Over half of China’s lucrative outbound travel market now comes from the youthful post-’80s, ’90s, and ’00s generations, but not all travel destinations are created equal. The chance to walk on extreme areas of the planet isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of adventurous travelers who would pay a lot of money to do just that — as well as take in breathtaking icebergs, kayak in icy cold waters, and watch penguins play. That location, the incredibly cold and windy wasteland to the south known as Antarctica, now happens to be drawing quite a few tourists from China, but they aren’t the tourists you think they are.
These tourists are older than the average Chinese traveler, with 47 percent clocking in between the ages of 50 and 70, according to data provided by Ctrip.com International. That’s roughly 30 years older on average than the FITs (free independent travelers) of younger generations. Antarctic trips, which consist of long-distance cruises over multiple stops, take 23 days on average, making it difficult for younger travelers who can’t take extremely long vacations from work.
Chinese tourists to Antarctica are mostly older and spend an average of 23 days traveling
But an even bigger reason for Antarctica’s older demographic is cost. Ctrip notes that the site’s least expensive tour to the continent starts at $7,264 (RMB 50,000), and the average tour costs $15,980 (RMB 110,000). The OTA also said that it offers nearly 200 Antarctic packages for sale, which is a 30 percent increase from the previous season — proof that this niche market in China is expanding.
Because of the cost and distance, Antarctic tourists only account for a tiny portion of the total 130 million Chinese outbound trips from 2017. According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), the 2017-18 tourist season in Antarctica — which roughly runs from November through March — attracted 8,273 Chinese travelers, accounting for 16 percent of all travelers to the continent. Ctrip also predicted that the number of Chinese travelers to Antarctica will grow to over 10,000 this season.
Ctrip expects the number of Chinese visitors to Antarctica to exceed 10,000 this season
Ctrip’s estimated that the 2018-19 season in Antarctica would account for over $160 million (RMB 1.1 billion) in travel expenses from Chinese tourists, not to mention the additional revenue generated from personal expenses while on tours during the average trip. That amount is small, but not insignificant, compared with overall international travel spending by Chinese tourists, which totaled $258 billion (RMB 1.76 trillion) in 2017, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Another surprising fact about the Antarctic tourist demographic is that most of them are not from first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, even though most destination marketing is aimed there. According to Ctrip, over 60 percent of travelers booked their tours through the site’s offline stores, most of which are found in smaller (third- and fourth-tier) cities. This demonstrates that wealthy, older travelers can come from anywhere in China, but also that this demographic still prefers face-to-face service when booking travel arrangements.
And while these once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic tours are thriving with older Chinese travelers, a significant 44 percent of that group also decided to travel in nearby Argentina during their voyage, a positive sign for that country’s economy.
So is Antarctica an anomaly in the travel market? Perhaps, but it’s a significant one, and there are others like it that deserve travel marketers’ attention. Data proves that DMOs (destination marketing organizations) need to look beyond their usual campaign hubs (Beijing, Shanghai) to attract a growing number of wealthy visitors from lower-tier cities. And while they should still push digital campaigns to millennial and Gen-Z travelers, it would be wise for them to explore other ways to reach older Chinese generations that have the desire — and the money — to see the world.