The latest Hotels.com Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM), published today, reveals just how important technology has become in the decision-making mix of international Chinese travellers, following another record breaking year for travel and spending by the Chinese. The annual study of more than 3,000 Chinese international travellers and 3,000 hoteliers worldwide offers an insight into the changing behaviour of Chinese travellers and how the hotel industry is adapting.
Mobile and social driving travel
For the first time, over half of the Chinese travellers surveyed told Hotels.com that they now book their hotel accommodation via the web or mobile apps, up from 45 per cent in 2013. Just under half use online accommodation websites and online reviews sites to research their trips and a third check social media for tips. Four out of five (84%) travellers share their photos and experiences on social media during and after an international trip, with many using hotel Wi-Fi to do so; the study found that access to free Wi-Fi is now viewed as the most important service offered by hotels by 59 per cent of travellers.
With internet penetration in the country climbing to 45.8 percent, China ended the year with 618 million internet users, 500 million of these choosing to access the web via a mobile device, according to the China Internet Network Information. More than 90 per cent of internet users reportedly have a social media account with 42% of under-35s consulting social media when planning a trip away. It’s clear that social media is placing an increasingly influential role in where Chinese tourists decide to visit and thus how hoteliers market themselves to these travellers.
Matt Walls, Vice President EMEA of the Hotels.com brand, said: “Our study shows that Chinese travellers are becoming increasingly reliant on technology, both before they travel and whilst they are abroad, with amenities such as free Wi-Fi particularly popular. To appeal to tech-savvy Chinese guests, hoteliers are responding with over two-thirds (70%) offering free internet access and many more making their websites available in Mandarin. In addition, we’re also seeing hoteliers start to sign up to Chinese social networks like WeChat and Weibo to engage with potential guests, as is now commonplace on sites like Twitter and Facebook elsewhere.”
In 2013, 97 million Chinese people travelled abroad, up 14 million on 2012, and more than half of the hoteliers surveyed by Hotels.com say that they have seen an increase in the number of Chinese guests in the previous 12 months. In addition, 36 per cent believe that the influx of Chinese tourists is one of the factors that will have the most impact on their business in the next 12-24 months. To that end, by 2017 it is predicted that Chinese tourists will spend £1bn in the UK, an increase of 84 per cent compared to 2013 figures. Chinese international travellers were also the seventh highest spending nationality on hotel rooms when travelling abroad in 2013, paying an average rate of £107 per night, according to the Hotels.com CITM.
Independent travel continues to rise
The Hotels.com study shows that Chinese travellers are displaying a growing confidence when travelling abroad. Two out of three (67%) Chinese consumers now prefer to travel independently, up five percentage points on 2013, while more than 60 per cent of hoteliers have seen a boost in the number of independent travellers in the last two years. This is the clearest indication yet of the move away from the previous preference for group travel.
Matt Walls of the Hotels.com brand said: “There are many factors driving the desire of the Chinese people to explore the world independently. The rising affluence of the growing middle class with higher disposable incomes, the upward trend in the numbers of repeat travellers and improved local infrastructure are all dovetailing to expedite this growth.”
Europe remains dream destination, but Australia deemed ‘more welcoming’
Australia tops the wishlist of travel hotspots for Chinese travellers but European destinations also feature in the top ten. France is in second place with the UK trailing in seventh, ahead of Germany in tenth. France is also viewed as the most welcoming European destination, ranking third in the Top 10 list globally, while the UK ties with Germany in tenth place.
A key factor affecting how ‘welcoming’ destinations are seen to be is the ease with which travellers from China are able to obtain a visa. When questioned about difficulties when travelling abroad, one in four respondents (25 per cent) said that difficulties over the visa application process would deter them from visiting a destination. This underlines the importance of the recent changes proposed by the UK government to simplify the system recently.
Matt Walls of the Hotels.com brand said: “Chinese travellers appear to be prioritising destinations that are most welcoming to them. In Europe we are seeing France win out against other countries as a result of its efforts to make it easier for Chinese people to visit. Until recently, the UK’s visa processes have acted as a deterrent to many Chinese visitors due to their complexity. However the reforms announced recently should make a considerable difference. The sooner these changes are introduced, the sooner UK businesses can benefit from the upsurge in international travel by the Chinese.”