For the first time in history international visitor arrivals surpassed 1 billion globally (1.035 billion) in 2012. At the same time, 2.9 billion people used air transport for business and leisure travel. These numbers show a marked increase in the amount of people travelling, with Asia dominating the growth.
By 2032, Asia is expected to account for one third of all air traffic while global passenger traffic will more than double from what it is today, up to 6.9 billion passengers. Angel Gallego, President of Amadeus Asia Pacific, says that the loosening of visa restrictions for Chinese travellers, combined with a shift in their travelling habits, will contribute to further growth in this industry over the coming years. Advances in technology are vital to ensure that the industry can keep pace with this increasing demand.
What is driving this growth in travel?
Travel in China and across Asia is becoming more accessible and more accepted; people’s propensity to travel is growing, bolstered by important shifts in demographics, a burgeoning middle class and positive adoption of technology.
Heavy visa restrictions for Chinese travellers are expected to be gradually removed resulting in an even higher level of growth in travel. Perhaps more significantly Chinese travellers are seeking a more personalised travel experience. They will no longer be seen as a monolithic group, travelling in large, organised parties. They will become more individualistic, travelling to a wider range of destinations, often in smaller groups or even alone and for a broader range of reasons.
This evident change in traveller behaviour will no doubt have a marked impact on the travel players in China. They may need to react and adapt and, where necessary, rethink business models to provide a more service-oriented, tailored offering to consumers.
A key piece to his puzzle will be technology
Technology will be one of, if not the driving force behind the growth of travel in China.
However, we haven’t always been able to rely on sophisticated technology. Rewind 15 or 20 years ago and the business of travel was done with a dot matrix printer or pen and paper.
Thankfully the situation today is very different. We wouldn’t even consider starting a business day without an internet connection, a laptop or mobile phone. You could say these tools or technologies have become synonymous with successful business. Take mobile technology for example—it has completely transformed the way we connect and interact. In China, this couldn’t be more pertinent: China is now the largest Smartphone market in the world.
Almost half of China’s population has access to the internet, through a mobile device or fixed computer. 242 million people in China shopped online last year, while 451 million users are searching the mobile web. This shows just how technically ‘savvy’ the majority of the Chinese public are and, more importantly, highlights the huge online retail opportunity in the market.
McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, estimates that by 2020, online retail, or ‘e-tail’ in China could generate up to USD 650 billion in sales, and that China’s market will, based on today’s figures, equal that of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France combined.
How can the travel industry leverage this huge opportunity?
Interestingly, while Chinese travellers are very tech savvy when it comes to booking travel online there is some room for improvement.
Face-to-face travel agencies continue to flourish in China because it provides the mix of comfort and convenience that travellers demand. A lack of credit cards has meant that only 14 per cent of Chinese Internet users have visited a travel website, according to PhoCusWright. However, in Chinese terms, 14 per cent still represents more users than any other country except the United States.
Like all travellers Chinese want to reduce the amount of time spent on the process of travelling. From booking to boarding, they want maximum convenience and they see better technology as the answer.
The travel industry in China is set for continued growth, but industry progress in areas of liberalisation and technology must continue to keep up with new demands from Chinese travellers as they spread their wings. One thing is certain; leveraging technology is crucial to successfully moving the next billion travellers in China.
Amadeus is a leading technology partner for the global travel industry. Customer groups include travel providers (e.g. airlines, hotels, rail and ferry operators, etc.), travel sellers (travel agencies and websites), and travel buyers (corporations and travel management companies).
Amadeus employs over 11,000 people worldwide, across 195 markets with 71 local Amadeus Commercial Organisations including offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in China.
 International tourist arrivals defined by UNWTO as overnight visitors not linked to air travel. Source: http://media.unwto.org/en/press-release/2013-01-28/international-tourism-continue-robust-growth-2013
 Source: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/asia-pacific/china_e-tailing. This e-tailing market-size forecast is based on regression analysis of 17 countries from 2003 to 2011.