People use mobile phones during their visit to the Summer Palace in Beijing. (Photo: VCG)
The new breed of Chinese travelers who are seeking new experiences are getting recommendations through word-of-mouth and hyper-connected to the digital world and their mobile devices.
These were the main insights shared during a keynote panel on the third day of the ITB Asia, Asia's leading trade show, at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center here Friday.
The three panelists were Zhu Lei, chief revenue officer of fast-growing hotel budget chain operator OYO China; Steven Paalman, director of strategic growth, China at Booking.com; and Warren Wang, CFO of homestay booking platform Tujia and CEO of Mayi.com.
In the past, the old-style Chinese travelers would travel in big buses with tour groups of 20 to 30 people, shop and eat at big Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, said Paalman. But while this trend still prevails, in recent years, a new generation of consumers are increasingly steering away from this and are much more "app and social driven."
OYO's Zhu pointed out that the old Chinese travelers of 10 years ago were seen as more uneducated and inexperienced, traveling in a "controlled setting" which offers less consumer choices. In contrast, the travelers of today are much more educated, with the "ambition and confidence" to search for their own experiences.
Reviews are also part of their everyday life and they avidly share their experiences, such as through their WeChat social circle, which in turn influence others in their social sphere. Besides using Dianping, the number of Chinese leaving reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor has also "exploded over the last two to three years," he added.
There is also more "diversified demand" in the market, said Tujia's Wang. Now, travelers no longer want to stay in "standardized hotel rooms" but opt for different accommodation alternatives which may offer a more local experience, he said.
For instance, Tujia has seen a strong demand from small groups, such as those who travel with their families, friends and even pets, and stay in villas or two to three-bedroom apartments, he said. They are generally the younger generation in their 20s to 40s.
On OYO's strategy to start from lower-tier cities in China, Zhu said there is actually a huge travel demand from consumers there.
"What we see is the tip of the iceberg. People living in the top urban clusters are primarily doing outbound trips (out of China), but in reality, they make up 10 to 15 percent of China's population. There are in fact, one billion people living in lower-tier cities with similar needs as those in top-tier cities," he explained.
Another interesting trend is that increasingly, adventure and cultural tourism is seeing a strong appeal for emerging and sophisticated Chinese international travelers, said Claudia Verbost, managing director of AgencyChina, a marketing and sales agency, at a separate panel session.
While the majority still head to Southeast Asia, they are increasingly going off-the-beaten path to destinations such as Croatia, Russia, Cyprus, Tanzania and Morocco, she said.
Describing it as the rise of "soft adventure tourism," she said. "They are swimming in the Dead Sea, going for a camel ride, climbing high mountains, experiencing local culture... it's all about the exotic, newer and more inspirational location."
This year's three-day ITB Asia attracted a record number of 13,000 attendees from 132 countries and regions.