Outbound Travel from China Spikes Nearly 400%

Outbound Travel from China Spikes Nearly 400%
Outbound Travel from China Spikes Nearly 400%
Written by Harry Johnson

The anticipated surge in outbound Chinese travel in 2023 did not materialize as expected. However, the landscape has shifted significantly in 2024, with industry data indicating a strong desire among Chinese travelers to explore destinations worldwide.

The pandemic had a significant impact on the tourism industry, particularly due to the decrease in travel from China. However, recent booking insights data shows that Chinese tourists are making a strong comeback in the global tourism scene.

There has been a 392% increase in outbound travel bookings from mainland China for 2024 compared to the previous year. Prior to the pandemic, Chinese travelers took 155 million international trips and spent a total of $245 billion. It is no surprise that the world has been eagerly anticipating China’s return to the global tourism market in a major way.

Nevertheless, despite the gradual relaxation of travel restrictions in various nations, China has been relatively slower in doing so, resulting in a slower recovery even after the reopening of borders. The anticipated significant surge in outbound Chinese travel in 2023 did not materialize. However, the landscape has swiftly transformed in 2024, as indicated by the examination of industry data, specifically travel bookings originating from mainland China as of March 31, 2024. The analysis reveals a substantial eagerness among Chinese travelers to explore the world.

Although outbound travel has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, there is a notable surge in demand for bookings to popular destinations during peak travel periods. Specifically, bookings made in late January for travel from mainland China to countries in the Asia Pacific region before the 2024 Chinese New Year break have reached 106% of the levels seen in 2019.

  • In 2024, there has been a remarkable surge in travel originating from mainland China, with a staggering overall increase of 392% globally. Some destinations have witnessed an astonishing surge of over 2,000%.
  • Chinese travelers are taking full advantage of reciprocal visa-free agreements with countries worldwide, and they are not restricting their travel choices.
  • The decrease in airfare prices has made travel more affordable for Chinese travelers, contributing to this significant increase.
  • The fastest growing routes for Chinese travelers in 2024 include Macao, Australia, Japan, Russia, and Bangladesh.
  • Furthermore, Chinese travelers are once again embracing Business Class travel, and there is a growing demand for Premium Economy travel. This trend highlights the outbound air travel preferences of Chinese travelers.
  • There has been a significant increase in outbound airline capacity, exceeding 3000% on certain routes, as airlines strive to fulfill the growing demand.

According to the analysis of industry booking data, it is evident that the volume of travel originating from mainland China, whether it has already taken place or is scheduled to occur in 2024 (until 31st March 2024), has experienced a substantial surge. In comparison to the corresponding period in 2023, there has been a remarkable overall increase of 392% in the number of bookings made.

There has been a significant rise in outbound travel to various global regions throughout the year, as indicated by Sabre’s analysis of travel bookings made by March 31, 2024. Particularly noteworthy is the trend of Chinese travelers booking well in advance for the entire year, reflecting a high level of confidence in the travel industry. Bookings for November and December have seen a substantial increase across all regions, with a year-on-year growth of over 1000% for each region, and notably exceeding 2000% for travel to Europe and the Middle East during those months.

Travelers from China are meticulously planning their trips to other countries in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region well in advance, as evidenced by the significant surge in booking numbers compared to 2023. The month of October, coinciding with the Golden Week holiday period, stands out with a remarkable year-on-year increase in bookings at 1347%. On the other hand, outbound travel from China to the Europe and Middle East region (EMEA) reached its peak in the first quarter of the year, particularly in January with a notable 676% increase. This upward trend continues throughout the entire year, culminating in a substantial year-on-year boost in December.

Travel to North America in the first quarter showed the second highest year-on-year growth in the Americas, following APAC, with a 336% increase. Additionally, travel to Latin America is steadily rising, particularly in the final quarter of 2024 where significant booking increases are expected. As the year progresses, booking volumes are expected to change.

Chinese tourists are well-known for their extravagant spending habits while traveling, with an average daily expenditure of $1,000. Over the past nine years leading up to 2023, China has experienced a significant increase in disposable income per capita, indicating a potential rise in travel expenditures.

Recognizing the immense purchasing power of Chinese travelers, numerous countries worldwide have implemented various initiatives to become their preferred destinations. Many countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, Indonesia, France, and Saudi Arabia, have developed targeted marketing strategies to attract these affluent tourists.

As Chinese outbound travel continues to grow, there have been shifts in popular travel routes between 2023 and 2024, with varying increases in bookings to different destinations.

The rankings of the top 10 most popular destinations for outbound Chinese travelers in 2024 remain similar to those in 2023. However, there have been some notable changes. Australia has moved up seven places to enter the top 10, while Malaysia has jumped from 18th to ninth place. On the other hand, Canada and Spain have dropped out of the top 10. Korea and Japan have risen in the rankings, securing first and second place respectively, which has pushed down the US and Thailand.

When considering the top 30 destinations, there has been even more movement compared to 2023. Macao, known for its gambling attractions, has seen a significant increase in travel from mainland China, moving up from 44th to 15th place. Britain has also climbed the ranks from 22nd to 16th, and Kazakhstan has made a leap from 40th to 29th place, attracting tourists with its winter sports activities. Additionally, Bangladesh has experienced an increase in popularity, moving up to 30th place from 46th. This rise may be attributed to corporate and family visits, as well as the introduction of new travel routes.

All regions are experiencing substantial growth in the number of visitors from mainland China. Below, we will examine the most popular cities that are being flown to from mainland China by region. Each visual representation will display the shift in popularity from 2023 to 2024, along with the percentage increase in travel reservations.

