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Holistic Approaches and Bespoke Holidays Dominate China Travel Show

With many mainland regions keen to take a more holistic approach, this year's Guangzhou International Travel Fair saw several innovative new tours on offer, with far greater options for creating a tailored package than ever before.

Photo: Eager would-be tourists queue at the Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017.
Eager would-be tourists queue at the Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017.
Photo: Eager would-be tourists queue at the Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017.
Eager would-be tourists queue at the Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017.

Taking a more holistic approach to tourism headed the agenda at this year's Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017, with a number of tour operators seeing a rise in packages that embraced every aspect of the destination region or country, including many of the lesser-known attractions. Similarly reflecting this desire for more individual and authentic travel experiences, many outbound mainland tourists are now opting for more in-depth and bespoke trips abroad.

Holistic Tourism

Among the many exhibitors keen to promote the holistic approach to travel was the Guangxi Rural Tourism Industry Association, as well as a number of industry delegates from the Inner Mongolian city of Ordos. In a sign that collaborative development is now seen as the way forward for the mainland tourism sector, four regional city clusters were also represented at the event – Guilin-Hezhou-Guangzhou-Zhaoqing-Qingyuan, Guangzhou-Qingyuan-Shaoguan, Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Zhuhai, and Guangzhou-Foshan-Zhaoqing. In particular, these clusters were keen to focus on the benefits likely to accrue from the high-speed rail links between many of the cities.

Photo: Winner Mongolia: The Ordos stand.
Winner Mongolia: The Ordos stand.
Photo: Winner Mongolia: The Ordos stand.
Winner Mongolia: The Ordos stand.

For its part, the Guangxi Rural Tourism Industry Association chose the event to launch a special promotion aimed at tempting tourists to visit the province's indigenous Zhuang tribe. According to Wu Yaowei, the Association's President, Guangxi had embraced the concept of niche regional travel long before the mainland government had officially backed such initiatives.

In 2015, the Guangxi local government identified a number of niche travel-destination counties and cities within the region. It subsequently encouraged these designated areas to work together to maximize their potential benefits from the tourism sector. In order to deliver on this, the local government provided some RMB10 million of investment to these target destinations.

As part of this programme, a number of Guangxi's most well-known tourist destinations formed the core of the region's activity. Staff at each of these destinations were then briefed to promote the wider region, encouraging tourists to visit lesser-known spots. This policy boosted the economic well-being of the whole region, helping to alleviate poverty in a number of the less-developed areas.

Photo: The Lingnan niche tour exhibition zone.
The Lingnan niche tour exhibition zone.
Photo: The Lingnan niche tour exhibition zone.
The Lingnan niche tour exhibition zone.

To date, the region has successfully launched four premium tourism projects – green leisure tours, longevity and wellness cultural tours, Zhuang cultural tours and China-Vietnam border adventure tours.

Embracing a number of grade AAAA scenic spots in the cities of Chongzuo, Baise and Nanning in Guangxi, the 400km-long China-Vietnam border adventure tour offers a blend of border scenery, ethnic group cultural experiences, exotic cuisine, traditional tourist destinations and the highlights of a number of local counties and cities.

A three-day tour, it begins in Nanning and takes in Pingxiang city, Longzhou county and Daxin county to the southwest. Once they have reached Pingxiang, tour groups have the opportunity to explore the Banxiao Village ecological tourist site before proceeding on to enjoy the scenic views offered by Huashan.

On the second day, the tour moves to Longzhou county, with ample time allowed to visit the Detian Waterfall and the Mingshi rurality. The next day it's off to Anping Village in Daxin county, with the tour concluding with a river cruise back to Nanning, taking in scenic mountain views along the way.

Throughout the three-day trip, tour group members have the chance to sample a number of regional specialties, including attending a Zhuang imperial feast at Mingshi rurality, complete with Mingshi pearl duck, charcoal-roasted pig and Vietnamese bean curd. They also have the opportunity to participate in the Huashan cultural festival and the chance to buy a number of native border products, including Kuding tea leaves and Vietnamese perfume and rubber slippers.

Of late, Guangxi's health and wellness tours have proved to be particularly popular. There are now 25 counties in the region that have been officially endorsed for their health-giving benefits, accounting for a third of all such counties in the whole country.

With the lead being taken by Bama county and with support from Nanning city, Rongshui county and Yizhou city, the region is now actively promoting its health and wellness tours across the mainland. Representatives from the region are also active in northern China, where they promote the benefits of winter retreats to Guangxi for the elderly. As well as helping to boost visitor numbers, this has also benefitted the region's real-estate sector.

Assessing the success of the region's various initiatives, Du Ying, Secretary-General of the Guangxi Rural Tourism Industry Association, said: "Visitors to Guangxi will enjoy a rich and unique tourism experience across the region. While this clearly benefits them, it is also good for the local economy."

