Prepare for Chinese Travel Surge


Ruthanne Terrero
Vice President—Content/ Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero

Once in a while the game changes in travel and it’s about to change again, very soon. China’s zooming economy has spurred a huge middle class of consumers with a pent-up desire to travel. In fact, according to a recently released report by Ernst & Young, “not only is China expected to surpass U.S. business travel by 2015, but the Asia region is expected to account for more than 41 percent of the worldwide growth in outbound travel and tourism over the next decade.”

What does that mean to the U.S. travel industry? Currently, the Chinese market tends to travel on weeklong junkets in groups with other Chinese travelers. They hit the obvious highlights (think Disneyland, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and the Big Apple), quickly, and dine where the food and beverage is as similar as possible to what they’ll find at home, says Jim Butler of Jeffers Mangel Butler & Mitchell. Soon, we’ll be seeing travelers from China seeking more authentic experiences, with a desire to branch out from the traditional key cities. Sound familiar? This is a trend that’s currently influencing U.S. travelers when they go abroad.

So what kind of numbers are we talking about? Fritz van Paasschen, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, estimates that China will produce about 100 million outbound travelers over the next five years. There were a mere 500,000 outbound travelers in 2009.

Butler and van Paasschen were speaking at the annual ALIS in San Diego; that’s the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, where investors and hospitality executives get together to talk business.

Van Paasschen pointed out that this surge in Chinese travel will result in 40 million to 50 million room nights for the U.S., which is great for our economy, as well as for job creation. He also stressed, however, that people in the travel industry should speak to their local representatives about making it easier for these new travelers to get in to the U.S. At present, the visa process can take up to 40 days and the wait in line for international visitors in general averages 90 minutes.

What are you doing to prepare for this new onslaught of travelers? If you’re a travel agent and you’re thinking globally, you may be able to help them book their trips to the U.S. Or, you may consider creating travel opportunities that will make it easy for them to enjoy your local communities. If you’re a hotel company that wants to get close to this market, you’ve likely already planted a flag in China in the form of new hotels so that you’ll be able to learn their culture.

In the meantime, China’s growing economy is also creating new travel experiences for U.S. travelers visiting the country. For a full report on what’s happening, see Meagan Drillinger’s report, which begins on page 66.

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