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Younger, well-heeled tourists from the mainland are abandoning the group tour and increasingly striking out on their own overseas holidays
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A new breed of younger, internet-savvy Chinese tourists is emerging, and their spending power is being targeted around the globe, industry players say.
According to Jason Yap, the Asia-Pacific chief executive of Travelzoo, a Nasdaq-listed company that gives information on tourism deals to subscribers, the shift in the industry will be away from mass travel to individual trips.
"Higher-income, higher-educated Chinese tourists tend to go for individual vacations. The people who take group tours are the lower-income tourists," Yap said.
In a Travelzoo survey of 470 Chinese respondents, 41 per cent said they would travel solo for leisure. Eleven per cent said they usually opted for group tours.
"This means China's outbound tourist spending will not only continue to grow but will be much more dynamic in sectors that cater to individual pursuits. This spending pattern will generate new travel trends that the industry will have to quickly adapt to," Yap said.
Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in Germany, said a rapidly increasing section of the Chinese outbound tourist market was willing to spend more for high-quality services.
Arlt said a new category of Chinese tourists - those who are increasingly travel-savvy and aged below 45 - were going to special locations to do special things.
"Niche tourism products for the first time get to profit from Chinese customers. Package tours have developed a negative image as mostly for rich peasants," he said.
Yap said some travel agents had organised tours for well-heeled Chinese tourists to fly to New York to buy property, while other Chinese tourists are going to South Korea for cosmetic surgery. "This is very high value," he said.
Arlt said many rich Chinese seem afraid of the new Chinese leadership curbing excesses, "so spending on luxury retail items or buying real estate overseas is a way to get money out of China and create emergency exit routes".
This year, China would overtake the United States and Germany as the biggest outbound tourism market, with 95 million trips and US$110 billion in spending, he said. Next year, Chinese tourists would make more than 100 million overseas trips.
In comparison, Chinese tourists made 83.2 million overseas visits and spent US$98 billion last year, according to China Outbound Tourism.
The shift towards solo travel has also been noted by international online hotel booking company Hotels.com "The profile of the typical Chinese traveller has changed considerably over the past decade due to the country's robust economy and relaxation of visa requirements. Increasingly, the Chinese are more likely to travel independently," a Hotels.com report said.
In 2011, Chinese tourists spent an average of US$169 per night in overseas hotels, the sixth-highest globally behind Japan (US$190), Switzerland (US$182), Australia (US$177), the US (US$174) and Norway (US$174), the report said.
Hotels.com found 58 per cent of hoteliers in Europe planned to add Putonghua-speaking staff, 57 per cent of hoteliers in Europe planned to translate their hotel websites into Chinese and 46 per cent of US hotels already offered Putonghua versions of their websites.
For Travelzoo too, Chinese tourists offer potential. China was its third-largest market in the Asia-Pacific, but would become the firm's largest next year, Yap said. "China is our fastest-growing market in the Asia-Pacific."