China’s millennials on the move: What drives these young globetrotters?
CHINA’S millennials and Gen Z – the post-80s to mid-2000s generation – are the future of the country’s outbound tourism.
Having seen an economic transformation and a rise in disposable incomes, China now contributes the largest share of tourists to the Asia Pacific, with those from this generational cohort making up a good portion of the group.
According to a survey by Phocuswright and Bloomberg Intelligence, up to 60 percent of the country’s total outbound travelers are millennials and Gen Z.
These younger generations of travelers grew up in the post-Mao era, when China embarked on a rapid journey towards economic liberalization. They also spend a large chunk of their lives online and are more in tune with what’s happening in the world, resulting in an “awakened” or “woke”, inspired and curious generation.
Naturally, these breeds of travelers have long done away with traditional methods of planning vacations; they are moving about more independently, with a little help from influencers.
In the past, tour groups were a norm and the only method of travel due to the cultural gap and language barriers (speaking little-to-no-English).
But with better education and the digital age, the Chinese millennial tourists prefer to plan their own trips. In fact, while they may choose a tour group their first time abroad, only one-fourth will continue to travel with a group on following trips, according to a report by China Luxury Advisors and Fung Business Intelligence Centre (FBIC).
They no longer want to ride around on a huge tour bus, tail a guide holding up a flag or zip in and out of attractions all day.
What drives these young globetrotters?
One word: influencers.
Despite not being connected to popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube due to China’s tight grip on access to media, it has not stopped them from being a part of the global conversation. The aspiring young travelers are still able to obtain information from influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs) on Weibo and WeChat.
To them, influencers and KOLs provide “real experiences” in their travel content and are viewed as more reliable and trustworthy than tour groups.
“No doubt, tour agencies are great for first-time trips but they tend to be very impersonal. And because they get kickbacks from attractions, restaurants, and merchants, the itineraries lack flexibility.”
“They seem to be doing what’s ‘in it’ for them and not so much what travelers can get out of the holiday, and we’re the ones paying for it,” Ling Xiaojing, an undergrad from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou told Travel Wire Asia.
On Weibo and WeChat, they are able to quench their travel thirst with a variety of content ranging from photos and videos (much like Instagram) to articles and live streams. A community that relies on engagement and conversations for advice and inspiration, it’s the perfect platform for Chinese influencers to showcase their travels (photos, videos, stories, and recommendations) and a great self-trip-planning resource for the aspiring young travelers.
Where are they going?
No longer keen on overrated, touristy destinations, these travelers are looking for new and profound experiences, preferably in undiscovered nooks and uncharted territories.
An RTG Consulting study (based qualitative and quantitive interviews with over 1,000 Gen Y and Gen Z across China’s top-tier cities) has found that because these free independent travelers (FIT) are more well-educated and relatively affluent, they enjoy traveling off the beaten path.
According to the study, 56 percent travel to immerse in rest and relaxation; 47 percent globetrot to discover nature, culture, and history; and 42 percent to shop. They are increasingly looking for more unique and immersive experiences, discovering hidden gems and seeking out what’s really worth visiting.
“Rental car online booking increased by 88.6 percent in 2016 as Chinese FIT make their way beyond the ‘coastal capitals’ of LA and NY to destinations like national parks, New Orleans, and even Iowa (where Xi Jinping famously spent time),” RTG Consulting’s study states, referring to the Chinese president.
Aided by technology, globalization and an innate desire to break through boundaries, China’s millennials and Gen Z-ers will drive and shape the future of outbound tourism in the country, one big leap at a time.
Expect to see more young Chinese tourists take trips to track animal migration through Africa, hike Yosemite National Park in California, bask under the glow of the aurora borealis in Finland, and explore the Arctic.
The world is their oyster, after all.