Real world observations on Chinese tourism stats

Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Ellen

We’ve been lucky to see so many places this year — places people dream of seeing. And some of these places are hot spots. Exploding tourism at some cities is highly controversial, and there is some backlash against the tourism industry by locals who try to live their lives in famous destination cities.

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined that anger as the tourism industry stretches local infrastructures to their limits in Venice, Barcelona, Thailand, and New Zealand. To be clear – more people from many countries are taking more frequent global trips. But, as the article showed in statistics, more people from China take overseas trips as the middle class there grows, surpassing trips by American tourists. To give you something more than statistics, consider our real world experience: a woman who lives in Venice, Italy, told us she is studying Mandarin. I think that’s quite telling.

I started to wonder about how Chinese travel. I found an enlightening survey by Nielsen on Chinese travel preferences. Some highlights:

  • Chinese tourists say cost is far less important than the experience
  • Chinese tourists have more purchasing power than non-Chinese tourists
  • 65% of Chinese tourists used mobile payment platforms during overseas trips
  • Chinese tourists primarily used mobile payments for shopping, dining, and attractions
  • Overseas merchants who accept mobile payments encourage even more spending by Chinese tourists

Chinese travelers’ preference for mobile payments may be one reason why we see so many large, guided tour groups of Chinese tourists. They can pay for a tour upfront with everything included – attractions, meals, transportation. The tour guide can steer them to a retailer that accepts mobile payments when it’s time to buy souvenirs. We’ve watched large group after large group pass us by as we’re sightseeing.

The Chinese groups usually are from 20 to around 50 people. We hardly ever see small families. The Nielsen survey shed some light on this: Chinese say they prefer to travel in groups for a feeling of safety, and they don’t mind paying higher prices for guided tours, whereas non-Chinese tourists are more likely to go solo to save money.

We have seen so many large groups it sometimes seems as if Chinese tourists nearly outnumber locals. I’m not exaggerating. Chefchaouen, Morocco, immediately comes to mind. We would wander the small maze of blue alleys and see only Chinese aside from Moroccan shop owners or waiters. We stayed one night in a hotel, and it appeared just about every other renter that night was Chinese. In restaurants, it was not uncommon to see more than half of the people dining were Chinese.

A local man in the “Blue City” told us Chinese tourists are not required to have a visa in Morocco, and he said that makes Moroccan cities like Chefchaouen more attractive to Chinese tourists in recent years. Some of the convenience stores are loaded with instant bowls of noodles — catering to their new, large customer base.

Survey respondents said they are interested in experiencing the cultures of the places they visit. We witnessed that in action. We heard some Chinese tourists speak Arabic in Morocco, and we also heard Chinese tourists speak Spanish in Barcelona.

As retired budget travelers, we have a lot in common with our fellow Chinese travelers. We also want to experience the cultures in the places we visit. That’s why we travel – to experience the world.

A young Chinese woman of 28 years old is quoted in the Nielsen survey explaining why travel appeals to her generation:

“As the standard of living improves and our material needs are met, people will begin to focus on their emotional needs. After all, we only live once, and the world is so big, so we want to meet different people, to see different things and enjoy different lifestyles.”

I could not have said it any better for adventurous people in any generation.

There are so many other fascinating facts in that study about the exploding growth of world travel by Chinese tourists. Nielsen analyzes survey responses with all kinds of statistical breakouts. That study is here.

One day we would very much like to visit China, as our retired budget travel continues. In a way, we already are experiencing a tiny bit of the Chinese culture as we encounter Chinese tourists all around the world on our travels so far.



2 thoughts on “Real world observations on Chinese tourism stats”

  1. In China, the Chinese pay for everything, even the smallest purchases, with their mobile phones. Cash is passe.

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