Marketing Brand Strategy State of the Nation

State of the Nation: Meet the new wave of China's post-pandemic travellers

By Michael Lin | senior business director

March 9, 2023 | 6 min read

As summer approaches and China’s consumers get ready to release their pent-up travel demand, there is a whole new post-pandemic consumer to prepare for, writes Michael Lin, senior business director at Mailman in this latest State of the Nation.

Empty motorway in Shanghai

/ Image by BC Y from Pixabay

Quarantine and closed borders are, touch wood, a thing of the past and Chinese consumers are looking for new and exciting ways to reinvigorate their lives after three years of struggle. During the recent Chinese New Year holiday, 308m domestic trips were made during the first six days, up 23.1% from the previous year. Consumer confidence is building.

The pent-up demand for travel will only continue to increase as more airlines restart international routes in and out of the country. The lifting of restrictions will provide fresh challenges as well as new opportunities to reach a different-looking Chinese consumer base.

Michael Lin, Senior Business Director at Mailman

Demand for Global Tourism

Chinese consumers have been stockpiling cash over the last three years, with the average Chinese household saving deposits double the amount compared to pre-pandemic years, reaching close to RMB 2.4Bn ($350m). This is where the term ‘revenge spending’ will continue to gather steam as we head into summer, and we expect to see luxury destinations and brands driving strategies to reach these consumers.

When we look back at the pre-pandemic years, we saw middle-income families trending upwards, and now with years of being locked down in China, many families and younger generation consumers are beginning to experience domestic travel fatigue. Travellers with trips previously booked have waited years to complete their dream destination vacations. We’re seeing close-vicinity destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia as the early winners.

Chinese consumers will still be concerned about health and safety, even when travelling abroad, but one thing is for certain, after tedious and relenting PCR tests, a simple required pre-travel PCR test to certain destinations should not deter Chinese from travelling where they please. Chinese travellers will be looking for new experiences across the globe this year.

The Changing Chinese Consumer

Being unable to travel abroad, the stress of lockdowns, and a constant change in travel policies have altered what a post-pandemic consumer and traveller looks like. A few key shifts in consumer trends began to take shape as many settled for what looked like an endless zero-Covid policy. China’s swift opening up brought along a different consumer facing the open world. Here are a few common archetypes emerging:

The Explorers. Consciously driven by a healthier lifestyle, these consumers yearn for the great outdoors both in urban areas and parks. Due to years of Covid, many consumers have found solace in activities such as camping, skateboarding, and frisbee, with these types of activities gaining popularity exponentially over the past three years. The appreciation to be outside cannot be more understated.

The Workers. Staying at home, away from public spaces in 2022, became the norm with entire cities spending 30-50% of their time working from home - this was the reality for most of the country. Consumers here started to value home comforts, with smart tech and home appliances increasing in sales 4x during the pandemic. At the same time, it was no coincidence that channels like Douyin (internationally known as TikTok) or live-streaming, in general, began an upward trajectory as more people sought entertainment avenues that were otherwise unavailable.

The Cool Kids. Domestic-only travel produced consumers seeking more authenticity. Whether that was at a community level, with consumption habits evolving from a traditional Starbucks to supporting local coffee shops, or increased visitation to surrounding metropolitan areas seeking traditional culture - many younger generations began weaving the modern internet into cultural elements. There is a reason why Shanghai now holds the most coffee shops in the world at 6,913 and counting.

The Dreamers. Consumers who have been bookmarking and saving money for international travel. Most of these consumers were in the top 5% when it came to travel pre-pandemic. Differentiating cultures and unique experiences still hold true for them. They have been waiting for the moment travel opens and the pent-up demand will add to many consumers experiencing domestic fatigue, even 12-24 months ago. Remember only 8% of Chinese people hold passports in China.

Ask any consumer in China that lived through the last three years, and most are eager to go abroad again. It’s simple, the demand remains. Recognising how they have changed and recalibrating brand stories to reach “new” audiences will be a core step to penetrate this boom in upcoming travel over the next 12 months.

Michael Lin is senior business director at Mailman, an Endeavor company.

Marketing Brand Strategy State of the Nation

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