The number of Chinese outbound tourists visiting Europe is expected to grow to 4.5 million by 2015 and around 8.6 million by 2020, giving the European travel industry potential income of more than €2 billion, based on an average spend of €234 per night.
This growth opportunity is outlined in a new report written by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and commissioned by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, the flagship brand of Hilton Worldwide.
The study, ‘How the Rise of Chinese Tourism will Change the Face of the European Travel Industry,’ identifies current advantages and disadvantages of Europe for Chinese outbound travel and tourism (COTT).
Dave Horton, global head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts said: “The report provides new insight as our industry focuses on attracting outbound Chinese travellers for the long term. We must recognise emerging trends and act quickly in order for European communities to fully seize the historic opportunity created by this exponential growth.”
The report finds that COTT generated an estimated 3 million visitor trips to Europe in 2010, with the largest number of Chinese travellers visiting Italy, France and Germany.
It identified that a growing number of first-time Chinese tourists are choosing to travel independently, rather than with traditional tour groups. Second- and third-time travellers, who feel comfortable travelling alone or in small groups of family or friends, are further fuelling this trend. These travellers enjoy the freedom to select venues and attractions that cater to their individual interests instead of feeling bound by tour group schedules, and may also be drawn to smaller locations that are typically not considered by tour group operators.
Sandie Dawe, chief executive, VisitBritain said: “Chinese visitor numbers to the UK have been steadily rising over the last few years, but we can clearly do more to attract an even greater number. China has a rich cultural heritage of its own and according to the latest Nations Brand Index, now has a far better understanding of
British culture, our people and what they can experience when they are here. We must build on this and ensure the industry develops products that meet the needs, tastes and desires of Chinese travellers.”
This shift in travel behaviours has major implications for the way in which the tourism industry will need to market to outbound Chinese tourists. This consumer base has a very high Internet penetration rate of 36.2 percent nationally, and Internet usage is more than double this figure in the large cities. More than 318 million access the Internet regularly and the average Internet user spends 18.7 hours per week online. Before departing, Chinese travellers will look online for information about destinations, hotels, and transport offerings, and are more likely to get their information through social media rather than official company websites. Online video sharing sites that offer videos of tourist destinations and traveller-generated blogs and microblogs are very popular and influential in the decision-making process for
Kevin Latham, senior lecturer, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and author of the report said: “Social media is quick, influential and popular, and the travel industry has to take social media seriously. Used appropriately, the marketing potential is enormous and opens up opportunities for players at all levels. The key is attracting Chinese travellers to your venue, and if they love the experience, they will likely talk about it on social networking sites, which could result in huge visitor numbers.”
In addition to large companies, niche offerings also have vast opportunities with this form of communication. Chinese travellers will search for venues and packages that suit their lifestyles and interests, which could result in high demand for bespoke packages catering to Chinese tastes such as whisky tasting tours in Scotland and vineyard tours in France, Italy, the UK and Germany. Earlier this year, Hilton introduced Hilton Huanying, a programme taking its name from the Chinese word for welcome. Participating hotels provide Chinese speaking staff, traditional Chinese breakfast items and a range of in-room amenities including slippers, a welcome letter in Chinese, Chinese television programming and Chinese tea.
Tourism Minister John Penrose said: “We are living in exciting times for the UK tourism industry with new markets opening up and brilliant opportunities arising to promote the country to them. Chinese visitors in particular will play an especially important part in growing our industry. So I commend initiatives like Hilton Huanying and the research commissioned by Hilton Hotels & Resorts from the School of Oriental and African Studies - the more we understand what our new customers want and expect, the better able we will be to offer them a warm welcome and a rewarding experience when they come to the UK.”
Potential Chinese customers are likely to be geographically concentrated in identifiable parts of the country and involved with particular social groups. They are also likely to have predictable media consumption habits such as reading specific titles and visiting themed websites, which creates opportunity for marketers to gain access and more easily target this audience.