Global Hospitality Firms Welcome Chinese Travelers
By Glenn Withiam Executive Editor, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, Cornell University | September 15, 2013
Co-authored by Robert Kwortnik, Academic Director, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research
International hotel chains have seen an increase in travelers coming from the People's Republic of China, as an increasing number of China's citizens seek to experience destinations beyond the Asian region. As we explain in this article, one of the major changes in this market is the gradual transition from group travel to independent travel. While this change has so far been evolutionary, we expect that hoteliers will begin to see more independent travelers from China, in addition to group travelers. Since the industry's goal will be to extend appropriate hospitality to this new market segment, this article examines the preferences of Chinese travelers, with the understanding that time, experience, and additional research will eventually provide more definition for this broad-brush profile. Researchers have conducted and will continue to conduct studies of individual Chinese travelers as we write this, so we will have further information as time goes on.
The frame for the study explained here is the idea that Chinese travelers are branching out, both in terms of destinations and in terms of traveling independently. Moreover, this study is based on a different question than any previous study. Rather than ask the travelers what they might like, this study gives us a solid initial indication of Chinese travelers' preferences as actually recorded by the tour organizers who have been hosting groups of travelers from this nation. This study was recently published by Cornell University, analyzing data from 51 outbound tour operators based in the People's Republic. (The study is available at no charge from Cornell's Center for Hospitality Research.)
Studies have found that Chinese travelers' general preference for group travel is the result of packages' convenience and reasonable prices. For some travelers, price may become less of a consideration, as China is home to numerous millionaires, and enjoys a growing affluent class. This group constitutes a wave of travelers who are smart and inquisitive, and who aspire to explore other countries. Their self-confidence suggests that they will gradually transition away from group travel to the independent travel that we just mentioned. One factor standing in the way of the move toward independent travel, however, is the language barrier, but intrepid travelers will nevertheless increasingly customize their own itineraries.
The new wave of Chinese travelers plan to travel far. The researchers started their study by asking the tour operators which of ten Asia-Pacific destinations would see increasing numbers of Chinese travelers. Contrary to expectations, none of the ten were particularly high on the list of destinations that would be popular among Chinese in the future. Instead, the travel packagers see their clients as planning to visit Europe, particularly Europe's big cities. The Asia-Pacific destinations (including Hawaii, Japan, and South Korea) will still have plenty of traffic, but the growth is elsewhere.
Because cultural and shopping activities are the most popular, Chinese travelers generally prefer an urban experience in a full-service center-city hotel. Such accommodations give them maximum time for their chosen activities in each destination, and this ensures that the travelers have all the desired services. Several of the travel packagers suggested that their clients prefer to stay where they are free to shop and feel close to local life.