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Chinese tourists choose cheaper destinations, which stimulates local spending




Chinese tourists choose cheaper destinations, which stimulates local spending

A night in China’s Guizhou province at the Cliff Hotel, pictured here, costs about $83, according to, which says the hotel was built in 2023 with 34 rooms.

Nurfoto | Nurfoto | Getty Images

BEIJING – Chinese travelers are increasingly choosing cheaper domestic destinations over foreign tourist destinations.

Only 14% of high-income households who traveled internationally last year plan to travel abroad again in 2024, according to a survey published this month by consultancy Oliver Wyman. The segment includes families in mainland China who earn at least 30,000 yuan per month ($4,140, ​​or about $50,000 per year).

The top reason for preferring their home country was “abundant domestic travel options,” the survey found, followed by “too expensive” international travel.

The average cost per person for travel within mainland China is less than 1,000 yuan, compared with several thousand yuan for a trip to Hong Kong or Japan, Oliver Wyman said.

Local tourism has been a bright spot in China’s recovery from Covid-19 controls that ended at the end of 2022. said bookings for rural destinations in China will take place in 2023 grew by 2.6 times versus pre-pandemic levels.

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During a public holiday this year from May 1 to 5, domestic tourist travel and revenue increased compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, official data showed. International travel was slightly below 2019 levels, according to CNBC’s analysis official figures.

In mainland China, smaller cities such as Yangzhou, Luoyang, Qinhuangdao, Guilin and Zibo saw the fastest growth in tourist bookings during the May holidays, Oliver Wyman said.

“This year, domestic tourism will surpass pre-pandemic levels,” said Ashley Dudarenok, founder of Chinese digital consultancy ChoZan.

She expects that the recovery of Chinese travel abroad will take longer, partly because “the feeling that the rest of the world is crazy and unsafe is even greater than in 2023.”

In contrast, a record number of people in the US have applied for passports to travel abroad in the past two years. A Skyscanner report said 85% of U.S. travelers plan to take at least as much international travel this year as they will in 2023, if not more.

American and Chinese officials held a summit in Xi’an city last week to promote tourism between the two countries.

The moment you go viral, there are thousands of tourists at your doorstep.

Ashley Dudarenok

ChoZan, founder

It is unclear to what extent tourist interest in the less developed parts of China will continue, and whether this will translate into sustainable growth. But the short-term impact in some places is significant.

The southern Guangxi Autonomous Region, home to The famous limestone hills of Guilinhas released a plan to boost consumption this year by increasing publicity and tourism subsidies.

In the first quarter, officials said tourism revenue in the region rose nearly 24% year on year to 258.18 billion yuan. Local authorities said performing arts subsidies from local governments helped generate 48.3 million yuan in ticket sales for 230,000 people, stimulating about 460 million yuan in economic activity.

About a 2.5-hour flight east of Guangxi is the tourist attraction of Nanjing City Wall. It received nearly 1.3 million visitors in the first quarter and generated revenue of 19.2 million yuan – double that of 2019, according to Local media.

Competition for media eyeballs

Local governments outside China’s major cities have stepped up efforts to attract tourists, mainly through social media.

Guangxi officials said earlier this month that the promotional videos on apps like ByteDance’s Douyin and Xiaohongshu, known in English as “Little Red Book” or “Red,” had millions of viewers.

“They’re trying to go viral, they’re trying to involve their community and cultural heritage and put everything online,” Dudarenok said. “The moment you go viral, there are thousands of tourists at your door.”

People have flocked to the city of Zibo in eastern Shandong province after the barbecue skewer culture took off on social media last year. Similarly, three million visitors flooded into Harbin city during the three-day New Year’s Eve holiday after its ice sculptures and unique northern customs gained traction on social media.

TV programs about specific regions have also helped boost tourism.

Thanks to a television drama set in Altay, the remote part of far western Xinjiang province saw a almost 38% increase in the number of visitors from a year ago during the first three days of this year’s May holidays, according to iQiyi, which released the miniseries.

“The TV programs are a big draw,” Dudarenok said, adding that “food is always the main reason for Chinese tourists to travel.”

China’s extensive network of high-speed trains and flights has made it easier for people to visit small towns, even for just two or three days.

Domestic flight ticket bookings rose 30% in the first quarter from a year ago, the company said last week. It noted that Chinese consumers are now placing more emphasis on “emotional satisfaction,” fueling interest in personalized travel.

“Intensifying marketing efforts in many provinces effectively encouraged travelers to explore diverse destinations,” management said on the earnings call, according to a FactSet transcript.

Businesses and local governments are working together in other ways to increase attention, if not revenue.

Officials from tourist spots and local governments have contacted the Miss Tourism Asia pageant for promotions, said Yang Hua, chairman of the organizing committee.

“At present, China’s domestic tourism industry is relatively dispersed,” Yang said in Mandarin, as translated by CNBC. He hopes to create destination-specific events for cities that could draw visitors in years to come.

Miss Tourism Asia last year filmed a promotional fashion video of contestants in the desert around Aral city in Xinjiang, and held the finals of the pageant on January 1, 2024 in the southern city of Dongguan in Guangzhou province.

Chinese consumers’ current preference for domestic travel means a full recovery in international travel to 2019 levels likely won’t happen until late 2025, six months later than previously forecast, according to Oliver Wyman.

In the longer term, Dudarenok expects that international tourism destinations will need to upgrade their experience to match the rise of stylish, modern hotels and other travel services in China.

‘Chinese tourists [are] not so easy to please, she said.

– CNBC’s Greg Iacurci and Yulia Jiang contributed to this report.