COVID-19 has brought with it plenty of change and transformation, which extends to the preferences, behaviours, and demands of various travel source markets around the globe – China included. Below is a look at how the market has evolved since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
1. Demand for types of experience
Pre-COVID, most Chinese travellers made their way to Africa to embrace the affordable shopping experiences. However, there’s been a distinct shift away from that trend with post-COVID Chinese travellers now in search of more meaningful experiences focused on wildlife, nature, culture, and heritage. A country that boasts over 500 000 years of history, it’s understandable why Chinese travellers are innately curious and place value on learning about other cultures’ heritage.
2. Marketing consumption
Reaching the prospective Chinese tourist is currently an obstacle for the African travel and tourism market. According to experts, it’s a matter of splitting focus between B2B and FIT. A B2B database overhaul is recommended as is re-looking at China-centred campaigns, all while exploring the many digital avenues available, such as social media, e-learning, and other interactive modes of communication, like virtual roadshows.
From a FIT perspective, marketing must be aimed at communicating why a destination is China-ready and that it’s possible for FIT travellers to seamlessly navigate their holidays without any need for a guide.
3. Travel behaviour
China has been the world’s largest source market since 2012. Pre-pandemic, it’s estimated that 169 million Chinese people travelled in 2019 and spent approximately double compared to American travellers, three times compared to German travellers, and four times compared to British travellers. Since COVID, the Chinese economy and travel behaviour has steadily recovered with travel numbers now topping pre-pandemic levels. As of mid-2021, flight tickets and hotel bookings are up by 100%.
4. Traveller preferences
Chinese travellers are looking for customised travel suited to smaller groups, opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities and adventures, longer stays (usually more than a week), the freedom to explore safety-first destinations, stays in luxury hotels, less crowded locations, self-drive holidays, health and wellness vacations, and getaways that involve rural and heritage-focused experiences.
Chinese travellers are also known to be quite busy, always striving to do more and see more in less time. They’re hungry for experiences and aren’t satisfied by the idea of sitting around for long periods of time.
These travellers also prefer to travel seasonally, with Chinese New Year (January – February) and the Golden Week Holiday (1 – 7 October) dictating their peak travel periods, thus allowing African travel suppliers to plan ahead for their arrival.
5. From planning to booking
According to statistics released by Booking.com, advance booking isn’t as big a priority for Chinese travellers in post-COVID times, with 17% of survey respondents claiming to have already booked their next trip. 44% of respondents, however, did claim to have travel plans that they had yet to act on. Of those survey respondents who didn’t already have travel plans or bookings, 28% admitted to thinking about their next trip, with only 12% claiming to steer clear of travel within the next 12 months.
6. Tips for adapting to the needs and demands of the Chinese source market
The primary emphasis should be on communicating to this market that Africa is China-ready. Travel suppliers must be supplying details on what destination countries in Africa are doing to ensure that Chinese visitors feel welcome and respected from the time of their arrival. It’s not necessarily about more Africans learning to speak the language or putting up Chinese-friendly signage. Rather it’s about taking the time to understand the needs of the Chinese traveller, their culture, and what it takes for them to feel comfortable.
Secondly, travel suppliers must be communicating why African countries are safety-first destinations, providing details regarding vaccination statistics, COVID health and safety protocols, etc.
Finally, there needs to be a strong emphasis on communicating the unique selling points of various African countries, working to dispel the common misconception in China that Africa is a homogenous country. What makes each country stand out? Why is a country worth the long-haul flight to get there? What are the local cultures and unique activities and experiences on offer across the continent?
Promotion is key – the more you promote, the more you attract.
7. Overcoming obstacles to reaching the Chinese source market
There are currently four main obstacles making it difficult for African travel suppliers and booking agents to reach the Chinese source market:
- Low awareness: Many Chinese people are unaware of what makes African countries unique or that Africa is travel-safe and travel-ready.
- Competition with similar products: China is situated much closer to other destinations offering similar products and experiences, such as beach getaways and wildlife holidays. Travel suppliers must emphasise why it’s worth it for a prospective Chinese traveller to travel further.
- Low China-readiness: African travel suppliers must take action to delve deeper into Chinese culture and traveller demands and preferences to provide a tailored offering and to ensure that all Chinese visitors feel welcome and respected throughout the journey.
- Language barrier: Few Africans can communicate with Chinese visitors in their native tongue, making day-to-day communication challenging.
Itineraries requested from the Chinese market
According to the graph below (sourced from wetu’s itinerary generator software), the Chinese market still has a long way to go to in terms of their post-pandemic recovery.