The Rise of the Chinese Backpacker

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As many people across the industry work up a sweat training for The Moodie Report Great Travel Retail Educathlon, I’m in Bangkok attending a boot camp of a different kind, writes Melody Ng. Organised by Digital Innovation Asia (DIA) in partnership with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the DIA China Social Media Boot Camp aims to help companies reach and connect with “the new Chinese tourist” by leveraging web, mobile and social media marketing in China.

The importance of the Chinese market to the travel industry cannot be overstated. Readers will be familiar with the statistics (outbound Chinese travellers forecast to exceed 100 million in 2014) and the key trends (the rising middle class, increase in spending power, rapid urbanisation, the internet revolution) – but today I was introduced to another novel concept: the importance of the Chinese backpacker.

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South East Asia Backpacker Magazine Editor Nikki Scott highlights the importance of affluent Chinese backpackers

Describing Chinese backpackers as “a completely new category of influencers”, South East Asia Backpacker Magazine Editor Nikki Scott underlined the historical role of backpackers as trendsetters who discovered new tourism destinations. Once dominated by young adults in western countries, backpacking has become increasingly popular among the young Chinese, especially (and interestingly) the females. She attributes this to changing aspirations in the Mainland: Chinese women are now more educated and marrying later, and have a desire to see the world. They see backpacking as a means of education, and are interested in culture and shopping.

The digital revolution has also given rise to the ‘flashpacker’ – backpackers that travel with electronic devices such as laptops, digital cameras and iPads so that they can record their travel experiences on various social media platforms. While technology is a key element of flashpacking, the term is also generally defined as backpacking with a bigger budget. Unlike traditional backpackers, budget is not an issue for Chinese backpackers – most of them can afford to stay in hotels but prefer staying in hostels for the experience.

What does all this mean for the travel retail industry? Backpackers tend to spend more and stay longer than the average international visitor – the average length of travel for Chinese backpackers is about 8-12 months – which translates into higher expenditure. They also tend to travel further, thus spreading their funds to regional areas more than other tourists. Learning how to cater to this segment could also provide considerable returns, as these backpackers are likely to become high-yield international repeat visitors in the future. It would be wise, therefore, not to dismiss them as travellers on a shoe-string budget who can’t afford to spend.

Linda, 27, belongs to a growing group of Chinese female backpackers who are high-spending and digital-savvy

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