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“People have started travelling again, but only domestically at this moment.”

As international travel would not be resumed anytime soon, Chinese tourists turn to domestic travel.

With increasing customers’concerns over safety, privacy and personalization, customized tours are undergoing rapid growth. Recently Ctrip conducted a research involving more than one thousand customized travel companies in China. And the results show that the number of customized tour bookings has doubled after trans-provincial travel resumed. In particular, the demand for high-end customized tours saw a year-on-year increase of 100% with average spending exceeds RMB 6,000 per person.

Source: Ctrip

Translated by: TLM

Yet, in spite of the promising growths, does it mean that the crisis faced by the industry has been completely defused? Will customized tours undergo explosive growth after devastated by pandemic? Travel Link Daily tries to unveil the truth by interviewing some insiders in key customized travel companies in China. 

No Dramatic Increase in Bookings, But Optimistic about the Second Half of 2020 

Almost all interviewed business operators stated that they saw no dramatic growth in bookings of customized tour products. At least, not comparable to what being reported.

Ms. Chen Yao, Deputy General Manager of Sparkle Tour, said that the booking of customized tours is indeed gradually recovering, but the total volume remains incomparable to that when outbound travels were available. The whole company is back to work now and sparing no effort on preparing for the Golden Week. 

And the head of Public Relations of Wild China believed that due to the uncertainties around COVID-19 and possible policy changes, most consumers are still hesitating to travel. But Wild China feels optimistic about the market in the second half of the year. “FIT and Corporate sectors are the first saw recovery. We have been receiving inquiries from FIT clients and corporate clients since April. Since July to August, the sales turnover of our Corporate Service Department has surpassed that in same period of last year. Our Inbound Travel Department, which was hit the hardest, has shifted focus to serve foreign clients who are living in China now. We offer customized tour services in English language to facilitate their in-depth travels across China.”

Ms. Lu Xiaofei, Chief Marketing Officer of Navi Travel, shared that the bookings of their customized tours were steadily picking up and the business had recovered by 20%. But she saw no surge coming. Navi Travel plans to focus on domestic customized tours as the next step, to seek new opportunities.

Ms. Xiaomei (pseudonym), the only interviewee who saw rapid growth in customized tour bookings, stated that as their company has been focusing on boutique customized tours across China, their business recovered quickly after pandemic. “Most bookings of long-haul tours were made for around the National Day holiday. All products sold out immediately after launched. ”

Challenges in Resources and Services after Turned to Domestic Business 

Turning to domestic travel business is nothing easy. Most original outbound tour operators we interviewed stated that more efforts would be needed to get business transformed from overseas to domestic.

Ms. Wei Jing, a senior operator who has been in the industry for more than 10 years, stressed that the price volatility of domestic air ticket and hotel accommodation is a setback for customized product development. They are familiar with the seasonal price changes in outbound travels. But currently the pricing of domestic air ticket and hotel accommodation is quite uncertain due to hotel pre-sale promotions and all kinds of flight package promotions by airlines. In addition, Ms. Wei also felt that the services of domestic travel market, such as DMC and tour guiding services, still need to be improved.

Windy, founder of Up Travel, also said that it’s more difficult for customized travel agencies to develop domestic tour products than overseas ones. Resource is the key to success in domestic market. Only exclusive and niche resources could help attract more customers.

According to Ms. Chen Yao, Deputy General Manager of Sparkle Tour, Chinese consumers are relatively familiar with the domestic tourism resources. Therefore, customized tour agencies can no longer focus on air ticket and hotel booking services, but need to think about how to value added their travel products now. Some thematic products featuring with unique experience are welcomed by high-end customers, such as luxury prairie glamping experience and eco-camp at the panda sanctuary in Shaanxi Qingling launched by Sparkle Tour. These products sold well because they satisfied the spiritual needs of customers.

Cultivation of Talents and Increase of Promotions will be the Next Steps

The surge of demands has brought great opportunity for the customized travel market. But from the industry insiders’ perspective, how will this industry further develop in the future?

Wild China believes that cultivation of talents is the key for development of domestic customized tour. “China’s tourism industry is developing too fast whilst the quality of tour escorts are not quite following yet. We want to train more Chinese tour escorts who could provide excellent services, especially more English-speaking tour guides. For us, tour escort is playing the most important role in delivering outstanding user experience for our clients,’ said the head of PR of Wild China.

Both Ms. Chen Yao and Ms. Lu Xiaofei believe that they should make use of existing social platforms to enhance brand marketing and digital presence. Besides of integrating their user communities, customized travel companies are also actively developing content on platforms like Douyin and RED to increase brand awareness. They believe that with current travel restrictions in place for outbound travel, it’s more effective to promote domestic travel on those platforms.

From the above insights and ideas from industry insiders, we could see that although the customized travel market in China is thriving after the pandemic, it still has a long way to go. How to make sustainable profits from the growing demand remains a key question that needs the customized travel companies and operators to think through carefully.

Source: Travel Link Daily