BUYERS at PATA Travel Mart told TTG Asia e-daily that China has been winning more hearts as a destination, with many clients asking for more complex and off-the-beaten-path itineraries.
Cindy Yam, vice president, Essential Travel & Tours Los Angeles, has seen a spike in demand for both group and FIT traffic to unfrequented locations in China.
“China is our hottest destination right now – we send more than 20 groups per year. Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai...lots of Americans have already been to these places. Instead, they are starting to head to places in the far west such as Xinjiang, Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Gansu and Urumqi,” she said, adding that travel to western China tends to be seasonal.
“We only organise trips to western China in May or September because the weather tends to be better during this period,” Yam explained.
To reach China from the US, her customers usually fly with Cathay Pacific and transit via Hong Kong, or with Korean Air via Seoul. They spend about US$5,000 per pax including flights and stay at least two weeks in the country.
M Zaki, travel consultant with California-based RZ Travels, has also received hundreds of enquiries badgering him to provide information on more remote areas on the mainland.
“My clients are keen on exploring the ‘real’ side of China,” he said. “They want to explore the rural areas, see how people are living...and how it is like in the countryside. We’ve also received quite a number of enquiries for land itineraries packaged with cruises on the Yangtze River.”
Buyers in the region also noticed a similar trend of China climbing the popularity stakes.
Rosemariecel C Sanchez, manager-outbound leisure, Executive Resources Manila, has experienced a surge in the number of golfing groups her company has been packing off to China this year. These visitors spend an average of five days enjoying the pristine golfing facilities in places such as Mission Hills in Dongguan or Spring City Golf & Lake Resort in Kunming.
“This segment to China has really picked up. It used to be about 50 pax per year, but this year it’s already been about 100 pax so far,” she said.
Adi Haryanto, tour manager of Esa Tour Jakarta, which handles three to four 100-500 pax incentive groups to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou every year, said requests for more exotic destinations such as Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi had been on the uptrend over the last couple of years.
“China is a never-ending story. Most of our clients have already been to the main cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and there are now quite a number who are keen on travelling to Chengdu, Kunming, Guilin and Huangshan,” he said.
However, while interest in China’s exotic side seems to be at an all-time high, several buyers expressed reservations about whether these far-flung destinations were ready to handle the hike in traffic.
Melba D Lobina, general manager of The Far East Travel Company Hong Kong, who has seen a peak in interest in less well-known cities such as Tianjin, said: “We hesitate to offer these destinations due to the language barrier and because we are not aware of what the facilities in these places are like.”
“Communication is a huge problem, even with the suppliers and local tour operators. In order for us to really go out and sell these areas, destination marketing and knowledge need to improve first.”
Esa Tour’s Adi agrees. “Marketing and promotion definitely need to be better, not to mention that sending big groups to smaller places always tends to be more difficult in terms of logistics,” he said.