It’s challenging to tie down exactly the volume of independent outbound travel vs outbound group travel from the Chinese source market. One thing that is clear is that independent travel is on the rise in the China market. Virtually all of China’s major corporate tourism stakeholders have made inroads in customizing their platforms and offerings to appeal to the growing number of so-called free independent travelers (FITs). Among those, arguably the most significant is Ctrip, which has unveiled products like its virtual tour manager (VTM) and the company’s “Customized Travel” platform (定制旅行). Now the company is doubling down on the latter by launching the first business summit for Customized Travel in Europe, in part to take advantage of the China-EU Tourism Year.

Ctrip will need to ensure that its various platforms are indispensable for Chinese independent travelers in Europe

The summit will be held on April 16 in Budapest, Hungary, with the intent of connecting Ctrip with local European operators to facilitate the integration of their offerings within Ctrip’s Customized Travel platform.

Ctrip says that users made more than one million requests via Customized Travel platform in 2017, 60 percent and 40 percent was for domestic travel and international travel respectively.

Unsurprisingly, this implies that the percentage of outbound Chinese travelers opting for independent travel is higher than those of domestic travelers. Chinese travelers made 5 billion domestic trips and 130 million outbound trips in 2017, making only around 2.5 percent of total trips in 2017 outbound trips.

A survey by China Luxury Advisors and Fung Business Intelligence Centre last year further underscores the relative popularity of independent travel for China’s outbound tourists as compared to domestic tourists.

While the overall number of Chinese independent travelers is relatively low, it is disproportionately high among outbound Chinese travelers

The companies surveyed some 800 Chinese tourists online between the ages of 18 and 59 who had taken at least one overseas trip and stayed at least one night overseas in the past year. According to the findings, 17 percent respondents plan to make all arrangements for their next trip independently, while 35 percent plan to buy a travel package but still travel independently. Only 25 percent of respondents plan to travel with tour groups in the future. 35 percent of respondents traveled with a tour group on their last trip.

While these findings are certainly not an ironclad representation of the outbound travel market given the relatively small sample size and the online nature of the survey (many older Chinese travelers travel with tour groups but are likely less accessible digitally), they nonetheless drive home to OTAs like Ctrip that FITs are key to any strategy to derive revenue from Chinese outbound travel.

FITs will be a key revenue sources for China’s most significant tourism stakeholders going forward

Given the relatively higher costs of travel to Europe from China, a larger share of Chinese travelers to Europe are from higher income brackets and are thus even more likely to seek personalized and/or independent travel products and experiences. This makes Ctrip’s focus on promoting the usefulness of Ctrip platforms, Customized Travel in particularly, a logical next step in consolidating Ctrip’s place as China’s most important digital resource for outbound travel.


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