China’s global travellers pull back amid uncertainty

China’s global travellers pull back amid uncertainty

Upcoming Golden Week holiday seen as a test of outbound market strength

Chinese tourists take a selfie next to a street vendor in the Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Reuters)
Chinese tourists take a selfie next to a street vendor in the Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Reuters)

More Chinese travellers are delaying outbound plans amid economic uncertainty, according to a new survey, potentially bad news for countries depending on one of the world’s biggest sources of tourists.

A survey taken this month by the consultancy Oliver Wyman found that 54% of respondents — all experienced travellers who had been abroad before the pandemic shut Chinese borders — said they planned to travel in 2023, down from 62% polled in June.

Some 22% said they did not have plans to venture abroad for the next three years, up from just 6% in June.

The survey was taken exclusively among respondents with a monthly household income of at least 30,000 yuan (150,000 baht), representing the country’s middle class — a key driver being counted on to help boost China’s post-Covid consumption recovery.

While spending on experiential services such as travel and eating out has been resilient this year, questions have risen about whether that is sustainable.

“While Chinese travellers are returning, it’s taking longer than we expected when the border reopened,” said Imke Wouters, an Oliver Wyman partner who led the research.

The survey also showed 32% of respondents saying their willingness to travel abroad had decreased amid the current economic downturn and political situation, while only 19% said they were more inclined to take international trips.

Enthusiasm for domestic travel remained strong, meanwhile, with 35% saying they were more disposed to journey within China, and just 14% saying they were less inclined to do so.

China’s economy picked up steam in August as a summer travel boom and stimulus push boosted consumer spending and factory output, adding to nascent signs of stabilisation. Still, the upcoming eight-day Golden Week holiday will be another test of whether Beijing’s recent efforts to bolster the economy are starting to bear fruit.

More than 21 million people are expected to fly during the holiday, starting from this Friday, sending airfares climbing. Domestic tourism spots — and short-haul Asian destinations such as Thailand, Japan and South Korea — are among the top choices.

And it’s not just travel: the middle class’s worries about the economy may also be reflected in their luxury expenditures. Of the “casual luxury shoppers” polled by Oliver Wyman — those who spent less than 40,000 yuan this year — 16% expected to increase their luxury spending, while some 30% considered cutting back.

Big spenders — people who spent more than 40,000 yuan — remained more resilient and positive, the survey showed.

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