China travel market sprouts

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Art PfenningIt may be hard to believe, but according to the Travel Industry Association, outbound leisure travel from China only began in 1991 when the government signed bilateral agreements with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

In 1990, only business and official travel were allowed, and in that year 620,000 departures were logged. In 1993, there were 2.1 million departures. This number has increased exponentially over the past decade to 19.1 million in 2004, an 810% increase from 1993.

In Beijing alone, the number of outbound tourists handled by travel agencies rose 1,219% between 1994 and 2000. About half of those travelers (47%) went to foreign countries.

Interestingly, despite the general growth of all outbound Chinese travel, Chinese arrivals to the U.S. declined dramatically in 2003, and is only slowly coming back. Inbound tourism to the U.S. from China is not expected to reach levels seen in the year 2000 until 2009. 

The typical profile of the traveler from China to the U.S. is roughly split between business (48%) and leisure (46%) (with the remaining percentage being students, teachers and miscellaneous others). These travelers have an average stay of 19.6 nights in the U.S. and an average travel party of 2.6 people -- 27% come with children in their party. 

The Chinese market appears to be one that U.S. destinations and others in the travel industry would want to woo.

Chinese travelers are relatively upscale, with an average annual household income of $65,200, and they are relatively young (an average age of 41 for men, 40 for women).

The demographics would appear strong for online usage, but in 2002, 49% used travel agents and 30% used their corporate travel departments, while only 22% used the Internet to research their trip.

Art Pfenning is the research director for Northstar Travel Media, Travel Weeklys parent company. For information on how research can help your business, or if you are interested in having NTM Research conduct your next project, contact Pfenning at [email protected].

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