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Affluent seek unusual trips, not just luxury
By Hu Min

WESTERN Europe is the most popular destination among high-end Chinese travelers, and they are pursuing a more private, personalized and unique tour experience as a new trend, rather than highlighting the luxury and extravagance of the tour, travel agencies say.

Western Europe and North America have become the most popular destinations among Chinese tourists pursuing luxury tour experiences, while polar regions, South America and Eastern Europe are gaining attention, according to a survey by HHtravel, a luxury travel brand of Ctrip and Mercedes-Benz Travel. The survey covered 728 respondents, most of whom were entrepreneurs, senior management personnel and investors. About 70 percent of them earn at least 1 million yuan (US$161,290) annually.


For these affluent tourists, the lure of Southeast Asia has shrunk significantly. Just 3 percent said they looked for a visit there, compared with 20 percent early this year, probably due to recent political instability in Thailand, anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam and Malaysia Airlines’ problems. Hawaii and the Maldives are the most popular beach resorts, while France, Japan and the US are the most favorable shopping destinations for the affluent, according to the survey. For cruise destinations, the high-end group prefers the Caribbean, eastern Mediterranean and polar areas, the survey revealed.

In terms of cuisine, 78 percent chose restaurants with local specialties while 69 percent said they want to eat in Michelin-rated  restaurants.

Art works, food and watches were favored shopping items of male tourists, while food, cosmetics, luxury bags and clothing were favorite items of females. And 62 percent of respondents were interested in health-related tourism, including spa services, dieting, plastic surgery and medical treatment.

The group showed strong family orientation, with nearly half saying the aim of the trip is to reward family members and more than 70 percent wanting to travel with their spouses. Only 17 percent and 7 percent said their primary purpose was to ease pressure and socialize, respectively.

Slightly over one-third said the budget for a trip is 50,000 to 100,000 yuan, and one in six said they were allocating 100,000 to 200,000 yuan.

Cost is not the most important factor, however, as the level of privacy and personalized and unusual services are key, the survey said. The emerging high-end tourism market often involves experiences that are custom-tailored, ranging from a private jet or yacht journey to a visit to a chateau or a talk with elites in Silicon Valley.

But compared with standard tourism, the satisfaction rate for personalized products is quite low. Interviewees said it takes more time to communicate what they want with travel agencies and the experience often cannot match the expectation.

More travel agencies and online tourism operators in China are eyeing the high-end market, but the market in China is not mature, said Sun Yunlong, associate professor of tourism at Fudan University.

High-end trips provided by travel agencies are still not diversified and there is a shortage of high-end talents in the market who can provide high-end service and experience, Sun said.

Trips that cater to the common and mass tour groups offered by different travel agencies are usually similar, and travel agencies face more fierce competition in the market and the profit is usually lower, Sun said.

But tours for customers in the high-end travel market can be very different and the competition is not that fierce, he noted.

Karen Lo, who works for Visit USA (China), which promotes US tourism, said Chinese tourists now have a more rational and mature attitude towards luxury tours than they did five years ago, when the market was just emerging here. Now they pursue unique experiences instead of simply the most expensive and most luxurious, she said.

Chinese tourists in the high-end market prefer natural scenery, she said. Senior-level management personnel and business people are major spenders in the market, she said.

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