Female travelers seen as new driving force in tourism industry

By Yang Feiyue (China Daily) 08:20, March 22, 2024

More Chinese women are taking the driver's seat in making travel decisions, seeking personalized experiences and leaving male travelers way behind when it comes to spending.

Chen Yan, from Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan province, has booked flights to Nepal for the upcoming Holi festival, also known as the festival of colors, which falls on Sunday and Monday. "It is one of Nepal's most widely celebrated events and I'd like to soak in the local folk customs and festival atmosphere," she said.

The 20-something travel influencer said she wants to see how festivalgoers throw colored powder and water at each other, dance and feast on traditional foods.

About two months ago, she went on a trip to join a lantern celebration in Chiangmai, Thailand. "Local festivals are one of the major elements that prompt me to travel," she said.

Chen, who travels to a dozen destinations at home and abroad every year, is at the vanguard of a new wave of Chinese women travelers.

According to the 2024 Women's Travel Consumer Insight Report recently released by the online travel agency Trip.com Group, average annual per capita travel expenditure for women exceeded that of men by nearly 8 percent in the past year.

The report was based on the analysis of data recorded between Feb 20, 2023 and Feb 20, 2024.


A woman tries curling on Dec 16 at the Ice and Snow Winter Fair in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. WANG KAIYAN/XINHUA

The unstoppable spending power of Chinese women in the tourism industry is evident, as tens of millions of them realize their dreams to travel, with significant growth momentum seen in lower-tier markets.

Regardless of their age, travel is a strong desire for all women, according to the report, which looked at female users who traveled for nonbusiness reasons over the survey period.

Middle-aged women born in the 1970s and 1980s accounted for 62.2 percent of the female travelers and were by far the main force when it comes to consumption, the report showed. Young women born in the 1990s and 2000s accounted for 28.5 percent of tourism spending, indicating their emerging potential as consumers. While the older generation born in the 1950s and 1960s constituted just 9.3 percent of female travelers, the research showed they had a strong preference for premium travel experiences.

"Women wield greater decision-making power in travel product bookings, and they excel at meticulous planning and having a good time for their money," said Sun Jie, CEO of Trip.com Group.

Female users account for over 65 percent of the agency's livestreaming audience and are looking for "cheap and cheerful" deals that can save 780 million yuan ($108 million) in travel expenses annually. Moreover, they are more sensitive to travel trends, according to the report.

Since the start of the year, daily average online visits by female users to view the agency's rankings of tourism service operators as well as new travel hot spots have increased by 42 percent.

Female travelers rely on such information to prepare their travel plans, Sun said, adding that for millions of women travel is a way to overcome fatigue and pursue things they find beautiful. "The powerful and beautiful force of female travel is blossoming," Sun said.


Mother and daughter

Zhao Tingting, from Shanghai, was born in the 1980s and runs an immersive educational experiences business, which gives her plenty of latitude to indulge her passion for travel.

She is a veteran traveler who not only considers costs when choosing a travel destination, but also the experiences she can have exploring new places.

"I'm not really picky about destinations. It's about whether a particular activity or way of traveling can give me a new feeling," said Zhao.

Sometimes she visits the same destination several times using different modes of transportation.

"For example, the Eastern Oriental Express (train) I took years ago allowed me to travel from Singapore to Thailand through Malaysia, which is quite different from when I had to drive or fly," she said.

Her vast experience often means she is put in charge when it comes to arranging a trip for herself and others.

"If I travel with my husband I'll opt for a stay in a city for one or two weeks, because I know he loves to dine and shop and to see how the locals live," she said.


A female visitor checks prices at the China (Guangdong) International Tourism Industry Expo 2023 on Sept 15. LU HANXIN/XINHUA

If she travels with her girlfriends, Zhao makes a point of setting aside chances for photo opportunities.

At the moment, she is sailing with her 11-year-old daughter on a cruise ship around the world. "She loves watching animals, and we're going to see as many of them as possible," Zhao said.

She became aware of the cruise in 2019 when it was introduced to the travel market, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her travel plans. Zhao immediately grabbed two tickets for herself and her daughter when they became available last year, and the pair have now been onboard the liner for two months.

