Chinese tourist shopping myths debunked

Myths about the behaviour and spending patterns of Chinese tourists abroad have been debunked by a new report.

A study by Oliver Wyman seeks to dispel common misconceptions about outbound Chinese travelers, illustrating how global destinations can sharpen their appeal to meet their changing needs and expectations.

“The Changing Face of the Chinese Traveller” may help global travel destinations, such as Hong Kong, sharpen their appeal to meet travellers’ changing expectations, explains Hunter Williams, Oliver Wyman partner and author of the report.

Myths discussed include “They go abroad only to shop,” “They spend indiscriminately,” “They are always in groups”, “Independent travelers are quickly replacing groups,” and “Chinese travelers are more trouble than they are worth.”

Myth 1: “They go abroad only to shop”.

Not true. While nearly 100 per cent of travellers shopped during their trip, fewer than 15 per cent of Chinese travellers surveyed cited shopping as the main reason for their trip, in contrast to 63 per cent who specified sightseeing as their top motivation. This impacts the ways in which destinations around the world appeal to this audience.

“In Hong Kong, where slowing growth in Chinese travellers and their spending has seen retail sales fall 12.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, the city will need to become less dependent on shopping by Mainland Chinese visitors and encourage spending on other activities,” said Williams. “Indeed the study reveals that Korea, now the most popular destination for Chinese travellers, is now the destination where shopping is the primary motivation for travel.

Myth 2: “They spend indiscriminately”.

Not entirely true. Relatively speaking, Chinese travellers do spend large sums while abroad. On average, they spend around US$3000 per person, roughly the equivalent of a month’s household income. It is also true that they spend a lot on shopping – approximately US$1200 – which may have helped to fuel the misconception that they spend indiscriminately. However, only around half of the spending is on themselves. More than 32 per cent is to purchase gifts for others, and 19 per cent is for resale back home.

“Chinese travellers have sophisticated needs, so retailers need a segmented approach that emphasises unique value – it’s no longer enough to offer a blanket approach.”

Myths 3 & 4: “They are always in groups” or “Independent travelers are quickly replacing groups”.

Not true. Both the number of tour-group travellers and the number of independent travellers are on the rise, showing both individuals and groups will continue to be important traveller segments for some time to come. Independent travellers are not replacing group travellers, but are complementing them.

“For example, Hong Kong and Macau rank close to the top for the percentage of independent trips, while Taiwan ranks close to the bottom,” says Williams. “At the same time, over the past few years group travellers have actually accounted for a larger share of all travellers dispelling the misconception that groups are gradually being replaced by individual travel.

“However, The Chinese travellers surveyed considered tour operators to be the single least useful source of information, showing tour operator relationships are no longer enough.”

Myth 5: “Chinese travelers are more trouble than they are worth”.

Not true. As a result of cultural misunderstandings, Chinese tourists can often be misjudged. For example, there is no tipping culture in China and it is often socially acceptable to eat food on public transport. Explaining service charges upfront and the proper usage of facilities can reduce miscommunication. Similarly, rules, and penalties for breaking them (such as cleaning fees for smoking in non-smoking rooms), should be clearly communicated. Open two-way communication is the surest way to avoid misunderstanding, says Williams.

“Today there is no such thing as the archetypal Chinese traveller as this group is complex and multi-faceted. If consumer facing businesses make broad generalisations and buy into the misconceptions, they will miss key opportunities. Businesses need a cohesive Chinese traveller strategy, where the realities of each region and destination must be considered separately.”

Further findings

The report, conducted among 1750 Chinese people who had travelled abroad in the past year, also revealed key travel habits. In retail, duty free captures more than one third of total shopping spend. Cosmetics are the most commonly purchased category, followed by alcohol. However, department stores and shopping malls are the most frequently visited channel. They still receive nearly one third of spend, with clothes, food and souvenirs being the most purchased categories.

Hong Kong has tended to be the default first destination for Chinese travellers with watches and jewellery their most popular shopping category by some distance, with Sogo, Aeon and The Landmark being amongst the most popular retail players.

Read full report here.

  • With offices in 50+ cities across 26 countries, Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting that combines deep industry knowledge with specialised expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organisation transformation. Oliver Wyman is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan.


1 comment

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    Sally posted on July 4, 2016

    Regarding Myth 5: “Chinese travelers are more trouble than they are worth”, I am not totally agree that it is about Culture misunderstanding. Do you know that Chinese people pee in the public? No only in the middle of the street but also in decent shopping mall. What kind of "culture misunderstanding" is it? It is truly a kind of selfish. I'm sure there is no one pee in the middle of their house. It is not a particular case but happening everyday in HK. reply

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