For the 148 million travelers from the Chinese mainland who visited overseas destinations last year, and spent $120 billion in all, tourism is no longer just for shopping but an opportunity to mature, evolve and add value to life through richer experiences, said industry experts.
This tectonic shift in the outlook of Chinese tourists is causing winds of change to sweep domestic tourism as well as global travel, and domestic consumption (which is now identified as an economic driver).
Besides, changing tourist preferences have implications for certain emerging vocations, tech-enabled businesses and tradition－and value-based cultures across the world, they said.
To be sure, outbound Chinese tourists still spend a great deal of money on shopping, but the corresponding growth rate is dropping every year. For instance, in 2017, they spent 5 percent more than in 2016. And in 2018, they spent $120 billion, which was only 4 percent more than in 2017, according to data from the China Tourism Academy.
Stated differently, Chinese travelers' spends abroad on intangibles like experiences are rising. Global consulting firm Oliver Wyman polled 2,000 Chinese tourists recently for its annual survey. The survey revealed that less than 33 percent of the respondents' travel expenses was devoted to shopping last year, down from the 41 percent in 2016.
Only 41 percent of the respondents said the main purpose of their overseas trips in 2018 was shopping. In 2017, the corresponding figure was 76 percent and in 2016, the inaugural year of the annual survey, as high as 91 percent.
What makes the data important is that the number of outbound Chinese travelers is increasing every year. Last year's number of 148 million was up 13 percent from 2017. An estimated 170 million Chinese tourists will make overseas trips in 2022－their number will likely grow at 5.35 percent annually.
The Oliver Wyman report said luxury purchases by Chinese tourists used to top the world's per-tourist spend list. But this has faded of late as luxury products now are not only less expensive but easily available at home. A Chinese national does not have to visit shoppers' paradises overseas to stock up on luxury goods and branded products.
That's because, starting 2009, leading luxury brands have been slashing prices in the China market, to synchronize them with tags worldwide.
Coupled with the ongoing consumption upgrade, this is shifting points of sales from overseas to China, where e-commerce reigns supreme.
Hunter Williams, Oliver Wyman partner, said: "Chinese tourists have leapfrogged shopping formats that are mainstream elsewhere and taken up mobile e-commerce, mobile payments and social shopping."
Besides, since July 1, 2018, China has lowered import tariffs on more than 1,440 items across product categories like clothing, shoes and cosmetics.