"When I first looked at the itinerary of this cruise, I noticed it's very, very different. Sixty percent of the time you can go ashore, and it goes to over 60 countries, 150 ports. And these ports are not just random ones, they are all very famous places, which saves a lot of time," she said.

"If you were to travel on your own, you might not be able to cover this much territory in the same amount of time."

Running her own business means she can take care of her work online, but scheduling her daughter's studies is more difficult.

In the end, she decided to have her daughter attend an online school. Zhao also believes the trip has greater meaning for her daughter than herself.

"It's the right time for her, she doesn't have too many assignments from school and she is able to understand what she's seeing," Zhao said.

While on board, her daughter is studying ancient civilizations and is learning about cultures around the world, such as the Incas in South America.

"These experiences will surely help pave the way for my daughter's future studies," Zhao said.


Baby boomers

Li Muzi is in her 60s, but is not content to play the traditional role of a grandmother and stay at home to take care of her grandson.

Li, from Tianjin, has traveled more than 100,000 kilometers with her husband around the world after she retired a decade ago from doing management work at a state-owned company.

The couple has taken self-driving tours abroad, including in the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Singapore, and visited ethnic areas and villages across the country including in Yunnan province, and the Xinjiang Uygur and Xizang autonomous regions.

"I have been mainly responsible for planning ahead and settling on a destination," said Li, who is currently on a road trip from Tianjin to Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province.

She believes travel is about going beyond stereotypes and refusing to follow others' opinions. "One must see the world for themselves, and talk to interesting people in person," she said.

Over the years, Li's diverse travel experiences have helped her pick up new skills and develop hobbies such as tennis, photography, pickleball, driving and cycling.

She and her husband exercise for one to two hours every day to build their physical strength and prepare for long-distance trips.

The couple joined a tropical rainforest expedition a few years ago in Hainan province, with all their fellow travelers aged in their 20s and 30s. "We still managed to walk at the front of the group throughout the journey. The team leader couldn't believe that we were in our 60s," Li said with pride.

She believes she is at the "golden age" for travel as her parents have passed away and her children are grown up, leaving her with no major family obligations.

"So, why not enjoy the freedom of time and the spontaneity to travel wherever we want?" Li said.

Internet services have made it a lot easier for her to make travel plans, she said. She usually makes plans a month before her departure and recently has been leaning toward adventures off the beaten track.

"When you are tired of the complexities of social interactions in big cities, these places are like a breath of fresh air. You will see something new, or rather, something deeper — the traditions, culture, kindness and simplicity of the Chinese ethnic groups as well as landscapes undisturbed by crowds. These are the most touching aspects of our journeys," Li said.

"As we get older, travel naturally becomes about nourishing the eyes and the heart while getting away from the hustle and bustle," she added.


New career

Chen Yan, from Sichuan, says she has traveled for half of her life, which has allowed her to appreciate the diverse beauty of the world.

Coming from an ordinary family, Chen said she tries to cut back on unnecessary travel costs, but will not compromise when it comes to the quality of her trips.

"For instance, I will save money if the transfer flights are cheaper than the direct ones," she said, but added she will not skimp on experiences that give her access to the typical way of life at a destination.

Chen discovered her passion for travel during her third year at college. "I even found temporary jobs that provided accommodation to support my travel in certain places," she said.

Her experiences enabled her to share stories about her encounters with interesting people on major social media platforms, including Xiaohongshu, where she started to gain a following.

In 2019, she quit her job operating medical testing equipment at a hospital in Sichuan and became a full-time travel influencer. "It doesn't bring in good money, but it is enough to satisfy my passion for travel," Chen said.

As her travel experiences have increased, her friends have looked to her for advice and often invite her to join their trips. "It's nice recognition," she said.

Chen said travel has also given her a better understanding of herself. "You should do whatever you want as long as you're happy," she said.


Female skiers practice at a ski resort on Jan 24 in Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province. WANG XI/XINHUA


A woman tries curling on Dec 16 at the Ice and Snow Winter Fair in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. WANG KAIYAN/XINHUA


A female visitor checks prices at the China (Guangdong) International Tourism Industry Expo 2023 on Sept 15. LU HANXIN/XINHUA


Two tourists take photos on Aug 29 in Sanya, Hainan province. PU XIAOXU/XINHUA

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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