With Chinese outbound tourism projected to start recovering this year, now is an important time to assess how the last several years have impacted Chinese travelers’ willingness to visit the United States and consider their expectations for future trips.
Research conducted on behalf of NTA as part of Dragon Trail International’s China Travel Market Monitor reveals that despite politics and the pandemic, the U.S. still ranks as a top-choice destination for Chinese travelers, and that the appeal of cities like New York and Los Angeles remains strong. However, Chinese travelers have always been exceptionally safety conscious, and survey data indicates that they have high expectations for safety precautions and will be careful before resuming outbound tourism.
US still a top-choice destination
Dragon Trail’s November 2021 China Travel Market Monitor survey polled more than 1,000 Chinese with international travel experience, asking which country they would want to visit first once they resume outbound travel. The U.S. came in third place behind Japan and France, and it was chosen by over 16% of respondents. 69% of those had previous travel experience in the U.S. and wanted to return for a repeat visit.
In the December 2021 China Travel Market Monitor survey, 28% of respondents said that they wanted to visit the U.S.—a significant number considering the vast size of the Chinese outbound travel market. Travelers with higher income levels and residents of first-tier and “new first-tier” cities were the demographic groups with the greatest willingness to travel to the U.S., with high-income respondents more likely than other groups to already have a U.S. travel destination in mind.
New York and California—traditionally top destinations for Chinese tourists—still held the most appeal among the 13% of survey respondents who wanted to visit the U.S. and already had a destination in mind. While New York City was the place mentioned the most, California appeals for its variety of destinations and attractions. Survey respondents mentioned Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hollywood, and the Staples Center as places they wanted to visit.
Hawaii was the next most popular state, followed by Texas and Florida. But with 25% of survey respondents saying they wanted to visit the U.S. but hadn’t yet chosen a destination, this shows significant opportunities for destinations to capture Chinese travelers’ attention before international tourism returns.
Nature, culture, and business: Chinese traveler activities
Generally speaking, nature and culture appeal most strongly to Chinese outbound travelers, with 81% stating that the purpose of their next trip will be nature-related, and 76% focusing on cities and culture. When trip purpose is analyzed alongside country choice, we see that the U.S. also holds significantly more appeal for business travel and study abroad than other top-choice travel destinations do.
When will Chinese travel abroad again?
The question of when Chinese outbound tourism will resume is the one everyone wants the answer to, but there are no definite answers. Based on forecasts from Ctrip as well as the China Tourism Academy—the most official information source for reflecting government policy—reopening is expected to start in the second half of 2022.
Chinese outbound travelers have a number of pre-conditions before they feel comfortable going abroad again, according to Dragon Trail’s survey data. Sixty percent said they would wait for international travel to have started safely again for a few months before they went overseas themselves, and 58% are waiting for an end to travel-related quarantine requirements. However, 36% said they would consider traveling internationally again if they could do their quarantine-on-return at home rather than a centralized facility. Older travelers and travelers who are married with children are more sensitive to quarantine requirements than other demographic groups.
A safety-first market
Outside of any travel restrictions, the biggest obstacle in attracting Chinese tourists to the U.S. is the perception that the country is unsafe. Thirty percent of survey respondents said that they would not want to visit the U.S. because it is unsafe. While safety factors are not limited to health risks and could include issues like gun violence, concerns about pandemic management are sure to impact both official travel policy and consumer preferences. Successfully communicating an image of safety thus becomes paramount to welcoming back this market.
When asked about “must-have” safety precautions when traveling outbound again, Chinese travelers showed strong preferences for mask requirements on public transportation (87%), mask requirements at attractions (83%), enhanced cleaning procedures (82%), and the availability of sanitizers in public places (79%). While 75% of all travelers surveyed said they wanted mandatory staff vaccination at businesses they visit overseas, this rose to 85% of respondents from first-tier cities.
The Explorer: How Chinese travelers perceive the US
Dragon Trail’s survey used an approach called Brand Archetypes to measure the destination image of the U.S. for Chinese tourists. Brand Archetypes are based on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung, who proposed 12 universal characteristics that are cross-culturally recognizable. Respondents are asked to choose which adjectives they think best describe a brand, and these adjectives are associated with the 12 archetype categories. This approach reveals which characteristics are connected with different categories and brands, in order to better prepare campaigns that shape or reshape the image related to the destinations. This way of measuring the United States’ destination image will help to build campaigns, hone messaging, and establish a deeper connection with Chinese outbound travelers.
The survey showed a strong association between the U.S. and the “Explorer” archetype. The Explorer is adventurous and daring. It thrives in the realms of the unknown, seeks freedom and liberation, and is constantly on a journey of self-discovery. An Explorer brand challenges itself, seeks the great outdoors and unknown lands, and breaks free from conformity. Industries known for being the Explorer include adventure travel, SUVs, extreme sports, and outdoor equipment. With road trips and outdoor activities currently popular among Chinese travelers domestically, this brand image provides good opportunities for the U.S. to take advantage of nature and adventure tourism trends and better position itself for post-pandemic Chinese travel.
For more survey information, including top sources of travel information and shopping preferences, watch Dragon Trail’s exclusive webinar for NTA members from Jan. 20, 2022, available here.
Sienna Parulis-Cook is director of marketing and communications for Dragon Trail International, an award-winning marketing solutions company with roots in China and extensive experience in the global travel and MICE sectors. Dragon Trail International’s China Travel Market Monitor is the only specialized travel market survey that gains insights directly from China’s outbound travelers. Surveys are launched each month, and allow multiple brands to join at the same time for a cost-effective solution to getting the most up-to-date information on Chinese travelers.
Top photo: ©StockerZ/Adobe Stock