ITB Berlin publishes IPK International’s latest findings from a World Travel Monitor® survey on travel plans in China’s outbound travel market.
IPK’s findings from its latest surveys reflect a distinctly positive trend: China’s lust for travel is currently greater than in any of the two travel plan surveys carried out over the past two years. China’s growing desire for more international trips over the next 12 months is laying a solid foundation for a strong recovery in 2024. That was also the message that emerged from ITB China which recently concluded in Shanghai. Following the break due to the pandemic, the event had gathered 10,000 attendees from the Chinese and global travel industry live in Shanghai.
Compared with 2019, Chinese outbound travel still lags massively behind globally, with no recovery in sight yet. Whereas in 2019 China was the world’s fourth largest source market with around 70 million outbound trips, in 2022 it was overtaken by numerous markets with much better recovery rates. Sustained and tight travel restrictions have resulted in significantly slowing the recovery.
Keen travel plans over the next 12 months
The findings of IPK’s latest travel survey show that China’s lust for travel is back: around 50 per cent of interviewees aim to travel abroad over the next 12 months, and if possible more often than in the past. A further 44 per cent want to take as many foreign trips as they used to, while only single-digit percentages of respondents intend to take fewer outbound trips or none at all. Compared with previous surveys this represents a significant trend towards more outbound trips and reflects an increasing desire to travel in China’s outbound travel market.
Europe tops the list of favourite destinations
With regard to their travel plans over the next 12 months, Chinese travellers’ preferred destinations are likely to be in Europe, followed by trips within Asia. Over the same period travel to America will remain a less frequent choice, due to a lack of flight options on the one hand and geopolitical reasons on the other. For six per cent of the interviewees trips within China are the only realistic choice. Compared with previous surveys there is a positive trend towards European destinations, whereas at the beginning of the year neighbouring countries topped the list. The main reasons for this are a longing for faraway destinations and the market catching up again after Europe was all but inaccessible over the past three years.
Big demand for cultural travel
Over 80 per cent of the Chinese interviewees intend to holiday abroad over the next 12 months. Compared with a survey at the beginning of the year this represents an increase in holiday plans. Within the holiday segment, the focus among Chinese travellers over the next 12 months is clearly on cultural trips. Thus, 60 per cent are planning a round trip abroad. A further 44 per cent intend to take city breaks. Together with the manifest high interest in trips to Europe, this means the chances for Europe’s cultural destinations making a comprehensive recovery are very good. However, compared with the last survey, China’s growing desire for sun and beach holidays over the next 12 months must also be taken into account.
Above-average interest in business travel
As before the pandemic, foreign business trips are an important market. Thus, around 30 per cent of the Chinese respondents are planning a business trip abroad over the next 12 months. Compared with previous surveys the figures here are stable, while also far higher than the global average. Within the business trip segment there is also a clear trend towards MICE travel. As in the past, VFR travel and other private trips will not significantly impact the Chinese outbound travel market over the next 12 months.
Changes in travel behaviour mainly due to financial reasons
Looking at the bigger picture, the question naturally also arises as to how pandemic-related restrictions and the significant decline in travel over the last three years will impact Chinese travel behaviour. In the IPK surveys the interviewees say that in future they intend to save on travel expenses by travelling in off-peak periods and shortening their stay. That way they intend to offset the significant increases in airfares that have resulted due to the lack of flights.
A further 25 per cent of the respondents would like to save money on accommodation in future. Nevertheless, over 80 per cent are planning to stay in hotels on foreign trips over the next 12 months. Other overnight options such as holiday homes and apartments also report increased demand. Overall, Chinese travellers’ expenses are still very high and substantially above the global average.
Overall positive outlook for 2024 despite various obstacles
China’s lust for travel, due among other things to the market catching up, the current and successive lifting of many travel restrictions, and the fact that visas are being issued again for important destinations, is setting the tone for a gradual recovery of China’s outbound travel market. According to IPK surveys, the positive trend in this outbound travel market will continue over the next 12 months, so that in the medium term there is a good chance of the market returning to 2019 levels in the foreseeable future. However, this process will take longer than in the large source markets of Europe and North America. The geopolitical impact on the issuing of visas and the slow growth of flight availability, coupled with high prices due to the closure of Russian air space, will to some extent dampen China’s lust for travel.