Travel, a New Lifestyle for Chinese People

As the 2015 Spring Festival (春节) is approaching, also known as Chinese New Year, 38-year-old Mr. Qin from Beijing (北京) is making plans for the upcoming seven-day holiday. He finally decided to take his family to visit Thailand, after longing to visit that country for some time, especially after seeing the very popular movie Lost in Thailand released in 2013. Actually, Mr. Qin is not a first time traveller on this holiday occasion. Last year, he travelled with his entire family to the provinces of Yunnan (云南) and Guangxi (广西) in the Southern part of China for the Chinese New Year. They enjoyed the warm southern winter, the different atmosphere as people celebrated the Spring Festival there and had a wonderful time.

However, Mr. Qin is only one of many taking part in the Spring Festival travel rush. According to a report by the China National Tourism Administration, there were 231 million tourists during the 2014 Spring Festival, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. Travel has become a new trend for Chinese people during the Spring Festival holiday in addition to the traditional family reunion dinner, purchasing festival items, watching the Spring Festival Gala on television and visiting neighbours and relatives. Even more interestingly, travelling abroad during the Spring Festival is increasingly popular. A record 4.5 million Chinese people were estimated to have travelled overseas during the 2014 Spring Festival, a rise of 12.5 percent from 2013. South East Asia and North America were among the most popular destinations for outbound trips. Many countries hosted abundant celebration activities, thanks to local Chinese communities. Some even created better festival atmospheres than in China. No doubt experiencing different customs overseas is also a fashionably attractive way to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Surprisingly, travel was not on the mind of most Chinese people prior to the 1978 economic reform and opening-up policy. Up until then, China had been tackling essential needs like food and clothing. But during the 1980s, people in China became increasingly aware of travelling possibilities with the rise of tourism and as living conditions improved. As American psychologist Abraham Maslow suggests in his hierarchy of needs theory, when people’s basic material needs are satisfied, they seek to achieve spiritual needs.

After more than three decades, on account of the fast economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, China has now become one of the world’s most attractive and hottest inbound and outbound tourist markets. Chinese people consider henceforth travel as a new lifestyle. Today, China’s soaring population faces steadily more pressures from work, family and society. Travelling can offer a temporary escape, a welcome relief to a stressful environment in order to refresh tired souls. There is also an old saying in Chinese, ‘Travelling thousands of miles is better than reading thousands of books’. Travelling can help acquire the knowledge that one cannot get from books, so it is another method of learning. These are the reasons why Chinese people are so keen on travelling.

-Chinese Spring Festival celebration in Paris, France (Copyright: Xinhua)

The Spring Festival and The National Day (国庆节), also called Golden Weeks, are the two longest public holidays in China. People enjoy seven-day breaks for each of these two holidays. There are some other small official holidays such as May Day (劳动节), Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), and Dragon Boat Festival (端午节), during which Chinese people can have three days off work. Since the opportunity to travel is limited to these official holiday periods for a majority of Chinese people, most famous scenic spots become very crowded during the holiday seasons. It was reported that people visiting the Great Wall (长城) could barely move as it attracted tens of thousands of tourists during the Golden Weeks. With overcrowded domestic tourist attractions and consequent unpleasant internal travel experiences, a large number of mainland Chinese travellers, especially high-income earners, favoured overseas destinations. This not only affected China’s inbound, but also outbound tourism. As soon as the 2014 National Day Golden Week (1-7 October) ended, Chinese media reported that domestic travel had declined while outbound travel had grown eightfold. The huge growth of outbound tourism over the past few years has had an impact on the global travel industry. It was estimated that the number of outbound tourists from mainland China would exceed 115 million people in 2014.

-A Chinese traveller in Lhasa, Tibet, China (Copyright: Wang Shu)

A leading provider of hotel accommodations worldwide, has launched in 2012 the Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) to examine the enormous increase in outbound tourism by Chinese travellers and its impact on the global hotel industry. According to the third report published in 2014, the majority of overseas Chinese travel has been for leisure reasons, while business or education purposes ranked second. Travelling with family or friends remained the most popular choices amongst Chinese international travellers. The report listed Asian countries including Hong Kong and Taiwan in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, European countries like France, Italy, the UK, and also the USA as the top 10 international destinations chosen by Chinese travellers in 2013. A survey in the report showed that Chinese tourists’ favourite activities when abroad were sightseeing, dining and shopping, and that they spent the most money on shopping. In fact, China became the largest spender in international tourism globally in 2012. The sky-high luxury taxes at home impelled Chinese tourists to shop overseas more than others. Many businesses introduced specially designed services and products for their Chinese guests, a non-negligible consumer group. For example, the world famous Hilton Hotels group has its Huanying (‘Welcome’ in Chinese) hospitality programme, proposing front desk team members fluent in Chinese, hotel room amenities and traditional Chinese breakfast items. The Galeries Lafayette in Paris, one of Chinese travellers’ favourite department stores, not only offers store maps in Chinese but also Chinese speaking guides to assist Chinese shoppers.

With people’s enhanced travel awareness and the development of technology, new travel trends and behaviours have emerged. The CITM reported that Chinese travellers used many online sources, particularly mobile devices, throughout their travels to research and book their trip and share photos and experiences via social media. Hoteliers around the world confirmed that young Chinese guests are particularly more self-assured and worldly-wise, with improved linguistic skills, either in the local language or in English. Two-thirds of the Chinese consumers questioned for the report prefer independent travel rather than group travel. However, the reality is much more complex than that. Many Chinese tourists wish to add a deeper meaning to their travels. They have abandoned the traditional hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours for new self-service travel models like backpacking, self-drive tours and RV (Recreational Vehicle) travel, in search of more significant travel and life experiences. In addition, many themed leisure vacations are being developed, such as rural tours, forest tours, mountain tours and marine tours, which the Chinese travellers appreciate more and more. This reveals a switch in China tourism, from sightseeing to leisure tourism.

Travel as a spiritual comfort is an accepted new trend in the Chinese lifestyle, and the rising popularity and fast development of tourism in China attests to the transformation of this lifestyle. In turn, China Tourism is also undergoing a revolution because of the changing behaviours of Chinese travellers. Ultimately, all these will shape into the elements affecting the global tourism industry.

By Hao Cui(郝翠)