Exotic locations lure the nation's wealthy tourists [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]
(China Daily: Hong Kong Edition Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) High-net-worth individuals are providing fresh impetus to the luxury travel market in China, reports Shi Jing from Shanghai
Luxury trips, which require plenty of money as well as lots of spare time, have become popular among China's newly rich.
The 11-day New Oriental Express trip, set to start on July 8, was an instant hit after being unveiled in mid-April despite its high price tag of 32,000 yuan ($5,160) per person.
An express train comprising 10 coaches will accommodate 97 tourists and three guides, with showers in each car along with air-conditioning and a minibar.
The trip, organized by Shanghai Railway International Travel Agency, will take passengers to such places as Turkey, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania.
No other travel agency on the mainland provides packages to Bulgaria or Romania, making the trip unique, said Fan Chenjian, general manager of the marketing department at Shanghai Railway International Travel.
And if an 11-day trip is too short, HH Travel, the high-end affiliate of Ctrip, China's largest online travel agency, is offering an 80-day round-the-globe tour.
Though priced at a whopping 1.25 million yuan per person, all 10 reservations were snapped up as soon as the package went on sale on May 20.
The trip will take tourists to 24 countries and regions, including such exotic places as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Chile's Easter Island, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Dead Sea in the Middle East, and the North and South Poles.
Liu Mingyu, sales manager for HH Travel, said the agency has been receiving many inquiries about the trip. "Such a round-the-globe product enjoys a scarcity that other companies cannot duplicate," he said.
You Jinzhang, HH Travel's chief executive officer, said an 80-day trip requires a lot of preparation on the part of the agency.
"To ensure that the trip is both comfortable and extraordinary, we have to book the most exclusive hotels some six months to one year in advance," he said.
The trip includes 35 flights, two cruise itineraries, one train route, a helicopter flight and even an icebreaker ride at the South Pole. Therefore, each leg of the journey has to be carefully planned, with tour guides escorting the 10 guests throughout the trip.
Thomas Lee of Hong Kong, a guide with 30 years' experience, is one of the two escorts selected for the luxurious trip. Though some might be envious, he said the job is not easy.
"We are nervous every day, worrying about hotels, flights, food and even luggage. Unlike with Hong Kong tourists, mainland travelers tend to have more requirements that we sometimes find a challenge to meet," Lee said.
Still, Lee is proud of and passionate about his job, for the trip avails his clients an unrivaled opportunity to experience the globe's least-visited areas.
"Travelers could never do this on their own without a team of support to back them," he said.
As Lee sees it, China is the perfect market for such a product.
"A trip that costs 1.25 million yuan is definitely a lot. But I am sure there are millions of Chinese people out there who can afford it," he said.
Entrepreneurs, investors and real estate developers make up the most of the takers. Lee's customers average about 50 years of age, with children old enough to carry on the family business.
Lee's comments about his customers are in line with the findings of the Hurun Report, which publishes annual rich lists, and Diadema, a Chinese outbound luxury travel agency.
According to the Chinese Luxury Traveler 2014 report co-published by the two organizations, the 203 people surveyed said they had spent $25,000 on a trip in the past three years and visited 40 countries on average. The luxury travelers who had been to 40 countries or more said they spent 36 days abroad last year, half of which was for leisure travel. They are high-net-worth individuals averaging a personal wealth of 66 million yuan and 44 years of age.
Chen Tongming, 62, had his own package printing business in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. After handing it over to his daughter and son-in-law to run several years ago, he and his wife have been living in Canada with a son who is studying there. After reading about the 80-day trip in March 2012, the pair decided to go for it. They set out on Feb 4.
"We are getting old. So we think we should go out more often and enjoy life. My wife and I found everything so interesting and took more than 5,000 pictures. Although the trip was quite expensive, we can afford it," Chen said.
Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report chairman and chief researcher, said experiential travel rather than shopping tours have gained in popularity now that Chinese luxury consumers are traveling more widely.
Martin Barth, president of World Tourism Forum Lucerne, agreed.
"The key word is experience. Tourists want more than ever special experiences when they travel, and such experiences they get by doing trips to the polar regions, an 80-day round-the-globe trip or leisure trips by train throughout Asia and Europe," Barth said.
He noted several differences between Chinese and Western travelers.
"Chinese people are obviously ready to spend much more money for a journey and also spend more time on it. Europeans choose to wait until they have a sabbatical and then make a longer journey.
"Also, moneywise, they (Westerners) would rather take two to three journeys than one long, expensive one," he said.
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(China Daily 07/02/2014 page13)
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