Outbound travel from Mainland China. Source: Sabre Market Intelligence. Click to enlarge.


(11/06/24)
 
According to Sabre market intelligence and
booking insights, Chinese tourists are back with a vengeance on
the global tourism stage, with a 392% surge in outbound travel
booked from mainland China for 2024, compared to the previous
year.

When you consider that pre-pandemic travellers
from China made 155 million international trips, collectively
spending to the tune of $245 billion, it’s little wonder that the
world has been waiting for China to re-enter the global tourism
market in a significant way.

However, with China slower to ease travel
restrictions in comparison to other countries, even after the
re-opening of borders, it hasn’t been a quick comeback.

The major
rebound of outbound Chinese travel that some expected in 2023
didn’t occur. That picture is rapidly changing in 2024, and what
is clear from Sabre’s analysis of industry data (which looks at
travel booked from mainland China as of 31 March 2024) is there
is a huge appetite among Chinese travelers for global travel.

Outbound travel from Mainland China. Source: Sabre Market Intelligence

While outbound travel hasn’t rebounded to
pre-pandemic levels, bookings for travel to key parts of the world
during typical peak travel dates are seeing particularly strong
demand.

Bookings made at the end of January before the 2024
Chinese New Year break for travel from mainland China to countries
in the Asia Pacific region, for example, were at 106% of 2019
levels.

Sabre’s key findings include:

– Travel originating from mainland China has
increased by 392% overall globally for 2024, with some
destinations seeing surges of more than 2,000%;

– Chinese travelers are taking advantage of
reciprocal visa-free agreements with countries around the world,
but they aren’t limiting where they travel;

– Airfare prices are down, making travel more
affordable for Chinese travelers;

– Fastest growing routes
globally for Chinese travelers in 2024 include Macao, Australia,
Japan, Russia and Bangladesh;

– Chinese travelers are once again embracing
Business Class travel, and demand for Premium Economy travel is
also increasing; and

– Outbound airline capacity is up by more than
3000% on some routes as airlines look to meet demand.

Sabre’s industry booking data analysis shows that
the amount of travel originating in mainland China, either already
travelled or booked to travel during 2024 (up to 31 March 2024)
increased significantly compared to travel booked at the same
point by 2023, soaring by 392% overall.

Outbound travel to all global regions has markedly
increased across the year, according to Sabre’s analysis, which
looks at travel booked as of 31 March 2024.

Notably, Chinese
travelers are booking in advance for the whole year, showing
strong confidence in the travel landscape. Bookings for November
and December are significantly up across regions, recording more
than 1000% year-on-year for all regions, and notably, more than
2000% for those months for travel to Europe and the Middle East.

For travel to other countries in Asia Pacific
(APAC) from China, travelers are planning their trips well in
advance, with booking numbers showing large increases, when
compared to 2023, for the whole year. October, when the Golden
Week holiday period will fall, is recording the largest
year-on-year increase in bookings at 1347%.

Outbound travel from China to the Europe and
Middle East and Africa region (EMEA) peaked in the first quarter of the year,
in January with a 676% increase. There are again increases
throughout the whole year, with a significant year-on-year boost
in December.

For the Americas, travel to North America in the
first quarter recorded the second highest year-on-year growth,
after APAC, at 336%, and travel to Latin America is also
increasing throughout the year, with the most significant booking
increases for the final quarter of 2024.

New Favourites and Old Favourites Re-Visited

As Chinese travellers are renowned for being high
spenders when they travel, spending an average of $1,000 a day
during their trips, it will come as little surprise that a number
of countries around the world – including South Africa, Kenya,
Tanzania, Thailand, Indonesia, France and Saudi Arabia – have
launched initiatives in a bid to be their destination of choice.

While Chinese outbound travel is significantly
increasing overall, there have been destination changes in terms
of the most popular routes, when comparing 2023 to 2024, and then
looking at the percentage increase in travel booked to each
destination.

The top 10 most popular destinations for outbound
Chinese travelers are similar in 2024 compared to 2023. However,
Australia and Malaysia have moved into the top 10, with Australia
moving up seven places, and Malaysia moving from 18th to ninth,
while Canada and Spain dropped out. Korea and Japan rose in the
rankings to take first and second place respectively, pushing down
the US and Thailand.

In the top 30, there has been more movement when
compared to 2023. Travel from mainland China to Macao, which is
popular as a gambling hub, is also up significantly from 44th
place to 15th.

Meanwhile, Britain has moved from 22nd to 16th, and
Kazakhstan is up from 40th to 29th, with many tourists drawn to
its winter sports activities.

