LONDON, 30 May 2019: “Chinese tourism is ‘FIT’ and healthy,” says ForwardKeys vice president insights, Olivier Ponti, summing up the latest travel trends.
ForwardKeys tracks trends by analysing over 17 million flight booking transactions daily and its latest data dive shows independent travel, often called FIT in the trade, is on the increase.
“There are two major trends,” says Ponti, “there is increasing enthusiasm to travel independently, as opposed to (package holidays) and more people are seizing the opportunity to travel abroad during major public holidays.”
ForwardKeys’ analysis of outbound tourism in the first four months of this year reveals that independent (FIT) travel grew by 12.7%.
“It reflects growing confidence in doing one’s own thing”, particularly in the case of younger and more experienced travellers,” Ponti points out.
The trends were particularly marked during the Chinese New Year, at the end of January and early February, which is the busiest time for Chinese outbound travel, accounting for around three-quarters of total international air departures during the first three months of 2019.
Chinese FIT outbound travel grew by 18.8% during 2019’s Chinese New Year holiday, compared to the equivalent holiday period in 2018. “The growth was extraordinary, given the ongoing trade tensions, currency inflation and a slowing economy,” Ponti noted.
FIT travel from China has also surged over recent and upcoming public holidays, and that trend will continue during the Dragon Boat festival, 7 to 9 June.
“The way the Chinese government has allocated public holidays has created more opportunities for people to take breaks abroad.
“For example, in 2019, Labour Day holiday was extended from one day to four days, 1 to 4 May, which means that this year Chinese travellers could take three days of paid leave and enjoy an eight-day vacation.”
An increase in seat capacity has also helped to fuel the growth in travel to Europe. For example, between 1 January 2018 and 30 June 2019, seat capacity from China to London increased by 24.8%, compared to the equivalent period a year before, thanks to the addition of nine new routes. Capacity to Paris increased 8.1%, thanks to five new routes and capacity to Rome increased 31.7% from one new route.
In Q2 2019, 88 flights per week are scheduled between China and the UK, up from 65 weekly flights in Q2 2018. And there is more to come, as bilateral trade agreements provide for further capacity growth from China to the UK, France and Italy.
The strong growth is being fuelled by Shanghai, where FIT outbound bookings for a trip between May and August are 22.4% ahead compared to the same period in 2018, Guangzhou where they are 28.7% ahead and 11 second-tier cities which are collectively 25.8% ahead.
Ponti cautions businesses that have a dependency on travellers: “It is important to notice that trends can vary significantly from one year to the other and marketers can’t just repeat what they have done the year before.
“Destination popularity can be heavily influenced by currency fluctuations and by immigration rules.”
This year, a few countries have eased their visa regulations in a bid to attract more Chinese visitors.
For example, Ukraine has introduced an e-visa from 1 January. Singapore now allows Chinese travellers to enter visa-free for up to 96 hours (four days), either on the way to a third destination or on the way back home and Japan further simplified the visa application process for Chinese students and repeat visitors.