In January 1981, as a student in Hong Kong, your humble editor travelled to mainland China with his girlfriend on one of the very first individual visas issued. The first stop was Guangzhou railway station. The accompanying traveller, a German woman with obvious female attributes but very short hair, felt the need to use the toilet. However, the lady in charge of the female restrooms would not let her enter. "You're a man," she said, pointing to her short hair. She was right, no girl in China had short hair at that time. In the end, the lady insisted on accompanying the foreigner into the cabin to look if there was anything male between her legs before agreeing that this person was indeed a woman.
In the 1980s, Chinese still wore the identical clothes, out of necessity but also because the government did not approve of different fashion choices. Anything considered “weird attire” as well as long hair for men and make-up and jewellery for women would often end up the bearer in police custody.
People who remember those dark times are being reminded of them by the current government proposing amendments to a law that could result in detention and fines for “wearing clothing or bearing symbols in public that are detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of Chinese people.” It seems there will be another reason for fashionable Chinese to travel abroad: To be able to wear whatever they want.
The Chinese outbound tourism continues to recover after a slower than expected start with only 26 million border crossings in the first half of 2023 compared to 89 million in the first half of 2019, representing less than one third of the pre-pandemic level. In the second half of the year the number of trips should reach the 50% level of 2019, with more than 40 million trips.
The latest indicator is the positive feedback from the ITB China in Shanghai last week. Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin, said: “The Chinese people's desire to travel is great after the hardships of the pandemic. This is the summary for us at VisitBerlin at the ITB China in Shanghai.”
He pointed out that long waiting times for visas were the main reason for the delayed growth in Chinese visitor numbers to Germany.
Online searches for information on outbound travel, especially to new destinations and for new activities, have reached levels well above the 2019 figures. In two weeks' time, the October Golden Week will bring the next wave of outbound tourism, a wave that is eagerly awaited, especially in neighbouring countries.
A lot of commentators have been pointing out the problematic economic situation of China and the restraint of the Chinese consumers as a reason to expect problems for the outbound tourism development. However, your humble editor needs to repeat what has been said before: When we talk about Chinese outbound tourism, especially for long-distance trips beyond four hours flying time, we need to look at the consumption patterns of the top 6 or 7 percent of the Chinese population, not at the averages for the whole urban population or even all Chinese. The changes for this market segment will rather be in the perception, with spending in a more sensible way gaining prestige over mindless going for the most expensive and extravagant offer of past times. Getting value for money will provide more bragging power, and products and storytelling will need to be adapt accordingly.
The COTRI weekly Editorial is now a part of COTRI INTELLIGENCE, which offers deep insights and current information for the Chinese outbound tourism market. As a subscriber of the COTRI weekly Editorial, you will be given access to the free content of COTRI INTELLIGENCE or you can register by yourself at https://cotri-intelligence.ghost.io/.
As always, best wishes from your humble editor and the entire COTRI INTELLIGENCE team!