The outbound Chinese market is maturing and increasingly looking to adventure as the means to more deeply experience the world and its many cultural and natural wonders. A May 2018 poll from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence found that 30 percent of Chinese travelers had already taken a trip focused on thrill-seeking or adrenaline-pumping activities, while 45 percent are interested in planning one.
A growing sophistication among Chinese tourists is driving demand for adventure experiences
The poll was based on 1,500 consumers from 16 Chinese cities who had traveled outside China in the past 18 months and reported in “China Outbound: The New Face of Chinese Global Travel.”
With Chinese tourists’ overseas spend expected to grow from $115 billion in 2017 to $429 billion by 2021, according to CLSA, adventure operators can expect a jump in Chinese customers.
“Chinese high-end travelers are becoming increasingly mature and sophisticated in their travel preferences. They’re no longer interested in traveling in big groups which lacks a sense of privacy, flexibility, and uniqueness and are now looking for exceptional experiences and completely customized itineraries,” explains Jonathan Cheung, CEO of Abercrombie & Kent China whose headquarters are in Beijing.
“They do not want to travel the traditional way by visiting crowded tourist sites but are looking for a holiday where they can experience new cultures with unique experiences.”
After years of providing travel services to Chinese expatriates living abroad, Abercrombie & Kent recently set up a private travel office in Beijing to serve the growing clientele interested in luxury adventure trips.
Safaris in Africa and trips to polar regions have proven especially desirable to Chinese adventure travelers
While African safaris and polar expeditions are both high on Chinese adventurers’ wish lists, catering these experiences to the Chinese market is particularly challenging.
It not only requires Mandarin-speaking guides, but the product must be completely customized to reflect Chinese interests and menus, explains the A&K team.
For example, Geoffrey Kent took 11 Chinese billionaires on their first safari to Kenya and found that rather than teaching a local guide to speak Mandarin, it was more successful to teach a Mandarin speaker to be a safari guide.
These challenges haven’t stopped visitor growth to some of the world’s most remote destinations.
Last year China overtook Australia as the second largest source of travelers to Antarctica, accounting for 12 percent of approximately 46,000 visitors, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
Chinese nationals are also the largest group of visitors to Russia’s Arctic region, according to government figures. Moreover, Finland’s Lapland region last year recorded a record 92 percent rise in overnight stays by Chinese visitors.
“While they want adventure and exploration, they expect to travel in comfort and style,” explains Cheung.
WeChat has also become an important element of the high-end travel experience for Chinese guests and being used to settle payments, communicate with guests and for marketing.
Even Chinese travelers not interested in such extremes are seeking to explore more traditional destinations in Asia, Europe, and the United States in a new way whether that be through the lens of art, wine, fashion, or sports.
Despite the growing demand for experiential travel, many Chinese adventure tourists are still pursuing more traditional sightseeing tours
Not all Chinese adventure tourists are looking beyond the selfie just yet, according to Dan Austin, owner of Austin Adventures, an award-winning tour operator primarily focused on national parks.
“Our understanding and impression so far is that the average Chinese visitor to the US may want to ‘see’ the iconic sights like say Old Faithful, but they are looking for a quick selfie and not deep immersion being on a site-packed travel itinerary,” explains Austin.
In his experience, Yellowstone National Park is an exceptionally desired location. However, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Zion are also growing quickly.
Austin has found the best way to reach the market is with and through an “in country” Chinese travel partner
“We see opportunities in the custom-designed, exclusive trip area where we can build an itinerary to suit specific desires, goals, and budgets. The high-end, affluent Chinese client is becoming our target audience and custom, private trips are the product we feel we can sell,” he says.
As a leader in national park vacations, Austin has organized a handful of “custom” Chinese requests and expects that number to continue growing.
As often occurs, the luxury market is leading the evolution of Chinese adventure tourism with deeper, more immersive and exotic experiences. Adapting this model for a variety of price points will be key in capturing the growing outbound market looking to move beyond the museums and shops of major cities and into nature.