China’s outbound tourism growth brings new opportunities for destinations to connect with travellers

David Archer

1 August 2016

Outbound tourism from China is growing by leaps and bounds. In 2015, people from China spent 53% more on international travel and tourism than they had the previous year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. As more Chinese tourists travel abroad, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) will be interested to learn about opportunities in this growing market and how they can engage travellers.

Dr. Jing Ge received her PhD from the Tourism at the University of Queensland (UQ) Business School. Her recently completed dissertation, “The use of humour for customer engagement on Chinese social media – a rhetorical perspective” (under the supervision of Professor of Tourism Ulrike Gretzel), examines how the current marketing paradigm in China is shaped by social media technologies, conventions, and a unique social media culture on platforms such as Weibo (a micro-blogging platform similar to Twitter). She has also studied Chinese DMOs and how they use social media to engage travellers using humour and a playful, creative language. In addition, Jing Ge has close to 10 years of industry experience with a focus on marketing communication and social media.

We asked her about the burgeoning Chinese outbound tourism market and what opportunities this brings for destinations outside of China.

Destination Think: Some destinations are looking to capture more travellers from the growing Chinese market. Can you describe how outbound tourism is growing in China?

Jing Ge: In general, the Chinese market is not only growing but also changing. So these are really fundamental things that DMOs in western countries need to acknowledge. First, the travel models are changing. There are basically three travel models in China:

  • Group tour (package tours with set itineraries)
  • Individual tour (the visitor travels by themselves)
  • Independent tour (visitors travel as a group)

It is well-acknowledged that independent tours are becoming mainstream and group tours are outdated. A recent study by China Internet Watch shows that more than 60% of independent tourists enjoy travelling with their friends, while 21% will travel with families.

Second, the way travellers decide on a destination, plan a trip and share those experiences are changing. More and more consumers rely heavily on social media. They are deeply influenced by social media influencers such as grassroots celebrities and other tourists that post their travel experiences online.

Jing Ge

Dr. Jing Ge, PhD – University of Queensland

Chinese outbound tourists’ travel planning is dominated by the pre-trip stage. They call this information collection pattern, “doing homework.” They are really serious about this. Before departure, Chinese independent tourists spend more time and look for much more extensive travel information than their counterparts from other countries, according to the study. They research their choice of destinations and the attractions, transportation and accommodations. They do their pre-travel planning using social media.

Third, the way Chinese travelers share their experiences is very sophisticated. The Chinese outbound tourists share their travel experiences in two stages: during the trip, and after the trip.

During the trip, they prefer to share pictures and videos in real time. They take pictures, post online and say, “Hello from Paris!”. Also, when they describe the destinations during the trip, they like to express their emotions, personal feelings and their reflections on life. For example, if they travel to Toronto during the winter, they might say, “I should challenge my comfort zone and embrace the winter and I will enjoy this more.” This is a real post that I found. They like to express their emotions and reflections on life.

After the trip, some of them write a comprehensive review. They compare and evaluate the things they have experienced, such as hotels and attractions and they also provide recommendations. They might tell their readers to stay tuned for more information later, when they come back from their trip. After they say this, some other users may follow his or her account and pay more attention to that person when they come back. This is a distinctive thing that happens in China.

These types of trip reports are usually posted publicly?

Yes, so if people want to go somewhere, they can just go to Weibo and find some tips and reviews, download them, print them out, look at their recommendations to find out which hotels are good or bad.

What opportunities will this growing market provide to DMOs outside of China?

Chinese outbound tourists can definitely help DMOs enhance their marketing efforts. They can help DMOs to promote their destinations and attract more tourists. They also seem to be very engaged and happy to follow DMOs and talk to them. It’s not only about DMOs talking to customers, they like to talk to DMOs as well.

The second opportunity is that the outbound tourists are young people born in the 80s or 90s. They are well-educated, open-minded and eager to explore new things. While their parents’ generation preferred group tours and short stays, the young tourists prefer independent travel and a longer stay.

Third, they love to explore new things and local culture and share these experiences on social media. Heavy use of social media by these Chinese outbound tourists allow DMOs to keep up with the very dynamic Chinese market and better understand what a consumer wants and needs. They can receive this information first-hand. There are a huge amount of interactions and customer responses on Weibo. It is a really good database for them.

Have you noticed any challenges for DMOs who want to connect with Chinese travellers?

One of the challenges is how to shape conversations with these consumers and how to build an online community. DMOs need to know what kinds of conversations consumers like. From what I learned from Chinese DMOs, merely focusing on promoting destinations might not be a good idea. Chinese consumers like conversations focusing on “phatic communication,” or small talk. It is also not a good idea to promote destinations in a direct way. DMOs need to relate their destinations to every aspect of the consumers’ life, including their marital status, career, childhood and personal dreams.

What’s the best way for DMOs to learn more about the Chinese outbound market?

If you can speak the language, start by doing some research to learn from and engage with Chinese DMOs, travel agencies or PR agencies because they know the Chinese consumers best.

Look at the provincial Chinese DMOs – how they communicate, what kind of content they post, and how they post it. They can promote their destinations by the way they relate their destinations to every aspect of a consumer’s life. You have to build a connection with Chinese consumers.

I followed all of the provincial Chinese (31 of them) DMOs and tracked their activities for almost two months and selected the best ones. Those include the DMOs of Shandong, Henan, Sichuan, Zhejiang and Jiangxi. These are the ones I’d recommend to begin with.

Editor’s note: Readers will need a free Weibo account in order to view the example pages. These DMO accounts are in Mandarin, but users can easily translate pages to English using the Google Chrome browser.

You can contact Jing Ge at

Featured image credit: Bridget Coila, Flickr


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