CNY | Rising tide of travelers from China floods Macau, Asia

Deutsche Bank issued a report stating that 14 out of 20 Macau hotels recently surveyed by the research house were fully booked out during the Chinese New Year (CNY) holidays. In the same survey, 12 out of the 20 hotels are now charging room rates for CNY this year that are higher than last year.

Room rates have jumped significantly, with average rates at Las Vegas Sands’s Four Seasons Hotel doubling to HKD5,228 (USD670) compared with last year, according to Morgan Stanley surveys.

Analysts are watching to see if Macau fares better this holiday than the Golden Week holiday in October, when the enclave reported disappointing visitor number and weaker-than-expected gaming revenue. Operators are optimistic about this holiday season.

“We are more than full,” Allan Zeman, chairman of Wynn Macau Ltd., said Monday in a Bloomberg TV interview. “I wish we had another hotel right now.”

The growth of tourists during the CNY holidays in Macau is consistent with a regional trend. A rising tide of travelers from China is spreading out across Asia, out- shopping, outspending and out- eating every other nation. They are filling hotels, tour buses and cruise ships. They are overwhelming airports and train stations, and they are sending home petabytes of pictures that encourage their compatriots to join the global invasion. Their ranks are being swollen by millions of others from around Asia, a generation who would rather raise their status with a foreign adventure than with a luxury bag.

“People’s personal brands are being defined by the places they visit,” said Simon Russell, chief executive officer of London-based luxury travel group Scott Dunn, which last month bought rival Country Holidays Travel from Singapore to expand its Asian clientele.

China already accounts for more than a fifth of the money spent by outbound tourists, twice as much as the next-biggest spender, the U.S., according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. And the Chinese have barely started — only around 5 percent of them even have passports, and the government is issuing about 10 million new travel documents every year.

As with Japan in the 1980s, citizens of nations that get rich, go places. The emerging nations of Asia-Pacific will add more than 50 million new outbound travelers in the five years ending in 2021, according to Mastercard.

Overwhelmingly, they come from a smartphone-addicted generation that is rewriting the rules. The ubiquitous flag-following Chinese tour groups are giving way to what the industry calls FITs — free, independent travelers — who are using the internet to plan itineraries, book flights, translate signs and chronicle their exploits.

“A lot of customers are wanting to do things their way,” said Chang Theng Hwee, a Singaporean who quit banking 25 years ago to build a travel business that offers bespoke holidays for wealthy Asians in destinations like Antarctica and the Himalayas. “They’re not interested in joining a group.”

The shift is transforming the region, unleashing more than USD100 billion in infrastructure spending for bigger airports and jet fleets, new railways, hotels and theme parks. The effects of this boom include soaring property prices, stress on the environment and an avalanche of apps and innovations that reimagine the way we experience the world.

By 2021, Chinese tourists will spend $429 billion abroad, according to a report by CLSA. And they are spreading out. During the next three years, Japan, Thailand, the U.S. and Australia top the must-visit list, according to the report, with other destinations in Southeast Asia — especially Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines —  following close behind.

For developing nations, that’s putting a strain on infrastructure, underpinning the biggest airport- building program in the region’s history. Thailand doesn’t have a single international airport that isn’t way over its designed capacity, and long lines at immigration are common. At least 178 new airports are planned in Asia-Pacific, according to Visa Inc., and hundreds of existing facilities are being expanded or upgraded.

The result is a second revolution in tourism in the region — one that is being fueled by social media: the opening up of more islands, cities and remote locales to divert vacationers from the overcrowded and increasingly jaded tourist hotspots of the 1990s and 2000s.

Indonesia has a plan to create “10 Balis,” targeting places like the former World War II battleground of Morotai Island for new holiday destinations. Thailand, which heavily promotes tourism under the banner “Amazing Thailand,” has teamed up with Japan to build a high-speed railway that would open up places along the route to the north of the country. Neighbor Malaysia is countering with its own cross-country rail project to the coasts of Kelantan and Terengganu, states promoted this year in the capital’s international airport under a “Joyful Malaysia” campaign.

At the heart of the changes transforming the industry is the nexus of internet, smartphone and big data.

 “Travel was one of the first industries to actually be digitized, going all the way to the 1950s,” said Douglas Quinby, an Atlanta- based travel analyst at research firm Phocuswright. “It’s only in the last five to seven years that there have been the tools to process such incredible amounts of data.”

Quinby says China is leading the world in many mobile innovations and applications. At the head of the pack is, based in Shanghai. Ctrip is China’s dominant online travel-booking platform and second in the world by market value to U.S. service Priceline Group, which is also a major investor. The database of information it has compiled on Chinese travelers is long and detailed.

“We have all of the user data,” said Jenna Qian, head of destination marketing at CTrip. The company monitors bookings, searches, user demographics and consumer life cycle data — every action by millions of Chinese tourists from the moment they begin to read about a location, to their habits and preferences while traveling. “From dream to research to booking to sharing, it all happens within our platform. Big data is the foundation of tourism.”

The information makes Ctrip a valuable partner for both internet companies in China like Tencent Holdings and airlines and overseas agencies trying to get a share of the tourism yuan. The data helps predict hotel occupancy levels, ticket sales at attractions, traffic levels and scores of other travel-related trends.

The link is the smartphone, the tourist’s connection with the web, a fact that has drawn dozens of startups to join the fray in Asia. They offer recommendations, information, tickets, discounts, guides, currency converters and a thousand other applications that give travelers a bigger choice.

With visitors wielding tablets and smartphones, hotels and airlines are realizing they don’t need to fill planes and rooms with technology and content – they just need to give the customer control. The phone becomes the room key, the menu, the bill. MDT/Bloomberg

One in four jobs created worldwide will be related to tourism

FOR THE past seven years, the travel-and-tourism sector has outperformed the overall economy every year, contributing as much as USD7.6 trillion in 2016, including the wider impact on the economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. During the next decade, the council predicts almost one in four jobs created worldwide will be related to tourism.


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