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There is a new way of travelling in China: themed travel. And a desire for new experiences seems to be what’s driving interest. Latest research from the world’s leading market intelligence agency Mintel reveals that three in five urban Chinese respondents* say they are motivated to try themed travel because it would make a suitable hobby (66%) and is an in-depth travel experience (64%).

Furthermore, opportunities for socialising is another driver for themed travelling among Chinese consumers; nearly half (45%) of the respondents say that the desire to meet people with similar interests is a reason why they would like to try themed travel.

Saskia Zhao, Travel and Leisure Analyst, Mintel China Reports, said:

“Having new experiences is important when it comes to travelling. In light of this, companies in China’s travel industry are moving beyond simply offering traditional travel products and are introducing themed travel to the market. There are two ways in which themed travel is commonly defined in China: by travel method, for example self-drive tours, or travel itinerary, for example photography or wedding themed. Our research shows that hobbies and in-depth travel experiences are what’s motivating Chinese consumers to try themed travel. To appeal to these consumers, customisation and offering experiences of superior quality are key. The focus of innovation in themed travel can be expanded from new routes and destinations to selling hobby-based experiences like food and outdoor activity tours. This will also allow consumers to meet with like-minded individuals, seeing how socialisation is another key driver for the themed travel market.”

Popularity of self-drive tours

While still a relatively new concept, self-drive tours are picking up in China. According to Mintel research, over half (52%) of urban Chinese respondents have taken the more common self-organised tour (eg excluding RVs and self-drive tours) for their personal leisure travels in the last 12 months*, while 49% say that they have taken self-drive tours. Self-drive tours are especially popular among the post-80s generation with 57% of respondents having tried this way of themed travelling. This is followed by 48% of post-90s and 41% of post-70s consumers.

When it comes to self-drive tour length, short driving routes have more appeal than longer driving routes; Mintel research on car usage habits in China reveals that over half (54%) of surveyed car owners have used their cars for self-drive tours ranging one-to-two days, while one in five (21%) have done so for three or more days.

“Self-drive tours are quickly becoming as popular as the more traditional, self-organised tours, likely driven by the fact that car rental services have become more convenient in China. Current domestic self-drive tour offerings have similar driving routes—indicating the need for product differentiation in the self-drive market. Travel suppliers can refresh their self-drive products by considering the overall experience rather than merely focusing on the destination. Self-drive tour offerings can harness the lifestyle characteristics of different car types to create novel experiences for consumers to enjoy during trips. For example, mountainous driving routes are suitable for off-road vehicles or SUVs, and short self-drive tours in cities or suburbs for small cars. Furthermore, our research shows that short driving routes are more likely to attract Chinese consumers than longer routes.”

Motivations for health and wellness themed travel

Finally, Mintel research reveals an opportunity for travel suppliers with health and wellness themed travel. As many as 74% of Chinese respondents cited enjoying a slower-paced lifestyle as the most important reason to try health and wellness themed travel; while two-thirds (67%) of consumers associate health and wellness themed travel with a nice environment and being beneficial to physical health, respectively.

For health and wellness themed travel, the top three activities that consumers are willing to pay more for include hot springs (67%), body care services (eg massage, spa) (63%) and relaxing activities in forest ‘oxygen zones’** (eg cycling, jogging) (56%).

“Healthy lifestyles are trending in China, opening up an opportunity for travel suppliers to explore health and wellness themed travel. Consumers say that enjoying a slower-paced lifestyle is important when it comes to health and wellness themed travel—likely because they long to relieve the stresses of daily life. This interest aligns with Mintel Trend ‘Slow It All Down’ which discusses how consumers appreciate moments to slow down in today’s fast-moving world. That said, companies in the health and wellness travel space can also motivate consumers with claims such as improving physical health and living in pure and healthy environments that are free from pollution. When premiumising their health and wellness themed travel offerings, companies should look at capitalising on natural elements such as hot springs and forest ‘oxygen zones’, as well as self-indulgent experiences like spas.”

*3,000 internet users aged 20-49, April 2019
**Forest ‘oxygen zone’ refers to areas in the forest which have high quality fresh air and are equipped with tourism facilities.