In China, they do things da, as "big" is said in Mandarin. It's a big country, with an economy, population, infrastructure and sense of ambition to fit. The same holds true when it comes to its growing tourism industry, and tour operators that specialize in China, such as Pacific Delight Tours, have come to expect "da" things.
So when Larry Kwan, president of New York-based Pacific Delight, sees 60% to 70% annual growth in China business on the books, as he has thus far this year, it's actually somewhat of a letdown.
"We do have a good showing, but it's not what we expected it to be," he said. "We were predicting at least double that growth. But the economy is still a little bit soft, and so we're lucky that our China product is still selling quite well."
Kwan added that he's confident that 2012 will be a good year. "I'm getting a sense that, particularly for high-end clients, they're aware they need to start traveling again," he said.
In fact, inquiries are already coming in for departures as far out as next spring, although Pacific Delight's 2012 product line won't be ready until at least September and, in general, booking windows have shrunk.
"The booking window is ... sometimes as close as three weeks prior to departure now," Kwan said.
What hasn't changed is the appeal of China's classic draws. These include the four major urban destinations of Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guilin as well as, increasingly, Yangtze River cruises, Kwan said.
River cruises particularly appeal to the second-time or repeat visitors among Pacific Delight's clientele. In addition, more seasoned clients are opting for FIT city stays, a relative novelty in the market.
Kwan said China's major cities are "equipped and ready" for the FIT traveler, having grown "by leaps and bounds" in terms of hotel and transportation infrastructure. "Nearly every major international hotel chain now has a presence in China," he noted, adding that Pacific Delight offers "city module" stays in 13 cities. "And overall, it's much easier now for clients to move around on their own in the larger cities."
And around the country, too. Pacific Delight is looking into booking clients on China's growing high-speed rail network, which despite some problems, such as the July 23 crash of two first-generation "bullet trains," has generally eased domestic travel.
In the meantime, Pacific Delight continues to promote its higher-end Gold Experience and Silver Experience tour products as well as Escapade "off-the-beaten-path vacations" and more budget-minded China Experience packages.
In keeping with the theme of "going big," the upscale Gold Experience tours -- featuring five-star accommodations and more intimate group sizes -- are Pacific Delight's biggest sellers, Kwan said.
"A lot of people sense that China tours are a little more strenuous and hectic compared to other trips in terms of itineraries, so they're looking for that comfort factor."