China travel

As Chinese ditch package tours for DIY trips, online travel website Qyer sets up first foreign branch in North Thailand's 'cultural capital'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:53pm

Chinese online travel website Qyer.com opened its first office overseas in the city of Chiang Mai, dubbed the cultural capital of North Thailand, on Friday as more tourists from China ditch wallet-friendly package holidays to create their own adventures amid an outbound tourism boom. 

Apart from offering discounted flights and hotels, insurance, cruises and car rental services, the site takes a cue from social media and provides a shared travelogue platform, with experienced "DIY" travelers sharing their stories online.

The name of the company refers to those who travel on a tight budget. "Qy" stands for the Chinese characters qiong and you, or "poor" and "travel".

Some 76 per cent of Chinese tourists who ventured to foreign shores last year eschewed travel agencies to make their own arrangements, a report by Hotels.com showed.

Despite political turmoil, flooding and bombs in recent years that left parts of Bangkok alternately clogged with protestors, submerged in water or unsettled by the threat of violence, Thailand was the top foreign travel destination for Chinese in the first quarter of 2015, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

Hong Kong was No 2 followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and France, it said.

Recently relaxed visa rules and the hit Chinese comedy Lost in Thailand (2012) helped further promote the Land of Smiles as a desirable vacation spot, with the number of Chinese tourists there growing by as much as 60 per cent year-on-year at some points.

The Thai tourism board said it expects growth of around 40 per cent for the next few years at least.

Although Chinese package holidays are famously cost-effective, the country's mobile internet-savvy population, which already numbers in the hundreds of millions, are increasingly finding an outlet for their creativity in designing their own vacations, and they have plenty of online options to help them along the way. 

Qyer seems confident of continued traffic despite the bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine on August 17, the worst single attack on the city in modern memory that resulted in 22 casualties, including four from the Chinese mainland and two from Hong Kong. The culprit remains at large.

China’s state-owned broadcaster CCTV said the number of Chinese visiting the country has not declined in the wake of the attack. 

Qyer’s new Thai office will provide Chinese travellers with a “personalised, on-the-ground” service”, it said. 

China’s overseas travel industry is booming. Some 107 million people travelled overseas last year, up 20 per cent from 2013, according to the CNTA.

The number will surpass 174 million people by 2019, with their total holiday spending projected by Bank of America Merrill Lynch to reach US$264 billion by that time.

Ctrip, China’s largest travel website, set up its first overseas office in Canada in 2013 and later added branches in Japan and South Korea. It plans to set up 1,000 offices worldwide within three to five years, it said.

China’s No 2 online travel website Tuniu said it will set up 100 offices and service centres globally by 2018. It has targeted Europe, the US, Japan, Thailand and South Korea as its main markets.

Some Chinese travellers have been put off group tours due to the obligatory shopping trips they often include, from which the guide draws a commission.

Moreover, this week travel agents in a province in southwest China were accused of giving cheaper deals to wealthier tourists based on the belief they would earn more money from them in the long run, news that has riled the public.