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Sophisticated Mainland Holidaymakers Opt for Bespoke, Luxury Breaks

This year's Guangzhou International Travel Fair (GITF) saw many exhibitors providing high-quality, personalised travel experiences, while others focused on delivering more interest-specific options in the fast-growing tourism+ sector.

Photo: Legendary holidays on offer at the event’s Trojan Horse stand.
Legendary holidays on offer at the event's Trojan Horse stand.
Photo: Legendary holidays on offer at the event’s Trojan Horse stand.
Legendary holidays on offer at the event's Trojan Horse stand.

Luxury, bespoke packages were the order of the day at the 2018 Guangzhou International Travel Fair (GITF), one of the major events of the year for the mainland's burgeoning travel trade. Among the other trends apparent at the show was the continuing move away from tour-group travel, with many would-be tourists now seeking individual bookings and customised itineraries.

Alongside this, many holidaymakers are now in search of a more indulgent, leisure-centric break, rather than the persistent whirlwind of tightly scheduled sightseeing that was once the norm. Add into that the rise of the "tourism+" model – the growing trend for vacations that combine tourism with other objectives (typically healthcare / wellness) – and it is clear that China's tourists are becoming more sophisticated and more demanding.

At the same time, it was apparent that the sector has never been healthier. According to the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), domestic tourists took five billion trips within the mainland in 2017, a year-on-year increase of 12.8%. In terms of overseas trips in the same period, there were 270 million such excursions, an overall year-on-year rise of 3.7%. In total, the mainland tourism sector turned over RMB5.4 trillion (US$885 billion) in 2017, representing an overall gain of 15.1%.

Luxury Tours

Overall, many exhibitors at this year's event were focusing on the more bespoke and luxury end of the market. Over on the Guangdong Great Scenery International Travel Service stand, for instance, all of its promotional literature was emblazoned with a number of reassuring messages: "Quality Tours", "No Self-pay Activities" and "No Compulsory Shopping".

This year, the company was primarily promoting its range of Sri Lankan tours. Among the options on offer were children-friendly family holidays and a selection of special interest vacations, including yoga, golf, study, photography, architecture and Buddhist pilgrimage packages.

Photo: A promotional performance at the Taiwan Pavilion.
A promotional performance at the Taiwan Pavilion.
Photo: A promotional performance at the Taiwan Pavilion.
A promotional performance at the Taiwan Pavilion.
Photo: Scores of tours on offer at the show.
Scores of tours on offer at the show.
Photo: Scores of tours on offer at the show.
Scores of tours on offer at the show.

According to Liu Jian, the Manager of the company's Sri Lanka tours, tourist expectations have changed considerably over recent years. While it was once standard practice for itineraries to cover several visits to general tourist spots every day, holidaymakers now want to specify stop-offs at particular locations or prefer to take a more themed approach to devising their vacation schedule.

In light of this, the company now offers a wider variety of packages, including a culturally-themed tour of Sri Lanka. During one such nine-day trip, arranged over the recent Spring Festival period, the participants were taken on a tour of historical Sri Lankan sites, including visits to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the 2,000-year-old murals and stone statues in the Dambulla Cave Temple and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, the country's ancient capital.

At present, the company offers 10 differently-themed Sri Lankan holiday experiences, including a beach tour, a cultural tour, a coastal leisure tour and an historic leisure tour. On top of that, Liu said many tourists now made individual specifications with regard to itinerary, meals and accommodation. Currently, 40% of the company's clients specify high-end tour options, a percentage seen as inevitably set to rise.

Leisure Tourism

Unlike traditional sightseeing tours, where a tightly specified itinerary forms part of the package, leisure breaks, as the name suggests, involve a far more relaxing holiday experience. At present, demand for leisure holidays is seen as on the up across the mainland, a phenomenon partly being driven by the wider availability of self-drive holiday packages and the expanded high-speed train network.

Among the many companies active in the leisure-break sector is the Kunming-based Xinglin Daguanyuan hospitality group. According to Zhu Yun, the company's Sales Manager, many such tourists have travelled by high-speed train to Kunming to visit Xinglin Grand View Garden, a Chinese medicine-themed park developed by the company. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the nearby Black Stone Valley, take a dip in the Shihai hot spring, walk around Guoyao Expo Park, sample gourmet food prepared with Chinese medicinal herbs and stay in well-appointed wooden villas, all while enjoying the picturesque scenery of Cherry Blossom Valley.

Photo: China’s many keen vacationers ensured the show was extremely well-supported.
China's many keen vacationers ensured the show was extremely well-supported.
Photo: China’s many keen vacationers ensured the show was extremely well-supported.
China's many keen vacationers ensured the show was extremely well-supported.

