With more Chinese tourists moving beyond group packages and developing their own itineraries, self-driving trips have become one of the hottest areas of growth. Among younger travelers and middle-class families in particular, renting cars to explore overseas locales at their own pace is fueling an increase in Chinese arrivals from LA to New York — and everywhere in between. This trend has been accelerated by recent developments such as easier and longer-term US visas, more self-driving offers by online tourism agencies in China, and the simple fact that more middle-class Chinese have their own cars back home and find it easy to hit the road in the US or Europe.
According to a recent survey by Mafengwo and the Chinese online car rental site zuzuche.com, the US is by far the most popular destination for self-driving trips among Chinese outbound tourists. More than 46 percent of respondents said they prefer the US for road trips, beating Germany (7.9 percent), Australia (7.6 percent), France (6 percent), and Thailand (5 percent).
The survey found that the majority of self-driving tourists are 25 to 44 years old, with more than 60 percent hailing from first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen). However, the report noted rapid growth among travelers from Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Sichuan provinces. By China standards, these tourists are a relatively affluent bunch, with around 30 percent reporting annual incomes of 260,000-500,000 yuan ($41,550-79,970).
So what does this mean for the US? For one thing, it indicates an area of great opportunity for tour destinations, hotels, and resorts “off the beaten path” to reach out to these self-driving independent tourists. This outreach can be via online travel-booking sites, Chinese social media platforms and influencers, or US-based international Chinese students (who, as CLA has previously noted, often make extra cash by “chauffeuring” wealthy Chinese tourists around the country).
This trend also heralds new opportunities for RV brands, retailers, and rental companies to court the Chinese consumer. While the “RV lifestyle” remains highly niche within China, interest is growing, and many Chinese middle-class families are becoming interested in opting for a “hotel on wheels” where they can control the dining options and experience the US on their own terms. Ski resorts and hot springs also have an opportunity to increase outreach to self-driving tourists and encourage them to stop by on their cross-country adventures.