Outbound travel: the Chinese are back, but not as before.

Magnifying glass over China on map

What can we expect from the return of Chinese travellers and medical tourists in 2023? A focus on value-for-money, but health and wellness are key spend sectors, says medical travel analyst Ian Youngman.

Chinese citizens were the most numerous and highest-spending visitors for many Asian nations.

China opened up again in early 2023 and on February 6 the ban imposed on group travel was ended. Estimates already see more than 228 million Chinese travellers by the year 2030.

However, capturing the opportunities presented by China’s ever more demanding consumers will require more planning, better understanding of their preferences, as well as stronger and more differentiated value propositions.  Countries hoping for a return of Chinese medical tourists need to understand these changes and not just relaunch 2019 ideas.

According to specialist research group, Oliver Wyman, in a new short research report with a 4,000-sample survey conducted in October 2022, following China’s National Congress, Chinese consumers generally had a good attitude heading into 2023 despite uncertainties.

Looking ahead, do Chinese consumers still feel positive about 2023? How will the spending habits of Chinese consumers change? To understand the latest consumer sentiment, the group conducted a pulse check with 1,500 Chinese consumers in late December.  It found with the relaxation of China’s zero-COVID policy, consumers now appear to be less worried about China’s longer-term outlook. This is particularly true among the younger generation.

Value-for-money spending has become more important to consumers. Compared to last year, 52% of respondents wish to focus more on value-for-money spending, and 57% will spend more time looking for good deals. Impulse purchases are expected to become less frequent, and consumers intend to spend more rationally going forward.

In terms of spending, health and wellness remain the top categories for 2023. According to the consumers surveyed, they are more motivated by preventive measures to maintain their health. This includes having medical check-ups, as well as buying health insurance.

With the border reopening, the desire to travel both domestically and internationally has been reignited. Chinese consumers are eager to travel again. With visa-processing struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing demand, as well as low transport capacities, it will take time before international travel can resume to levels last seen before the pandemic.

Hainan, as the largest duty-free market in China, has seen passenger flows rebound in the past few weeks. With international travel resuming, short-haul travel will recover first, as 51% of consumers are leaning more toward shorter trips than before the pandemic. Hong Kong and Macau will remain the most popular destinations for outbound travellers due to the proximity and convenience of travel by land, sea, or air.

The end of stringent COVID-19 policies paints a brighter future for China’s consumption recovery in 2023, and beyond. Following a rollercoaster 2022, and the surprising 180-degree policy turn at the very end, China is now again on a straight launch track for success.