picture of two Chinese female tourists outside restaurant

Photo Credit: Chinese Tourists via Compfight cc

Go to any tourist destination in the world these days and you are likely to see groups of Chinese tourists with a tour guide in the lead. Chinese tourism has been growing by leaps and bounds. With disposable income rising and the Chinese government expanding the number of approved travel destinations, the Chinese people have jumped at the opportunity. The total number of international Chinese tourists rose 18% in 2013 to 98.4 million and is expected to rise to another 16% in 2014 to 114 million. 2.1 million of those are expected to head to the U.S.

Countries and businesses have been welcoming these tourists warmly; Chinese tourists enjoy shopping. Jing Daily reports that shopping is one of the top motivators for travel, particularly shopping for luxury goods. Luxury goods are subject to high tariffs in China, so the Chinese seize any opportunity to do a little tax-free shopping. A UN World Tourism Organization press release reported that in 2012 China had become the first tourism source market in the world in terms of spending.”

Retailers have rushed to appeal to this new market. That is why, for example, MTM LinguaSoft has translated many ads, web pages and informational brochures into Chinese for major retailer Bloomingdale’s. The outlook for future shopping is rosy. A headline in Quartz predicts that “By 2015, Chinese tourists could spend more than all the world’s luxury shoppers combined.”

Jing Daily warns, however, against taking a one-size-fits-all approach to Chinese tourist shoppers:

The UNWTO [UN World Tourism Organization] divides Chinese tourists into main groups: the “traditionalists,” the “wenyi (文艺, English: ‘literature and art’) tribe,” and the “hedonists.” Traditionalists make up the largest segment, and are motivated by icons, brands, and recognition. These travelers are very shopping-oriented, and often buy many luxury items to bring back home as gifts and souvenirs. Meanwhile, the wenyi tribe is more heavily influenced by culture and experiences, and travels for “the pursuit of freedom, quality of life, experience, uniqueness, and self-realization.” These consumers still love to shop, but “want to buy products that tell a story, and mostly focus on design items.” Finally, the “hedonists” are all about pleasure, with a travel itinerary focused on shopping, eating, and having fun. This relatively young consumer group wants to be stylish, so their buying centers around “original luxury goods, and the choice of the destination is dictated by shopping facilities.”

This diversity among the Chinese travelers means plenty of opportunities for all types of retailers, especially those who develop the cultural competency to take advantage of them.