At last, positive signals from China’s outbound travel market again

 Tuesday, September 19, 2023 


China’s outbound travel market is showing strong signs of recovery, according to the latest findings from IPK International’s World Travel Monitor® survey. The survey indicates that Chinese travelers have a growing desire for international trips over the next 12 months, which bodes well for a strong recovery in 2024. This positive trend was also observed at ITB China, an industry event recently held in Shanghai, where 10,000 attendees from the Chinese and global travel industry gathered.

However, it’s essential to note that compared to 2019, Chinese outbound travel is still significantly behind global levels, with a slow recovery due to sustained and strict travel restrictions. In 2019, China was the world’s fourth-largest source market, with approximately 70 million outbound trips, but in 2022, it was overtaken by several other markets with better recovery rates.

The latest IPK survey reveals that Chinese travelers are eager to explore international destinations in the coming year. Around 50% of respondents plan to travel abroad within the next 12 months, with many aiming to travel more frequently than before. Another 44% intend to take the same number of foreign trips as in the past. Only a small percentage of respondents plan to reduce their outbound travel.

Europe is the top choice for Chinese travelers, followed by destinations within Asia. Travel to the Americas remains less popular due to limited flight options and geopolitical factors. Six percent of respondents cited domestic travel within China as their only viable option. This shift toward European destinations represents a positive trend compared to earlier surveys when neighboring countries were more popular due to travel restrictions.

Cultural travel is a significant focus for Chinese travelers in the next year, with 60% planning round trips abroad and 44% considering city breaks. This strong interest in European cultural destinations suggests promising prospects for their recovery. However, Chinese travelers also show a growing desire for sun and beach holidays.

Business travel remains an important segment of the Chinese outbound travel market, with approximately 30% of respondents planning business trips abroad in the next year. This figure is stable and higher than the global average. Moreover, there is a noticeable trend toward MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) travel within the business segment.

Chinese travelers are adapting their behavior due to financial considerations in response to pandemic-related restrictions and the decline in travel over the last three years. According to IPK surveys, many Chinese travelers plan to save on travel expenses by traveling during off-peak periods and shortening their stay. These adjustments are seen as a way to counter the significant increase in airfares resulting from reduced flight availability.

Another cost-saving measure identified by 25% of respondents is economizing on accommodation. Despite this intention to save, over 80% of Chinese travelers plan to stay in hotels during foreign trips in the next 12 months. There is also increased demand for other accommodation options, such as holiday homes and apartments. Overall, Chinese travelers’ expenses remain high, significantly exceeding the global average.

Despite these financial considerations, there is an overall positive outlook for China’s outbound travel market in 2024. The market’s recovery is driven by several factors, including the gradual lifting of travel restrictions, visa issuance for key destinations, and the market catching up. However, the recovery process in China is expected to be longer than in major source markets in Europe and North America due to factors like geopolitical visa impacts and limited flight availability, coupled with higher prices resulting from the closure of Russian airspace. Despite these challenges, there is a good chance that China’s outbound travel market will gradually return to 2019 levels in the foreseeable future.

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