On the Road: Chinese Tourists Take the Wheel

June 23, 2015/0/0
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As summer 2015 heats up, expect to see more Chinese tourists on the road than ever before.

One of the primary trends we expect to see in Chinese tourism this summer is a dramatic increase in the number of individual Chinese tourists who are traveling away from the tour groups. One key factor in making this decision is for tourists to have control over their itineraries, which more and more do.

Figures from Mafengwo.com, one of China’s social travel services, show that 30.6 percent of outbound Chinese tourists in 2014 preferred self-driving, and China’s port management office has stated that “roughly 30 percent of outbound tourists have shown an interest in self-drive travel.”

Coming to America

According to a survey by Mafengwo.com and car rental web site zuzuche.com, first-tier Chinese cities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen account for more than 60 percent of self-driving tourists. Citizens of wealthy provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Sichuan have also been quick to embrace the trend.

The United States is by far the most preferred destination for self driving trips, according to the survey (identified by 46 percent of respondents), well ahead of Germany (7.89 percent), Australia (7.6 percent), and France (6.23 percent).

Qiu Zhenzhen, financial supervisor of the Euro-China Linkup Sprl, a company specializing in arranging self-drive tours in Europe, told China Daily, “many of our guests have chosen to drive themselves from Belgium to the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Germany over the years.”

Added Qiu, “Self-driving enables them to savor many small, beautiful cities along the way, as well as local customs and picturesque mountain and lake sceneries.”

Responding to Increased Demand

Anticipating the uptick in demand for overseas rental cars from Chinese tourists, several start-ups have emerged in the space, including car rental portal HuiZuChe and competitor ZuZuChe. Both sites provide Chinese-language support for renting cars overseas, including local language access as well as tips for driving with a Chinese license overseas and local norms for driving in each country. Overseas car rental agencies are also increasingly targeting Chinese tourists, with Hertz launching a customized WeChat app in 2015 to educate Chinese consumers on renting cars in the United States.

HuiZuChe says that about 40 percent of its car rentals are for the US, amounting to about 90,000 rides per month by Chinese tourists and businesspeople.

Safety Concerns Spur Local Programs

However, the influx of new Chinese tourist drivers has resulted in increased safety concerns at popular self-drive tour destinations. Tourism New Zealand says more Chinese visitors have been choosing to hire cars rather than taking bus tours of the country. In the last year, New Zealand reported several traffic accidents, including a fatal accident involving Chinese tourists. Increased concern has led to nationwide safety campaigns in New Zealand for tourist drivers.

Tourism New Zealand, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), and Air New Zealand have launched a project aimed at tourists arriving from China – the country’s second largest visitor market – to provide road safety messages. They have created a Chinese-language driver safety video that will play during in-flight entertainment on international flights from China and Hong Kong.

As part of ongoing safety measures, 25 car rental companies have signed up for a new trial aimed at improving road safety. Visitors will be given a questionnaire asking, among other things, whether they have rented vehicles abroad in the past, and if they’ve ever driven on the left-hand-side of the road. If staff aren’t convinced that tourists are clued-up on highway rules, they could be asked to do a trial drive around the car park. The assessments will be available in four languages: English, French, German, and Mandarin.

Additionally, The New Zealand Chinese Consulate produced a skills and tips pamphlet for Chinese citizens to read when they pick up rental cars in Christchurch and tourist hot spots such as Queenstown. Xin Li, the Vice Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Christchurch, said the brochures would be written in Chinese and circulated at rental car kiosks and airports in time for the Chinese peak travel season, from October to February.

Said Xin, “The give-way rules, intersection rules and always keeping left are things that many Chinese drivers are not completely aware of. Most intersections are controlled by traffic lights in China, so there are some big differences.”

Reaching Self-Drive Tourists

As Chinese tourists increasingly take to the road on their own, this dramatically alters the Chinese tourism landscape, shifting their travel patterns, influences, and purchasing decisions. As destinations, transportation providers, and hotels increasingly focus on Chinese tourists, they should carefully watch this new consumer behavior and adapt their strategy to focus on these younger, more adventurous travelers who are forging their own paths and creating new Chinese tourism patterns.