After a year focused on the domestic travel market in China, online travel-booking platform Alitrip is adding new products and services in as many as 10 countries to meet demand from an increasingly young, affluent and mobile Chinese consumer looking to vacation overseas.
On Monday, the Alibaba Group-owned company signed agreements with four U.S. travel agencies and tour operators as one of the first steps in that effort. Last week, Alitrip announced a tie-up with the Singapore Tourism Board to boost the number of Chinese visitors to the city-state as well.
“We’re trying to work more with strategic partners so we can offer more localized products and services [in these countries] for our customers going forward,” Alitrip Chief Strategy Officer Sherri Wu said.
The agreements include partnerships with Americantours International, JTB Americas, AC Travel Inc. and All Americas Group. Alitrip also inked a deal with the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The deals were announced during the kickoff to “2016 China-U.S. Tourism Year,” an initiative led by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the China National Tourism Administration, at an event in Los Angeles. Alitrip also has launched a U.S. destination page that will highlight travel packages, merchants and destinations, in addition to offering content and tips for Chinese travelers.
In a similar move, Alitrip last week said it will work with the Singapore Tourism Board and Singaporean travel companies to deliver deals for hotels, attractions and restaurants to Chinese travelers. International serviced apartment operator Ascott, Resorts World Sentosa and Six Stars Tours & Services have already set up online stores on Alitrip to serve Chinese consumers.
Wu said Alitrip is forging strategic relationships like the ones announced Monday to offer more travel options to China’s increasingly well-traveled masses, driven in part by a new demographic that has differentiated itself from what used to be China’s biggest outbound driver: the group tour.
Now, it’s highly educated twentysomethings, travelers seeking more personalized, customized travel experiences and demanding more than the traditional vacation package, that are on Alitrip’s radar.
“What they’re looking for today is extreme experience,” Wu said, such as skydiving, bungee jumping and other outdoor travel. “Those customers can’t find those products easily in the Chinese market.”
The exact packages that Alitrip’s new U.S. partners will offer are still being worked out. But in addition to outdoor activities, Wu said trips to smaller cities are also increasingly popular among young Chinese. Rather than taking the typical trip to New York or Los Angeles, these travelers are looking to get a more complete sense of American culture and life outside the country’s big metropolises.
“Those tours fit very well with Chinese travelers,” Wu said. “So those kinds of things have attracted us to create relationships with these kinds companies.”
Similar initiatives are expected elsewhere in Southeast Asia, South Korea and Japan, European countries such as France and Italy, and Australia and New Zealand, but there is no definite timeline on when those will hit the market. However, Wu did note that Alitrip isn’t the only company looking to capitalize on the trend.
“Lots of other players are starting to focus on this area,” Wu said. “If we don’t move now we could lose our leadership position.”
In addition to offering a greater range of options for holiday activities, Alitrip, which was spun off from Alibaba’s giant Taobao Marketplace online shopping website in October 2014, has been trying to differentiate itself from competing travel-booking sites through innovative services such as Hotel of the Future, which allows for more streamlined payment and checkout services at participating hotels in China.
Chinese travelers are highly sought after by the global tourism industry. According to a report from research firm Fung Business Intelligence Centre and consultancy China Luxury Advisors, the number of Chinese outbound traveler numbers will climb to 234 million by 2020 from more than 100 million in 2014. Total overseas spending from this group will soar to $422 billion by the end of the decade, up from an expected $239 billion last year.