities, culture and cuisine”. Such tailored products might be artisan cooking classes, rooftop tours or expert-led neighbourhood food safaris.
One property successfully reaching out to Chinese FITs is London’s The Milestone Hotel. When quizzed about how it has adapted to this segment, Andrew Pike, the General Manager, lists several pragmatic practices.
“We contact all guests with a preference form ahead of arrival to learn more about them, their reason for travelling and any particular predilections they have, in an effort to make their stay more enjoyable,” he outlines. The Milestone also accepts various Chinese methods of payment, such as UnionPay, and has Chinese TV programmes available in all rooms. "It’s really important to have an expert on the team who truly understands the etiquette, customs, habits and desires of Chinese guests."
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