Post-lockdown, China craves ‘revenge tourism’

As China seeks to reopen after prolonged COVID shutdowns, “revenge travel” has become popular internet slang for the pent-up demand for experiences outdoors, in nature. The country experienced its first such episode during May Day, with more than 230 million traveling domestically during five-day vacations, representing a 119.7% year-over-year increase.

Excitement was further fueled by the relaxation of COVID rules in June, freeing previously locked-down residents in major cities like Shanghai. To allow more mobility for national tourists, star symbol (indicating that its holder is used to visiting medium and high risk areas) has been removed. Following this change, one of China’s leading online travel agencies, Qunar, registered a 60% increase in flight searches within the first 30 minutes of the announcement while hotel bookings on others doubled. But alongside this need to make up for lost time, there is also a shift in the demographics of travelers to various destinations.

While the group of first-tier cities used to be the destination of choice (not only for local but also international tourists), this position seems to have been stolen by its lower-tier counterparts. Chongqing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chengdu and its surrounding cities in the southwestern province are among the main challengers, according to daily trip. This is partly due to the national post-lockdown sensation”glamping», where Generation Z, in its desire to reconnect with nature, represents 60 % of total nature enthusiasts in the country, as revealed by the 2022 report on new trends in travel consumption.

There has been pressure from government and industry to accelerate change. Following the inauguration of the National Administration for Rural Revitalization last Februarythe authority has put in place several development policies town tourism, which led to a 55.5% increase in rural tourism attendance year-on-year – bringing the total to 860 million in 2021.

Meanwhile, Ctrip, like many other travel companies in China, has been trying to attract more people based in first- and second-tier cities to the countryside while keeping residents of those cities traveling locally in line with his lower level market strategy. To attract more city dwellers, the platform has introduced high-end resort hotels. These aim to ‘bridge the gap’ between the growing number of tourists and the provision of satisfactory supporting facilities needed to encourage travelers to stay at emerging attractions.

Such a shift in the tourism market also has implications for the luxury industry, prompting them to rethink their retail and content creation strategies in the Chinese market. “As China’s borders remain closed to international travel, providing more opportunities for domestic retail has never been more critical or timely,” said Benjamin Vuchot, Chairman and CEO of DFS Group. The shift from “city getaways” to “nature getaways” indicates that a shift in strategy from global to local is necessary for luxury players who want to ride the wave of revenge tourism.

The societal changes of China’s rural travelers laid the foundation for this transition. However, a challenge within the industry is how sale to this lucrative group of consumers who may not yet be consuming luxury goods. Companies could consider mixing their traditional approach to advertising on the continent – ​​where glossy ads and image-driven campaigns are common practice – with down-to-earth narratives curated through the engagement with Nature-oriented KOLs as well as more experiential outdoor activities. These practices are tied to people’s desire for a healthier lifestyle, which helps labels associate customer activities with their own images and products, allowing them to resonate with the general public.

The expansion of the country’s travel agencies could also be a springboard for luxury companies in this new territory. The enhanced facilities provided by the former enhance the overall visitor experience and encourage visitors to stay longer in the destination; this will provide opportunities for other market players to offer activities that engage them, thereby creating a potential target audience for luxury. By bringing their presence to the doors of the premises, it would also accelerate the penetration of brands on The Lower Tier Chinese Market: a new battleground for luxury players, one that shows a growing appetite for extravagant purchases.

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