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What does travel mean to China’s new generation of digital wanderers?


China is undergoing historic
cultural shifts, and the people who aim to successfully engage with its 900 million e-commerce consumers are scrambling to stay ahead
of their fast-changing preferences.

What the Chinese like to eat, what they want to drive, where they want to live
and how they want to work are just a few of the things that are in flux as a
new generation of tech-savvy consumers makes its presence felt.

And nowhere is the sentiment change as apparent as
it is in the way Chinese travel. They are no longer tourists or mere visitors to
foreign lands – they have become digital wanderers in search of authentic
experiences, using social media platforms as their ad hoc travel agencies.

Tradition no longer shapes the itinerary; online influencers do.

New
reports from China
Trading Desk
track real-time changing consumer preferences in China by engaging with
Chinese consumers regularly. Recent findings on travel have revealed some
interesting statistics:

  • The
    demographic profile of Chinese travelers is undergoing a transformative change.
    Young urban professionals from Tier 1 cities continue to dominate the travel
    landscape, and there has been a marked increase in female travelers, demanding
    a shift in marketing strategies. Our recent survey data shows that 59% of
    outbound travelers are female, and a significant portion of them are from the
    younger demographic, with 64.2% aged between 18 and 29 years old.
  • Chinese
    travelers are increasingly turning to digital channels for quick and
    spontaneous booking, with 68% preferring to book less than one month in
    advance. This is a departure from the travel planning of the past. 
  • Social
    media platforms and travel apps have become beacons that guide these young
    digital nomads. Leading the charge are Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) and Douyin (TikTok), which
    have become go-to sources for travel inspiration and planning. A striking 72%
    of 18-29-year-olds have shown a marked preference for Xiaohongshu, indicating
    the platform serves not just as a repository of travel anecdotes but as a
    springboard for conceiving and planning immersive, culturally rich travel
    experiences. These digital arenas offer a blend of peer reviews, instant
    bookings and visual storytelling, empowering Chinese tourists to craft
    itineraries that resonate with their quest for authenticity and adventure.

The shift to personalization and spontaneity

One of the
most striking trends highlighted in our survey is the shift towards
personalization and spontaneity in travel planning. The digital wanderer from
China craves experiences that are not just unique but also reflect a deeper
connection with the destination’s essence.

This is markedly different from, say, trekking to the Eiffel Tower or the Grand
Canyon just to get a picture. The digital wanderer wants to immerse in the
location they are visiting.

The desire
for authentic experiences among Chinese travelers is facilitated by travel apps
that offer customized recommendations based on user preferences, coupled with
the allure of last-minute deals that cater to the wanderer’s impulse for
spontaneity. 

Destination
preferences have also evolved to prioritize culturally rich experiences, with
countries like Singapore, South Korea and Europe being top choices. And often,
the younger traveler in China opts for an in-country trip, which gives them a
change of scenery but without the planning and budgeting that often goes into
trips abroad.

Travel options within China can be a fun destination for the younger Chinese
traveler – another departure from past norms.

This shift
towards immersive cultural encounters is shaping a more nuanced approach to
travel promotion and engagement. That’s why marketers need to know as much as
they can about the travelers they are marketing to, and what kinds of messages
they might be receptive to.

To make vacations and travel
packages more appealing to younger Chinese consumers, consider the following
tips:

  • Capitalize on short-haul trips: In recent times, short-haul trips have become
    more popular than long-haul journeys. Focusing on nearby destinations such as
    Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand is a solid strategy.
  • Diversify travel offerings: Provide a range of options to cater to the varying
    desires of digital wanderers. Offer both group tours for those who prefer
    structured travel, as well as independent travel options for those seeking a
    more personal experience.
  • Offer add-on services: Think in terms of offering services that add value and
    convenience to a vacation, such as car rentals and tour guides to round out the
    travel experience.
  • Create theme-based experiences: Capitalize on the surge in interest for
    theme-based travel experiences. This includes trips to amusement parks,
    museums, and activities that are family-oriented or that cater to specific
    interests.
  • Engage on social media: Use popular social media platforms where younger
    consumers spend their time and increasingly plan their travel, such as Douyin and
    Xiaohongshu for marketing and engagement.
  • Leverage Influencers: Work with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and influencers on
    social media who have a large and growing base of followers, as these are the
    influencers who can resonate with the younger demographic to promote travel
    experiences.
  • Offer customizable itineraries: Offer customizable packages that allow young
    travelers to adjust their itineraries according to their interests, giving them
    control over their travel experience. For digital wanderers, rigid is out and
    flexible is in.

By considering these preferences
and habits of younger Chinese consumers, travel and hospitality companies can
tailor their offerings to be more appealing.

China will likely always represent
a massive and exciting market, albeit one that can be difficult to keep track
of. Success always begins with understanding changing patterns and changing
tastes.



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