Booking Holdings boss Glenn Fogel has often described China as the locomotive of travel growth.
But after a three-year shutdown, the country’s ability to bounce back in the region as well as internationally is under scrutiny.
The consensus is that recovery will be rapid, and it seems a number of trends are already playing out while new traveler behaviors are emerging.
Last month a report from an event organized by WebinTravel, Travel Daily China and Accor revealed that Trip.com Group saw an immediate 250% boost to bookings after January 8. In addition, between January 1 and March 15, the online travel agency’s bookings increased 1,000% year over year.
Meanwhile, research from Travelport revealed a 247% increase in outbound flight bookings from mainland China on January 8 month over month.
Further trends were also highlighted at the China Arising event such as air capacity constraints and the ongoing popularity of live-streamed travel events.
In January, for example, Trip.com's Boss Live Show in Thailand reaped $6 million in bookings in three hours, demonstrating the popularity of the medium for travel retailing in the region.
App and away
But probably the biggest shift being monitored is the increasing popularity of new as well as existing apps such as review service Little Red Book/Xiaohongshu, Douyin and WeChat for travel-related activities.
A recent report from Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s research arm TNMT, which delves into emerging trends in travel in China, touches on some of the trends above as well as highlighting new ones.
For example, the TNMT study also flagged the rise of Douyin, Bytedance’s TikTok for China, and said the platform’s e-commerce functionality is likely to expand into more travel categories and “has the potential to become the leading comprehensive Chinese [online travel agency], encompassing all aspects of travel booking.”
The report also revealed that Douyin has significant mobile engagement compared with existing China-based OTAs.
It puts the number of “travel enthusiasts” on Douyin, defined as those who have liked travel videos more than five times a month, increasing from 240 million to 270 million between 2021 and 2022.
In addition, the number of travel videos on the platform has grown from almost 8 million in 2021 to just over 22 million last year.
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Last week a story on China Travel news said Douyin had launched calendar-based hotel booking with instant-booking functionality, a development that is likely to appeal to the spontaneous nature of Gen Z.
Phocuswright research reveals mobile gross bookings in 2023 in Northeast Asia will easily surpass 2019 levels. It estimates about $11 billion in mobile gross bookings in 2025, more than double the 2019 record.
While OTAs such as Expedia and Booking are looking to make more of their mobile apps, it remains to be seen whether they can attract newer generations in the way that TikTok does in the West and Douyin in China.
TNMT also highlighted the influence on consumers of platforms including Douyin, ctrip.com and WeChat and the travel deals they promote.
It advised travel companies wanting to attract these consumers to ensure they are present and promoting themselves on these platforms and the sales channels they offer.
TNMT’s report said: “By understanding and adapting to this emerging trend, businesses can successfully capture the attention of the growing Chinese travel market and meet their evolving preferences in the post-pandemic era. Embracing these platforms and strategies will enable travel companies to not only increase their visibility but also tap into the immense potential of the value-driven Chinese traveler.”
The need to be on these apps is further driven by usage of home apps while traveling. And China-based technology players are partnering with local companies to ensure a seamless experience for Chinese travelers abroad.
A good example is Alibaba’s travel platform Fliggy, which recently announced a tie-up with experiences marketplace GlobalTix. The partnership enables Chinese travelers to research and book tours and activities across 40 countries.
TNMT also points to Xiaohongshu use outside China, by Chinese expats and immigrants, to post image and video reviews of local businesses.
The giant awakes
Travel executives based in Asia have predicted the pent-up demand waiting to be unleashed from China and the surrounding region for the past year.
At The Phocuswright Conference 2022, Tim Hughes, vice president of corporate growth of Agoda, said that the opening up of Japan and South Korea alone had been crazy, adding that if 2023 "sees the Chinese come to Asia, it will be demand like none of us have ever seen."
Travelport’s research also revealed that in 2019 China had the most travelers visiting destinations outside their home country.
It pointed to further research from the United Nations World Tourism Organization and China Tourism Academy that revealed 150 million Chinese tourists traveled internationally in 2019 and spent $277 billion on tourism.
But with outbound bookings from mainland China only at 21% of 2019 levels, according to the Travelport research published in late April, the questions circling are whether the industry is ready and how sustainable is it?
Phocuswright Europe 2023
Ready to discuss and debate the future of the industry and where we go from here? Join Phocuswright Europe in Barcelona, June 12-14.