How Brands Can Keep Up With China’s Luxury Travellers – the EASTs

With Shanghai hosting the 11th ILTM Asia (International Luxury Travel Market) this week, The Luxury Conversation takes a look at a growing group of sophisticated Chinese traveler. We call them the EASTs: “Experience and Adventure Seeking Travelers”.

The EASTs are forgoing snaps of the Eiffel Tower for hiking trails in Patagonia and off-piste skiing in Canada. These EASTs are young, interconnected via social media, and excited to flex their buying power on unique experiences.

The shift in travel behavior is driven by a desire to connect with nature, broaden the mind and live healthily. These discerning travelers value unique experiences, particularly those with a high “like” potential on social media. The influence of television adventure shows such as Dragon TV’s Survivor Games and public figures like Wang Shi (Chairman of China’s largest real estate developer, Vanke) climbing Everest have had some effect in normalizing once improbable destinations.

So what do the EASTs really want when they travel, and how can brands appeal to them? We’ve outlined five top tips to keep in mind when approaching these new travelers:

1. Experiences over Shopping

Once the top priority for Asian travelers, shopping is taking a backseat to unique cultural experiences (though of course it still remains a popular activity). Colombia, Chile, and Argentina have all seen an increase of Chinese tourists by more than 20 percent year-on-year. Whether they’re hiking in Latin America, watching the northern lights in Scandinavia, or even reconnecting with parts of their own culture in remote Western China, the EASTs are looking for immersion in authentic local culture and hospitality. Instead of gravitating to the nearest Chinese restaurant in these remote locations, today it’s about an immersion into the local sights, sounds, flavours and customs.

2. Make sure it’s Selfie Worthy

Just how selfie worthy are you? Pictures with the Eiffel Tower won’t cut it anymore. The EASTs want to share unique experiences on social media, and build their identity capital through social media sharing. Golfing in Antarctica, Swimming with Sharks; anything that says “I’m living an extraordinary lifestyle” will spark a rush comments on their WeChat moments. It may seem trivial, but this sort of micro-influencing is important for brands to appeal to existing and new consumers in Asia. By providing these picturesque opportunities, brands create free marketing opportunities for themselves via trusted consumers, without necessarily having to go through KOLs.

3. Pulse Racing

Today, 50% of Chinese visiting New Zealand are considering bungee jumping. There is a huge interest in action sports- the number of Chinese tourists visiting Aspen has doubled over the past several years (source: Aspen Skiing Company, 2016). This is partly driven by interest in the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, but is also part of a wider shift. According to a Citi Research report published in October 2016, sports tourism is the fastest growing segment in China’s travel industry, due in large part to a desire for connecting with nature, unplugging from screens and Wi-Fi, and getting active and healthy. This ‘unplugging’ from screens, of course does not include the customary selfie as they tumble out of a plane.

4. Keep it real, but keep it luxurious

The EASTs may want ‘real and authentic’ experiences, but not at the expense of luxury and total comfort. They are willing to pay for services- travel agents, fixers or online premium booking platforms- in order to have the absolute top-shelf experience. They want to hike in Patagonia, but they want 4x4s taking them to the best guesthouses, where star-lit gourmet dinners await them as they overlook the mountains. These services give travel brands a huge opportunity to provide upgrades and additional services to give the most authentic luxury experience.

5. Getting there is half the journey

Once preferring to keep their money to use at the destination, Chinese travelers are now also splurging on the journey itself. With the market for jet-related industries in China estimated at $152 billion, according to ABACE data, and charter jet companies like Hong Kong-based Metrojet, VistaJet and China’s Star Jet offering easy access to private travel, the uptake in private jet charters across China are on the rise. Recent launches of refreshed First Class cabins on major Chinese airlines, and the arrival and growth of the five-star cruise industry are steadily redefining first-class travel.