Bespoke Tours

According to industry statistics, some 6.15 million Chinese nationals chose to holiday abroad during this year's Spring Festival, a 7% rise over last year. In line with this growing penchant for overseas travel, 66% of the exhibitors at this year's event came from outside China.

As its name suggests, the China Britain Travel Group (CBTG) has a primary focus on travel – in both directions – between China and the UK. According to Xu Weixing, the company's Deputy General Manager, many of the UK tours offered by other mainland agencies follow fixed itineraries, with relatively few opportunities for individual exploration. The CBTG, though, prides itself on offering something a little different.

Photo: China Britain Travel Group’s pavilion.
China Britain Travel Group's pavilion.
Photo: China Britain Travel Group’s pavilion.
China Britain Travel Group's pavilion.
Photo: Tourism products on display.
Tourism products on display.
Photo: Tourism products on display.
Tourism products on display.

Primarily, it offers custom-made tours. This allows groups going on tours together – whether with other family members, friends or business associates – to have itineraries drawn up for them, based on their preferences and proposed length of stay.

When such groups arrive in the UK, they can opt to be hosted by local travel staff throughout the whole of their stay, part of their stay or solely for arrival and departure. The whole focus of the itinerary is essentially on providing the maximum amount of consumer choice.

According to Xu, an increasing number of mainland outbound tourists now want to plan their own itinerary. This, he believes, is partly down to dissatisfaction with the inadequate tour schedules offered to many mainlanders looking to visit the UK and other European countries. This has led would-be travellers to seek out a more satisfying experience, largely by creating their own itineraries, a development Xu sees as sure to continue.

This was a view shared by Dai Hongjiang, a Senior Manager in Samjak International Travel's Beijing office. Manning the Oslo-headquartered company's booth at the travel fair, Dai said many first-time outbound travellers tended to choose a fairly superficial multi-country tour. He said those with more experience, however, now liked to be more in charge of their itineraries.

For its part, Samjak focuses on tours of Northern Europe, with many of its clients keen to enjoy the unique landscapes and cultural highlights of Scandinavia.

Niche Travel

As well as bespoke itineraries, niche tours were also being widely promoted at this year's event. Overall, four particular markets were seen as being particularly lucrative – ice and snow tours; study tours; movie and TV drama tours; and air tours.

Ice and Snow Tours

According to Dai, ice and snow tours tend to be particularly popular with consumers living south of Beijing. From his company's own experience, Iceland has emerged as one of the leading destinations in this sector, and it is now proving difficult to secure holiday accommodation in the country during the peak months of June and July.

In addition to Northern Europe, Dai says an increasing number of mainland tourists are now keen to visit more extreme destinations, notably the North and South Poles. He believes this is down to a desire to see the local wildlife – particularly polar bears – in its natural habitat, while also having a chance to experience the polar landscape first hand.

Study Tours

According to CBTG's Xu, the number of mainland students aged 12-18 going on study tours has shot up in recent years. One tour launched by his company – The Manchester City Football Club Youth Footballer Training Programme – has proved particularly popular over the summer and winter holidays. This particular tour offers a combination of UK sightseeing and training sessions with a professional football club.

Photo: A Guangzhou tour bus.
A Guangzhou tour bus.
Photo: A Guangzhou tour bus.
A Guangzhou tour bus.
Photo: Taiwanese tourism promotion.
Taiwanese tourism promotion.
Photo: Taiwanese tourism promotion.
Taiwanese tourism promotion.

Movie and TV Drama Tours

The locations featured in both foreign and mainland TV shows and movies are now a major draw for some tourists. In line with this, at this year's travel fair, the Guangxi Rural Tourism Industry Association launched a tour of the Mingshi rurality, the setting for a number of mainland costume dramas. In a similar vein, CBTG offers a Harry Potter tour, taking in many of the locations featured in the popular books and movies.

Air Tours

This year, Royal Brunei Airlines launched a Brunei from the Air tour at the expo. This gives participants a bird's eye view of Brunei before landing and sampling the local cuisine, all while getting a closer look at the country's natural wonders.

Apart from these four niche excursions, a number of other exhibitors also debuted new travel opportunities during the event. These included visa-waiver tours of Japan by Costa Cruises; Wanfu Caotang bed-and-breakfast tours by the Suzhou Tourism Bureau; cherry blossom tours by the Wuhan Tourism Bureau, and Guangzhou old city tours by the Guangzhou Tourism Bureau.

The Guangzhou International Travel Fair 2017 took place from 23-25 February at the China Import & Export Fair Pazhou Complex in Guangzhou. Occupying an exhibition area of 28,600 square metres, the event attracted 980 exhibitors from 51 countries and regions. A total of 142,300 trade visitors and tourists also attended the fair, a year-on-year increase of 15.2%.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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