As the fastest-growing outbound travel demographic in the world, China is a key market for every luxury travel company looking to claim their slice of the global tourism pie. But while the numbers of Chinese travellers continue to soar, from 10.5 million overseas trips in 2001 to 150 million in 2018, companies that don’t actively engage with the Chinese market can find themselves in the dark when it comes to understanding this game-changing sector. It’s for this reason that 200 of the world’s top luxury brands gathered at ILTM China in Shanghai in October, which brought delegates face to face with luxury travel agencies from 17 Chinese cities, giving them unrivalled access to the people shaping the future of Chinese travel.
During the Opening Forum, keynote speaker Jeff Towson, a Peking University professor, private equity investor and author of The One Hour China Book, provided a snapshot of the Chinese consumer market, which he described as a rapidly evolving, digital-first, networked demographic. The consumers of luxury travel, he explained, are relatively young compared to other markets, with more than 80 per cent of wealth in the hands of people under 40. He noted that China is the world’s “most complicated and dynamic” consumer market, where WeChat and other online sharing platforms are the drivers of learning and discovery in the consumer spending journey. Make-or-break trends can be ignited with one viral video, blog or social media post, though he also noted that personal relationships remain crucial on the consumer journey for both retail and travel spending.
Delegates also heard from a panel of four Key Opinion Leaders (or KOLs – the Chinese term for Influencers) whose online channels drive huge demand among their enormous followings via WeChat, Weibo and other platforms. KOL Danielle Xiao said that the definition of luxury for young Chinese consumers was the ability to use purchasing power to define themselves through the pursuit of self-affirmational encounters: “unrepeatable experiences that transcend the traditional ideas of five-star and business class.”
Members of the panel noted that young, affluent Chinese travellers were increasingly looking for authentic encounters that they couldn’t find at home, combining curated experiences with the ability to interact with local people and culture,
as well as journeys to island escapes and emerging, undiscovered destinations.
Next year’s instalment of ILTM China takes place in Shanghai from October 28-30, 2020.