In North America, there has been a surge in traffic to the United States by over 200%, maintaining its position in 1st place, followed by Canada in 2nd place. When it comes to preferred destinations in the US for mainland Chinese travelers, the top 10 list remains largely unchanged when comparing 2024 to 2023. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco continue to hold the top three positions. The most significant change is the rise in popularity of Hawaii, which is actively seeking to attract more Chinese tourists, resulting in Honolulu moving from 9th to 5th place.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the United Kingdom are experiencing the most significant surge in visitor numbers in Europe. The United Kingdom has climbed from 5th to 2nd place in the rankings of European destinations. When it comes to popular cities, London has jumped from 5th to 1st place, surpassing Moscow. Italy and Spain each have two cities among the top 10 destinations for travelers from China.

In the Middle East, Iran has witnessed the highest increase in visitors, moving up from 10th to 8th place and swapping positions with Israel. From a city perspective, Dubai maintains its position as the top destination, while Abu Dhabi has experienced a notable ascent from 7th to 3rd place.

From a country perspective, Brazil continues to hold the top spot in Latin America, experiencing the largest surge in traffic compared to 2023. On the other hand, Argentina has made a significant jump from 6th to 3rd place, becoming one of the most popular destinations. Panama, known for its sizable Chinese expat community, maintains its position in 2nd place. Notably, Peru, which received the prestigious gold award at the Chinese Tourist Welcome awards in 2023, has climbed from 9th to the sixth spot. Conversely, Venezuela, despite signing a tourism agreement with China in 2023, has dropped five places. When it comes to cities, Brazil boasts two destinations in the top 10, with both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro witnessing a remarkable increase of over 300% in the volume of travel bookings.

Within the Asia Pacific region, Australia and Japan have experienced significant growth, with Australia climbing from 8th to 6th place and Japan from 5th to 2nd place. Australia is striving to become a preferred destination for Chinese tourists, while Japan boasts two cities in the top 10 rankings. Notably, Macao and Osaka are the cities witnessing the largest surge in travel bookings.

Since the onset of the pandemic, China had effectively shut its doors to both incoming and outgoing travel. However, starting from January 2023, there has been a rapid shift in this policy, with visa-free agreements continuously developing and expanding into 2024.

China recently finalized a reciprocal agreement for 30-day visa-free travel with Singapore, which took effect on February 9th, permitting entry for purposes such as business, tourism, leisure, and sightseeing. Similarly, Thailand and China reached a comparable arrangement, which came into effect on March 1st to replace a temporary visa suspension that had concluded in February. Thailand promptly experienced the advantages of this agreement in 2023, although it has slightly declined in the rankings as more agreements are established, providing travelers with a wider range of options.

Recent updates include the introduction of a 15-day visa waiver pilot program for citizens from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, set to run until November this year. Additionally, there is a 15-day visa-free entry program for citizens from Switzerland and Ireland. Furthermore, China and Russia have reinstated visa-free policies for tour groups crossing borders. Moreover, China and Georgia have reached an agreement to eliminate visa requirements for travelers, effective May 28.

These developments are impacting outbound and inbound travel, particularly in South-East Asia.

Singapore has experienced a 466% surge in inbound bookings from China and a 461% increase in trips in the opposite direction compared to 2023. Travel from mainland China to Malaysia has also risen.

Moreover, the travel to Russia has spiked by 758%, whereas the travel from Russia to mainland China has increased by 677%. It is worth noting that travel to and from China is not confined to countries with visa-free agreements. Chinese travelers are now more open to exploring various destinations, even if it means applying for a visa either prior to or upon arrival. For instance, outbound travel and bookings from mainland China to Australia have surged by 1000%, while travel to Indonesia has shown a significant increase of nearly 600%. Furthermore, Britain has witnessed a rise of 525% as a preferred destination, and India is experiencing a notable 520% increase in travel.

Airlines have expanded their capacity to meet the rising demand, particularly in international routes originating from China. In the first quarter of the year, the capacity from China surged by 280% compared to the previous year. Major hubs such as Beijing, Shenzhen, and Chengdu experienced remarkable increases in capacity by 400%, 560%, and 3200% respectively. Moreover, these hubs also witnessed a substantial rise in inbound capacity by 400%, 560%, and 3300%.

With the increasing capacity and a balance between supply and demand, fares for routes from mainland China have significantly dropped in comparison to 2023. This has made travel more economical for Chinese passengers. During the first quarter of 2024, the fare reduction reached up to -73% and -71% on key routes, with the most notable decreases in fare cost observed on routes from Shanghai to Seoul and Shanghai to Tokyo.

Reduced airline ticket prices are evident throughout the majority of 2024, and as reservations are being made for 2025, the pattern of decreased fares persisting into the upcoming year is also noticeable.

Numerous Chinese travelers are willing to spend extra money to enhance their travel experience. The percentage of travel bookings for Business Class is slightly lower than that of 2019, standing at 3.6% for 2024 compared to 3.7% for 2019. Although first class travel has declined by 0.4%, there has been an increase of 0.8% in premium economy travel. This suggests that there are opportunities for airlines and agencies to accommodate passengers who seek to elevate their typical travel experience.

WTNJOIN | eTurboNews | eTN

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About the author

Harry Johnson

Harry Johnson has been the assignment editor for eTurboNews for mroe than 20 years. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is originally from Europe. He enjoys writing and covering the news.

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