At the fair, the company had on offer three leisure-break packages – a three-day experiential tour, a five-day fitness tour and a seven-day healthcare tour. On the agenda for those opting for the healthcare tour was a stay at Zizhuyuan Hotel, a visit to the local outdoor hot springs, a chance to explore Black Stone Valley, enrolment in a number of Buddhist and Zen mediations courses at the Xinglin Zen Monastery and the chance to dine on a range of organic foodstuffs.

With regard to overseas leisure breaks, Liu said an increasing number of tourists now wanted to visit Sri Lanka solely for an opportunity to relax away from work and family obligations. In addition, he has also seen a surge in the number of bookings for golf, wildlife photography and fitness holidays.

In the latter instance, many such travellers are drawn to Sri Lanka by their interest in Ayurveda, a traditional, natural local healthcare regime practiced since ancient times. As part of their holiday experience, such tourists get the opportunity to enjoy a range of massage treatments, all conducted with the use of medicinal herbs and essential oils. These are combined with a number of yoga sessions, with the overall programme designed to boost relaxation and reduce fatigue.

Tourism+

With regard to the increasingly popular tourism+ model, many exhibitors were offering activity programmes that could be paired with sightseeing or leisure breaks. Xinglin Daguanyuan, for instance, offered a combined Chinese medicine, traditional healthcare and eco-agriculture experience.

As part of the Xinglin Grand View Garden complex, there is an animal husbandry centre, where deer, donkeys and Bama miniature pigs are all reared, as well as a number of animals being bred for medicinal testing periods, including rabbits, chickens and pigeons. There is also an on-site organic farm that employs a range of eco-friendly techniques as part of its green agriculture programme, which ultimately supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to visitors throughout the year.

In addition, the complex also features a number of recuperation and elderly care apartments, with plans in place to open a rehabilitatory hospital and a fully-staffed clinic. A number of additional facilities, including a recreation / entertainment centre, a dispensary, a theatre and a five-star hotel, are to be added in due course.

Photo: Guangdong’s wedding getaway corner.
Guangdong's wedding getaway corner.
Photo: Guangdong’s wedding getaway corner.
Guangdong's wedding getaway corner.
Photo: The Guangzhou Pavilion.
The Guangzhou Pavilion.
Photo: The Guangzhou Pavilion.
The Guangzhou Pavilion.

Also adapting to the tourism+ model is the Wanlugu leisure resort in Heyuan, a city in north-eastern Guangdong. According to its representatives at the fair, as well as preserving its heritage as a traditional fishing village, the resort also showcases many examples of the local Hakka culture, as well as operating a range of catering, entertainment, tourism and business facilities. Visitors to the resort can also go rafting or boating, enjoy a range of organic foods and stay in the site's selection of romantic villas.

A further example of the opportunities opened up by the growth the tourism+ sector was the Yucheng hot spring tourist resort. Based in the southern Hunan city of Chenzhou, the resort is currently undergoing a three-phase development programme. Phase One will involve the construction of a hot spring square, a tourism service centre, a hot spring scenic area and a hot spring hotel. Phase Two will then see the addition of a water park and a commercial street, while Phase Three will be given over to the construction of retirement apartments and healthcare facilities.

For its part, Suzhou-based Luzhi was offering three different tour packages focused around Luzhi, the historic town from which it derives its name. This sees would-be tourists given the option of a water village tour, an ancient town cultural tour or an eco-leisure tour. Those that choose the latter option get the chance to visit the Shuibaxian Museum (Eight Immortals in Water Museum) and the 10,000 mu Shuibaxian tourism complex, where visitors can enjoy the natural scenery of a classic fishing village and its surrounding rice paddies.

The China Travel Service Gongbei Port Guangdong, meanwhile, used the event as a launch pad for a number of premium overseas tourism+ experiences. These included Southeast Asian tours that coincided with the Songkran Festival, trips to Japan during the cherry-blossom season, mini-breaks to several Malaysian theme parks and a Thai marine adventure.

Photo: SAR turn: Hong Kong holidays on offer at the 2018 show.
SAR turn: Hong Kong holidays on offer at the 2018 show.
Photo: SAR turn: Hong Kong holidays on offer at the 2018 show.
SAR turn: Hong Kong holidays on offer at the 2018 show.

The Guangzhou International Travel Fair (GITF) 2018 took place from 1-3 March at the China Import and Export Fair's Pazhou Complex in Guangzhou. The event featured 1,029 exhibitors from 53 countries and regions and attracted 37,334 visitors, a 19.5% rise over the previous event.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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