Chinese Outbound Travel Boomed in 2015


In 2015, the largest destination countries for Chinese tourists attracted almost a third more visits from China than the year before, with Europe and Thailand each adding three million more Chinese visits than in 2014, according to researcher Capital Economics. And despite China’s current economic worries, this year appears to be starting even faster.

One of the busiest travel seasons occurs when the country shuts down for more than a week for Chinese New Year, as it did earlier this month. And early data suggest that this year’s total visits could be stronger than those of 2015. Los Angeles’ tourism bureau, which is hoping to build on the 780,000 visits and $1.1 billion in spending it got from Chinese visitors last year, reported a 40% increase in air bookings from Chinese visitors during the 2016 Chinese New Year travel period.

This rise may be the result of a backup in demand. HSBC retail analysts led by Erwan Rambourg recently reported that, despite strong headline numbers, Chinese outbound travel in 2015 was hampered by several traveler fears, including the MERS virus in southeast Asia, an overhang of fear caused by the crash of the still-undiscovered Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (which was carrying mostly Chinese passengers), as well as a strong U.S.dollar.

When it comes to traveler volumes, the perception of travel safety will continue to be a bigger influence than China’s economic struggles, analysts say, basing their prediction on the continued strength of Chinese consumer spending. Spending during this year’s Spring Festival increased by 11%, a faster rise than in 2015.

It’s Europe that attracts the most Chinese. This may be due to the two regions’ shared sense of millennia of history, the reasonably short flight times…or because of Europe’s brands. Chinese travelers account for 35% of global luxury spending, according to HSBC.

Chinese tourists in Europe tend to flock to places like Bicester Village, an hour outside London, which Fortunewrote about in December.

Nearly 10,000 busloads of Chinese tourists have descended on Bicester Village in 2015 alone. The numbers seem certain to grow as a new rail link from London to Bicester Village—the first to connect the capital with another English city in more than 100 years—opened in October.

The latest figures suggest that, despite negative headlines about China’s economy, there will be many more busloads of Chinese shoppers across the globe.

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