The travel habits of high-income households in China are undergoing a shift, with more and more travelers opting for domestic destinations over international tourist spots. A recent survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that only 14% of high-income families who traveled internationally last year plan to go abroad again in 2024. The main reasons cited for this shift include the abundance of domestic travel options and the high cost of international travel. Traveling within mainland China is significantly cheaper, with the average cost per person being less than 1,000 yuan, compared to several thousand yuan for trips to destinations like Hong Kong or Japan.

Rise of Local Tourism in China

Local tourism in China has been a key driver of the country’s post-pandemic recovery. Booking data from Trip.com shows that bookings for rural destinations in China grew by 2.6 times in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels. During public holidays, such as the one from May 1 to May 5, domestic tourism trips and revenue saw a significant surge, surpassing pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Smaller cities like Yangzhou, Luoyang, Qinhuangdao, Guilin, and Zibo experienced the fastest growth in tourism bookings during the holiday period. The overall outlook for domestic tourism in China is optimistic, with experts predicting that it will continue to surpass pre-pandemic levels in the coming years.

Challenges and Opportunities for Less Developed Regions

While the rise of domestic tourism presents significant opportunities for less developed parts of China, there are challenges to sustainability. The Guangxi autonomous region, home to Guilin’s famous limestone hills, has seen a boost in tourism revenue due to increased promotional activities and tourist subsidies. Other regions, like Nanjing and Zibo, have also experienced growth in visitor numbers and revenue. Local governments are leveraging social media platforms to attract tourists, with promotional videos on apps like Douyin and Xiaohongshu gaining millions of views. By showcasing their cultural heritage and community online, these regions aim to go viral and attract more visitors.

The popularity of TV shows and social media trends has had a significant impact on tourism in China. Towns like Zibo and cities like Harbin have seen a surge in visitors following viral social media campaigns promoting their unique attractions. Television dramas set in specific regions, such as Altay in Xinjiang province, have also driven increased visitor numbers. Food and cultural experiences play a key role in attracting Chinese tourists, who place a high value on emotional fulfillment and personalized trips. As a result, businesses and local governments are collaborating to create destination-specific events and promotions to sustain visitor interest.

The current preference for domestic travel among Chinese consumers suggests that a full recovery in international travel to 2019 levels may be delayed until late 2025. In the long run, international tourist destinations will need to enhance their offerings to meet the expectations of Chinese travelers, who are increasingly seeking stylish and modern accommodations and experiences. To attract Chinese tourists, destinations will need to upgrade their services and tailor their offerings to cater to the evolving preferences of this discerning market. Ashley Dudarenok, founder of China digital consultancy ChoZan, emphasizes the importance of meeting the expectations of Chinese travelers, stating that they are “not so easy to please.” It will be essential for international destinations to adapt to these changing travel trends and provide unique, high-quality experiences to capture the interest of Chinese tourists in the future.


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