What’s Mandarin for “road trip?”

As the number of Chinese travelers continues to grow and destinations seek new ways to attract them, there’s indications that the summer road trip is gaining popularity among Chinese families. It’s not that they’re packing the kids in the family station wagon and heading cross-country, but rather renting cars or even hiring private drivers during their trips abroad.

A representative at Huang Bao Che (皇包车), a company that offers Chinese-speaking drivers abroad, told People’s Daily that the company saw a 40-percent increase in parent-child vacation bookings this summer. The representative added that more mothers are combining paid leave with public holidays to take trips with young children. Huang Bao Che believes that its service alleviates some pressure travelers experience with packing car seats, strollers and other items as the company can provide them with the car rental.

Huang Bao Che offers a seven-day tour of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., starting at $565 (RMB 3850) per person for a maximum of four passengers in a compact car. For a nine-day trip through Italy with a driver, the company’s tour starts at $890 (RMB 6117) per person.

Industry insiders say that renting a car gives travelers more freedom to plan vacations the way they want. Ctrip International Car Service CEO An Jing (安晶) said families tend to be less price-sensitive and “will consider the safety and comfort of travel more.”

Car rental booking site Zuzuche (租租车) told People’s Daily that the top regions for travelers to drive on their own are the U.S., Canada and Germany. The company has seen growing interest among Guangzhou residents for car rentals in Thailand, too, likely because it’s a shorter flight. Meanwhile, Shenzhen residents are more interested in smaller destinations with rentals increasing for Norway, according to Zuzuche.

Total bookings for rental cars and drivers increased 65 percent year-on-year for July-September, according to statistics from major travel agencies in China. Families accounted for 37.5 percent of all rental car bookings, accompanied by an increase in the number of child safety seats requested with the vehicles.

chinese road trip

Taking to the Road in North America

As Chinese travelers become a more active force in North American road travel, destinations and attractions may need to re-position themselves as one in a string of scenic destinations. But the key, to lure Chinese families, is for a region to highlight both gorgeous landscapes and important historic or cultural sites.

Examples of five of the more beautiful drives in North America that also offer specific attractions to the Chinese traveler.

1) Hamilton, Canada, an hour’s drive from Toronto, features a stunning region aptly named “City of Waterfalls” — it has more than 130. Back in the city, however, tourists can opt for more educational experiences, such as architecture tours or a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s extensive collection includes works by Rubens, Serra and Warhol (and a well-stocked git shop offers a selection from 18-karat gold jewelry to Keith Haring T-shirts). The city’s biggest tourist attraction, however, is CN Tower, with its 1,456-foot-high lookout. Thinking ahead, the attraction put out job notices in both English and Mandarin for its 2018 tourist season. The Tower accepts both Alipay and WeChat Pay.

2) Everything is bigger in Texas, including the road trips. Big Bend State Park, a day’s drive from Dallas and on the Rio Grande, was recently designated as an “International Dark Sky” site for its nighttime canopy of stars. That feature might be very attractive to urban-dwelling Chinese. Back in Dallas/Fort Worth, highlights include rodeos, steakhouses and a variety of top-notch museums, from the Nasher Sculpture Center to the Dallas Museum of Art. The DMA, through early December, is featuring an exhibition “Art and Trade of the Silk Road,” showcasing Asian textiles.

3) One of America’s most iconic (and marketable-to-tourists) drives is California’s Highway 1. It links two hugely popular destinations for Chinese travelers — San Francisco, home of top cultural institutions like the de Young Museum, which has a Gauguin blockbuster opening in November, and Los Angeles. The best first destination along the route is Monterey then, for nature lovers, the highway passes through Big Sur. In Los Angeles, highlights include the chance to hear star Shanghai violinist Tianyun Jia at the LA Philharmonic. Many venues along the way accept Alipay, such as the merchants at San Francisco’s Pier 39, and Universal Studios Hollywood offers services in Mandarin.

4) Chinese travelers driving from Boston to New York City can visit Harvard, Yale and Columbia Universities, and the drive is particularly beautiful in autumn.  There are numerous cultural and historical activities along the way, including the Wadsworth Antheneum Museum of Art in Hartford that will host a surrealist exhibition from October to January with works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Max Ernst as well as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which will display Ansel Adams’ iconic photographs in December. And there’s much more heading into New York City with all the museums and historic sites, including MoMA, the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

5) Tourists can follow the first leg of historic Route 66 before following the Illinois River Road for a bit of nature outside of Chicago. There are plenty of museums and attractions in the city to visit, including the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago History Museum, which hosts an exhibition on the Blues until next summer. After indulging in shopping and dining on the Magnificent Mile, travelers can head out on Route 66 for Instagrammable sights before joining the Illinois River Road, a National Scenic Byway that passes through scenic state parks.


Transportation, Travel Trends