Sud­denly, it’s a small world

Head­ing out of the coun­try on hol­i­day used to be the pre­serve of a priv­i­leged few

China Daily (Canada) - - E-COMMERCE - WANG ZHUOQIONG

In the early 1990s Ma Ding, now in his 50s, joined a tour group trav­el­ing to Thai­land – al­most the only op­tion the group could find to travel over­seas.

It was a lux­ury pack­age, and mem­bers of the group had to pay 9,000 yuan, a small for­tune. But when they reached each des­ti­na­tion, the group was asked to pay ex­tra for shows or en­cour­aged to buy lo­cal medicines. Ma and his wife re­turned to Shang­hai with a big bag of medicine made of snakes but never had the chance to use them.

It was a time when ob­tain­ing a tourist visa for the United States or Europe was even dif­fi­cult for many wealthy peo­ple in China like Ma. It would not be un­til 2005 that Ma, who owns two pawn­shops in Shang­hai, had the chance to visit the United States for the first time.

He and his wife were among five out of 19 peo­ple in their group to be granted a tour visa. “The United States as the world’s most ad­vanced coun­try was the place I dreamed of vis­it­ing,” Ma says. “The trip was also some­thing I promised my wife when we got mar­ried.”

The cou­ple trav­eled for 14 days, tak­ing in both the east and west coasts, and splashed out more than 60,000 yuan.

Since then they have barely stopped trav­el­ing. Ma and his fam­ily – two chil­dren – now travel four or five times a year, and he says that on av­er­age they spend about 1 mil­lion yuan ($153,000) a year. For in­stance, they have stayed in Seat­tle for a month or two in sum­mer so their chil­dren could at­tend a lo­cal sum­mer camp.

“Trav­el­ing is like an ad­dic­tion,” Ma says. “You feel bored af­ter three months staying at home. The world is so big, and there are so many things we haven’t seen or done.”

Ma was one of those on the first lux­ury world tour or­ga­nized by the coun­try’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip. com, in 2010. He has been to more than 100 cities in about 50 coun­tries and re­gions, and trav­eled a to­tal of 400,000 kilo­me­ters, he says.

“Trav­el­ing is not just go­ing abroad to see the world. It’s also an op­por­tu­nity to re­lax and change. It helps you see things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.”

Wang Chun­feng, vice-pres­i­dent of Bei­jing Utour In­ter­na­tional Travel Ser­vice Co Ltd, says the first sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for the coun­try’s out­bound tourism was when the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics first pub­lished fig­ures on the sub­ject in 2000. That year more than 10.47 mil­lion out­bound trips were made. Be­fore then of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics re­lated only to in­bound tourism and do­mes­tic travel.

From 2001 to 2015, Wang says, China’s out­bound tourism mar­ket grew by more than 18 per­cent a year, and it is pro­jected to reach 600 mil­lion in to­tal in the next five years.

Change is also re­flected in the rea­sons peo­ple give for go­ing abroad.

“In the early days most out­bound travel was re­lated to busi­ness or work,” Wang says. “Now more than 90 per­cent of it is for leisure.”

Thanks to ris­ing de­mand for in­di­vid­ual travel and more spe­cial­ized and even per­son­al­ized tour prod­ucts, the ease of book­ing flights and ac­com­mo­da­tion on the in­ter­net and of ob­tain­ing visas, as well as the in­crease in flight des­ti­na­tions through­out the world, even from smaller Chi­nese cities, phys­i­cal travel agen­cies have been in sharp de­cline, Wang says. Last year less than a third of travel book­ings made in China were made in a brick-and-mor­tar travel agency.

As re­cently as five years ago, for many peo­ple out­bound trav­el­ing was still a dream, Wang says, but that has changed.

Jiang Yiyi, direc­tor of the China Tourism Academy’s In­ter­na­tional Tourism De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, says China’s out­bound tourism mar­ket is likely to grow rapidly this year, with the num­ber of out­bound tourists pro­jected to sur­pass 130 mil­lion, 10 per­cent more than last year.

De­vel­oped economies are pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the role of in­bound tourism in boost­ing lo­cal economies and em­ploy­ment. So neigh­bor­ing, medium-dis­tance and long-dis­tance des­ti­na­tions will con­tinue to com­pete for Chi­nese tourists, she said, thanks to re­laxed visa poli­cies and im­proved Chi­ne­se­lan­guage ser­vices that many coun­tries have in­tro­duced in re­cent years.

More out­bound tourists are likely to emerge from China’s cen­tral and western re­gions, es­pe­cially from sec­ond- or third-tier cities and ru­ral ar­eas, she says.

The Min­istry of Trans­port fore­casts that the coun­try will have 42 high-speed railway lines oper­at­ing by the end of this year, stretch­ing a to­tal of 20,000 kilo­me­ters. The rapid de­vel­op­ment of high-speed rail gives peo­ple from once-iso­lated ar­eas easy ac­cess to large cities, which will greatly broaden the source of out­bound Chi­nese tourists.

Ur­ban­iza­tion will also con­tinue to power growth in tourism con­sump­tion. Fig­ures from the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics sug­gest 58 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion will live in cities by the end of this year. Mid-sized and small cities and ru­ral ar­eas are al­ready warm­ing to the out­bound tourism mar­ket.

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