Treat your­self in fes­tive spirit, but fo­cus on value for money

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By BAI PING Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@hot­

I’m a plat­inum mem­ber of a pop­u­lar Chi­nese book­ing site, spend­ing the equiv­a­lent of thou­sands of dol­lars on travel for the past 11 months this year alone. Yet I’ve been ex­cluded from its pri­vate club — I may not be able to join it in my life­time.

Last week, I searched the site for the best af­ford­able pack­age trip I could buy for my fam­ily of five for the com­ing Chi­nese New Year, a rit­ual my col­leagues and friends do ev­ery year around this time. Our des­ti­na­tion is South­east Asia where sun, beach and trop­i­cal breeze beckon to peo­ple who live in con­stant worry about smog.

How­ever, find­ing bar­gain deals was dif­fi­cult. As a par­ent of two young chil­dren, aged 7 and 1, I’m picky about flights, con­nec­tion times and ho­tels. So hop­ing against hope, I clicked on the dingjiyou or “top­class tour” but­ton and was di­rected to a mi­cro site de­voted to the rich

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trav­el­ers. I was dumb­founded by how much they pay for their breaks.

While I shied away from an of­fer of more than 63,000 yuan ($9,150) for a five-night fam­ily va­ca­tion on Bali Is­land dur­ing the hol­i­day, a lux­ury four-night pack­age would cost al­most four times more.

The perks for the wealthy in­clude busi­ness-class flights, up­scale ho­tels, be­spoke ac­tiv­i­ties and sweet­en­ers like a mas­sage or a wel­come cock­tail “Rock My World”. In com­par­i­son, the deal I was look­ing at fea­tured red-eye flights, stopovers in Manila and a ba­sic itin­er­ary in­ter­spersed with com­pul­sory shop­ping tours ar­ranged be­tween tour guides and stores.

The eye-pop­ping prices don’t seem to have de­terred well-heeled trav­el­ers with much of the in­ven­tory sold out weeks be­fore the tra­di­tional Chi­nese hol­i­day. In re­cent years, Chi­nese tourism op­er­a­tors and re­searchers have gone gaga over lux­ury travel that caters to a niche de­mo­graphic, roughly de­fined as those who make at least 1 mil­lion yuan per year and spend more than 50,000 yuan on a sin­gle trip.

My book­ing site, of which I’ve been a loyal cus­tomer for more than a decade, screens po­ten­tial trav­el­ers from its mas­sive mem­ber data­base, of­fer­ing pri­vate tours to tens of thou­sands who book five-star ho­tels and travel in busi­ness or first class sev­eral times a year.

As a fru­gal trav­eler, I’m not one of them. Whether I go alone or with my fam­ily, I’d put a lot of plan­ning into it and try to get more bang for my buck. For longer leg room, I try to get a firstrow seat or one near the emer­gency exit. We don’t dine in lux­ury ho­tels abroad. There are many serendip­i­tous dis­cov­er­ies in small restau­rants, food courts or even deli shops.

But rich and young Chi­nese trav­el­ers aged 18-36 can now go abroad ev­ery 3-4 months, mainly for leisure, with an an­nual spend­ing of 420,000 yuan and an av­er­age ho­tel bud­get at 3,100 yuan per night, ac­cord­ing to find­ings by the Hu­run Re­port bet­ter known for its an­nual China Rich List.

Surely, such ex­trav­a­gant travel isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a rich man’s folly. And not all pres­tige-seek­ing trav­el­ers ig­nore the in­trin­sic util­ity of their money. In many cases, priv­i­leged trav­el­ers seek unique ex­pe­ri­ences that im­press their friends and col­leagues on WeChat.

Two rich par­ents from my son’s kinder­garten class re­cently wowed us, with up­dates on their ex­pen­sive fam­ily tour in the US, in­clud­ing a pic­ture of them kiss­ing their two young chil­dren, un­der a gi­ant statue de­pict­ing a fa­mous New York Times Square kiss that cel­e­brated the end of World War II.

Yet, these costly ex­pe­ri­ences of­ten smack of os­ten­ta­tious spend­ing com­mon among China’s nou­veau riche. The Hu­run Re­port says about half of rich Chi­nese Mil­len­ni­als’ tourism spend­ing is still on lux­ury shop­ping, pri­mar­ily cloth­ing, bags, watches and jewelry.

We’ve heard sto­ries about how Chi­nese tourists abroad have be­come more dis­cern­ing and so­phis­ti­cated, with shifts from snap­ping up bags to hav­ing a cof­fee or stroll on the beach. Per­haps the lux­ury travel craze is a phase.

Even the dis­counted Bali tour looks ridicu­lously costly to me, since I re­ally don’t care what other peo­ple think of us.


A tourist takes a pho­to­graph at a beach in Bali, In­done­sia.

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