China: Travel’s Final Frontier

Bart Tompkins

Managing Director, China, Amadeus IT Group

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The world has long been fascinated by space travel.


Futurists have dreamt-up many an imaginary space vehicle, while entrepreneurs’ today plan for commercial space travel. One day, not so far from now, we may all be able to travel to the moon.

For those of us who remember Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step’, this is a tantalising prospect. However, it overlooks a far more pressing and exciting travel horizon that puts global travel in much sharper focus. That is China – travel’s final frontier.

According to Amadeus’ Shaping the Future of Travel: Macro trends driving industry growth over the next decadestudy, China will knock the United States off its perch as the largest source of outbound travel spending this year.

In fact, we predict that the potential market for outbound Chinese tourism could more than double to 220 million households in the next decade. To put this figure in context, that’s more than the total number of households in the United States, Japan and South Korea combined.

So forget the moon for now; China is the real and tangible final frontier.

The New Chinese Explorer

Beyond rising incomes and a growing middle-class in China, the real propulsion behind this boom is a unique cultural and behavioural shift. A new generation of Chinese want to see the outside world and have the means and appetite to explore it.

It helps that the Chinese government is on board.

For the first time, the twelfth five-year plan published in 2012 explicitly aims to ‘actively encourage the development of outbound tourism.’

This spells huge opportunity for the travel industry, but there are challenges as well. The clichéd Chinese tourist following a flag-waving tour guide is rapidly evolving, and the biggest pitfall for travel players is to treat all Chinese travellers as one and the same.

Today, an older Chinese traveller with more time and money may opt for a longer stay at a luxury hotel, while many young travellers will increasingly travel solo, and to more exotic locations. This increasingly tech-savvy generation will also be fully adept at researching and organising trips themselves over the internet and social media.

We believe the key to unlocking the Chinese traveller ispersonalisation.

With language to remain a challenge for some time to come, there is much that the industry can and must do to cater to them – whether by the provision of local foods, TV, newspaper or other services in their native language.

New Moon Rising

The future of travel will be shaped by this new wave of Chinese travellers and will demand that we create a travel utopia where travellers can move efficiently and seamlessly across borders.

Can we cut away all the red-tapeso that a Chinese traveller can get to any Asia Pacific destination without a visa? Can we create a door-to-door service offering that will take a traveller from their home to and through an airport, onto and off a plane, and to their destination hotel? Or can we tell apart a grandmother from India travelling for the first time to see her granddaughter in London, from a female business traveller from Indonesia travelling alone – and then give them a travel experience that meets all their needs?

Just like those who conquered past frontiers, technology can be the passport to the future – what we call our ‘one small step’ here at Amadeus.


Asia Pacific, China