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China unleashed: Outbound travel from China surges by close to 400%

Sabre
Images by Sabre

The tourism world was significantly impacted by the slowdown in travel from China during the pandemic. However, according to Sabre’s booking insights, Chinese tourists are back with a vengeance on the global tourism stage, with a 392% surge in outbound travel booked from mainland China for 2024, compared to the previous year. 

When you consider that, pre-pandemic, travellers from China made 155 million international trips, collectively spending to the tune of $245 billion, it’s little wonder that the world has been waiting for China to re-enter the global tourism market in a significant way.

However, with China slower to ease travel restrictions in comparison to other countries, even after the re-opening of borders, it hasn’t been a quick comeback. The major rebound of outbound Chinese travel that some expected in 2023 didn’t occur. That picture is rapidly changing in 2024, and what is clear from Sabre’s analysis of industry data (which looks at travel booked from mainland China as of March 31, 2024) is there is a huge appetite among Chinese travelers for global travel.

While outbound travel hasn’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, bookings for travel to key parts of the world during typical peak travel dates are seeing particularly strong demand. Bookings made at the end of January before the 2024 Chinese New Year break for travel from mainland China to countries in the Asia Pacific region, for example, were at 106% of 2019 levels.

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Our key findings include:

 

  • Travel originating from mainland China has increased by a whopping 392% overall globally for 2024, with some destinations seeing surges of more than 2,000%;
  • Chinese travelers are taking advantage of reciprocal visa-free agreements with countries around the world, but they aren’t limiting where they travel;
  • Airfare prices are down, making travel more affordable for Chinese travelers;   Fastest growing routes globally for Chinese travelers in 2024 include Macao, Australia, Japan, Russia, and Bangladesh.
  • Chinese travelers are once again embracing Business Class travel, and demand for Premium Economy travel is increasing;
  • Outbound airline capacity is up by more than 3000% on some routes as airlines look to meet demand.

 

OUTBOUND TRAVEL IS BACK WITH A VENGEANCE

Sabre’s industry booking data analysis shows that the amount of travel originating in mainland China, either already travelled or booked to travel during 2024 (up to 31 March 2024) has increased significantly compared to travel booked at the same point by 2023, soaring by 392% overall.

Source: Sabre Market Intelligence MIDT

Outbound travel to all global regions has markedly increased across the year, according to Sabre’s analysis, which looks at travel booked as of March 31 2024. Notably, Chinese travelers are booking in advance for the whole year, showing strong confidence in the travel landscape. Bookings for November and December are significantly up across regions, recording more than 1000% year-on-year for all regions, and notably, more than 2000% for those months for travel to Europe and the Middle East.

For travel to other countries in Asia Pacific (APAC) from China, travelers are planning their trips well in advance, with booking numbers showing large increases, when compared to 2023, for the whole year. October, when the Golden Week holiday period will fall, is recording the largest year-on-year increase in bookings at 1347%.

Outbound travel from China to the Europe and Middle East region (EMEA) peaked in the first quarter of the year, in January with a 676% increase. Again, there are increases throughout the whole year, with a significant year-on-year boost in December.

For the Americas, travel to North America in the first quarter recorded the second highest year-on-year growth, after APAC, at 336%, and travel to Latin America is also increasing throughout the year, with the most significant booking increases for the final quarter of 2024.

Booking volumes will evolve as the year goes on.

 

NEW FAVORITES AND OLD FAVORITES RE-VISITED

Chinese travellers are renowned for being high spenders when they travel, spending an average of $1,000 a day during their trips. During the nine years up to 2023, disposable income per capita roughly doubled in China, potentially meaning more money to spend on travel. Considering Chinese travelers’ huge collective spending power, several countries around the world have launched initiatives in a bid to be their destination of choice.

Many countries globally have a strategy to attract these high-spending tourists. For example, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania have launched marketing strategies to attract more Chinese travellers, as have Thailand,Indonesia, France and Saudi Arabia

So, who is winning Chinese travelers over?

While Chinese outbound travel is significantly increasing overall, there have been destination changes in terms of the most popular routes, when comparing 2023 to 2024, and then looking at the percentage increase in travel booked to each destination. (See table below).

Tags: 400%, China, outbound travel

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Sabre Corporation is a leading software and technology company that powers the global travel industry.

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