Bangladesh is also seeing an
increase to 30th place from 46th, which may be due to corporate
and visiting family travel, and the launch of new routes.

In Asia Pacific, the countries with the biggest
increases are Australia and Japan, with Australia moving from 8th
to 6th place in the region, and Japan from 5th to 2nd.

Australia
is aiming to be top of mind for Chinese travelers. Japan has two
cities in the top 10 when looking at a city perspective, while the
cities seeing the biggest travel booking increases are Macao and
Osaka.

Visa-Free Arrangements

Since the start of the pandemic, China was
essentially closed for both inbound and outbound travel. Since
January 2023, that has been changing rapidly, with visa-free
agreements continuing to evolve and expand into 2024.

China signed a mutual agreement on 30-day
visa-free travel with Singapore, which became effective from 9 February
2024, allowing entry for business, travel, leisure, and
sightseeing.

Thailand and China agreed to a similar arrangement,
effective 1 March to replace a temporary visa suspension which
ended in February. Thailand immediately felt the benefit of the
arrangement in 2023 but has dropped a little in the rankings as
more agreements come in place, giving travellers more choice.

Other recent announcements include a unilateral
15-day visa waiver pilot scheme for citizens from France, Germany,
Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, due to last until
November this year.

There is also a 15-day visa free entry scheme
for citizens from Switzerland and Ireland. In addition, China and Russia
resumed cross-border visa-free policies for tour groups, whilst China and
Georgia agreed to waive visa requirements for travelers, starting
28 May.

The agreements appear to be having an impact on
outbound and inbound travel, particularly for South East Asian
travel.

Singapore has seen a 466% increase in inbound
bookings from China, and a 461% increase for trips in the opposite
direction, when compared to 2023.

Travel from mainland China to
Malaysia has increased by 651%, and has enjoyed 886% increase for
travel from Malaysia to mainland China. Travel to Russia increased
by 758% and from Russia to mainland China by 677%.

However, travel to and from China certainly isn’t
limited to countries with visa-free arrangements. Chinese
travellers are embracing more flexibility to travel, even if they
need to apply for a visa on or before arrival.

Outbound travel and
bookings from mainland China to Australia, for example, are up
1,000%, while travel to Indonesia is showing a close to 600%
increase, Britain as a destination is up by 525%, and India is
enjoying a 520% increase.

Airlines are playing their part, increasing capacity to meet demand.
International capacity originating from China increased by 280%
year-on-year in the first quarter of the year, with the largest
increases coming from key hubs like Beijing, Shenzhen and Chengdu
which saw capacity increase by 400%, 560% and 3200% respectively.
These hubs also saw inbound capacity increase significantly by
400%, 560% and 3300%.

As capacity is increasing and supply and demand
are achieving greater equilibrium, fares for routes from mainland
China are priced lower across the board when compared to 2023,
making travel more affordable for Chinese travellers.

For Q1 2024 travel, the difference was up to -73% and -71% on key
routes, with the most significant decreases in fare cost being
from Shanghai to Seoul, and Shanghai to Tokyo.

Lower fare prices are seen across most of 2024
and, as bookings are made for 2025, Sabre is also seeing the trend
for lower fares continue into the new year.

Whilst fare prices are down, many Chinese
travellers are happy to pay more to elevate their travel
experience. Business Class travel is just fractionally below 2019
in terms of percentage of travel booked, at 3.6% for 2024,
compared to 3.7% for 2019. Although first class travel is down by
0.4%,  premium economy travel is up by 0.8%, indicating
opportunities for airlines and agencies to cater to passengers who
want to upgrade their usual experience.

Embracing Global Travel Again

While 2023 was the year of re-opening for China,
Sabre’s research shows 2024 is the year Chinese travelers are
really embracing global travel again in significant numbers.

What
is important now is that the travel industry ensures it can deeply
understand what travelers from China want, where they want to go,
how they want to get there, and the experiences they want to have
when they reach their destination.

Those who really make the time and investment to
understand and deliver these needs will be the ones who win the
hearts, minds, and spending power of Chinese travellers in 2024,
and into the future.

When you consider that only around 13% of
Chinese citizens currently have passports, but increasing numbers
are applying for a passport with each passing year, the importance
of Chinese travelers for all sectors of the tourism industry can
only increase.

And, with Chinese travelers showing clear demand and
confidence in global travel for 2024, which is visible in Sabre’s
outbound travel insights, the tourism world is surely delighted to
welcome them back.

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