“Chinese tourists are the most powerful single source of change in the tourism industry,” Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), told the South China Morning Post in October 2017.
Last year, Thailand and Japan remained the two hottest destinations, attracting 9.8 million and 7.35 million tourists from the Chinese mainland.
Dark horse destinations such as Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, the UAE, the UK and Iceland have also seen a dramatic surge in Chinese visitor numbers.
More direct air links, fewer visa restrictions and targeted marketing have driven visitor numbers. Since King Mohammed VI of Morocco decided to grant Chinese citizens visa-free access from June 2016, tourist numbers have seen remarkable growth. Khalid Fathi, chief representative of the Moroccan tourist office in China, said some 118,000 Chinese tourists visited Morocco in 2017 – quite a boost, when it used to average no more than 20,000 each year.
To stand out from the fiercely competitive environment, industry players have begun to be more creative with their approaches to target Chinese tourists through marketing campaigns and ads.
From employing Chinese-speaking staff, offering in-room electronic kettles, providing Chinese rice porridge for breakfast and slippers in their rooms, to providing rooms with Chinese lucky numbers like six, eight or nine, while avoiding the number four, a homophone for death, a growing number of hoteliers are providing small yet significant changes to cater to Chinese visitors’ specific customs and cultural tastes.
Destinations also utilize China’s powerful fan economy to leverage China’s massive youth market. In May 2017, Denmark appointed 17-year-old Jackson Yi from the hugely popular Chinese teen band TFBoys as Danish tourism ambassador to China, a smart move to attract Chinese youngsters.
The band has more than 13 million fans, nearly three times that of Denmark’s own population. Most were born post 1990, and compared with other demographics, Chinese millennials are better educated, more technology-savvy and proficient in English, possess strong spending power and tend to travel independently.
In 2016, Switzerland appointed the popular actor Huang Xuan as its tourism ambassador to China, and recently the British Tourism Bureau named famous Chinese actress Angelababy (Angela Yeung Wing) as its goodwill ambassador.
Australia has pushed hard to get a slice of the action. China is Australia’s second-largest visitor market with more than 1.2 million Chinese tourists visiting in 2017. The Australia China Business Council forecasts that total Chinese visitor numbers to Australia are set to more than triple to 3.3 million a year by 2026.
China is already the largest source of tourist expenditure, pumping a record A$10.4 billion (US$8.17 billion) into the economy, a 14 percent increase from 2016. In the Australian luxury market, industry insiders estimate Chinese shoppers are responsible for at least two-thirds of sales.