Last year, 71 million Chinese booked trips that took them outside the Middle Kingdom, and that number is projected to climb to 200 million over the next four years. 

According to China Trading Desk’s most recent Travel Sentiment Survey, the rebound to pre-pandemic levels is being led by educated young women who are learning about destinations online and booking trips spontaneously.

China Trading Desk, which polls 15,000 Chinese quarterly about their overseas travel plans, found that in the first quarter of this year, 62% of outbound travelers were female, while 39.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24. An additional 27.4% were between the ages of 25 and 29. And nearly 70% of travelers are booking tickets less than a month in advance, indicating a move toward spontaneity.

“China is home to a new generation of digital nomads in search of culturally meaningful experiences, and they are bringing China’s outbound travel business to life,” said China Trading Desk Founder and CEO Subramania Bhatt. “These young travelers use social media to learn about destinations, and then they book without excessive planning. A large number are young, female, and educated. And many are traveling solo.”

Singapore maintained its title as the top destination for Chinese travelers, with more than 15% of all outbound travel to the country in Q1. Thailand moved into the second position with 13.6% of all Chinese outbound travel, and South Korea moved into third with 12.4%. Travel to the U.S. remained muted, with just 4.2% of travelers booking trips to America.

When it comes to learning about destinations and planning trips, Chinese travelers are increasingly using travel applications like CTrip and Qunar and social media sites like Xiaohongshu and Douyin. While 40% of all Chinese travelers plan trips using these sites, there is a clear preference among travelers aged 18 to 29 for Xiaohongshu, which has been called “China’s Instagram.” When it comes to booking, CTrip is the clear favorite for travelers of all ages.

“This digital integration extends into the realm of shopping, where platforms like Xiaohongshu and Douyin play pivotal roles in shaping travel itineraries and experiences,” Mr. Bhatt said. “Our report shows that travelers are not just using apps and social media to plan trips, but also plan shopping excursions once they reach their destinations.”

About three-quarters of younger travelers said they plan to travel more this year than they have since the pandemic, and 42% said they will travel alone.

China Trading Desk’s Travel Sentiment Survey–which used WeChat to query more than 15,000 travelers– also included the following findings:

  • 2% of Chinese travelers have a Bachelor’s degree; 58.3% live in Tier-One cities
  • 1% have plans to travel overseas within six months, while 35.2% have no current travel plans
  • 1% of travelers start booking tickets for overseas trips less than a month in advance
  • 2% of travelers intend to stay at their destination for five to ten days
  • When it comes to the factors affecting travel plans, the majority of respondents cited economic factors followed by health and safety concerns
  • 9% of younger travelers prefer independent travel over group tours
  • Food remains a top motivator in travel plans, with 23.8% of travelers citing it as a top reason for trips. Local culture and history come next, with 21.7% citing this as a main incentive for travel
  • 4% plan to spend at least 25,000 RMB during their overseas travel.
  • Friends’ recommendations are the top factor for customers when considering airlines, outweighing digital ads, newspaper ads, or outdoor ads.
  • Alipay was the main payment method for outbound travel, closely followed by WeChat Pay. Cash was the least popular method.

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