Terrorism has had significant impacts on tourism and tourists’ perception of safety around the world, and this has been especially pronounced when it comes to the Chinese outbound tourism market. We’ve put together a list of 7 key points to help better understand how terrorist attacks affect Chinese outbound travel, and what impacted destinations can do.
1. Chinese tourists care a lot about safety
Chinese tourists tend to prioritize safety as one of their main concerns when traveling overseas. A 2017 Ctrip survey found that 31% of travelers said that safety was their biggest concern when traveling abroad, placing it above costs (10%) and friendliness towards Chinese (15%). CLSA’s research saw concern about travel safety surge from 41% in 2013 to 76% in 2015, and settle down at 70% in 2017. For comparison, concern about the cost of the trip in the CLSA poll fell gradually from 67% in 2013 to 62% in 2017. According to Amadeus research in Asia about preferences for a travel service, Chinese ranked “ensure my safety” as their number two preferred recommendation, after “help me identify the best site seeing options” and before “help me save money”.
This high level of concern about safety can be attributed to a large extent to the fact that the Chinese outbound travel market is relatively inexperienced, and tourists going abroad for the first or second time are likely to be more worried about their safety.
2. Chinese tourists are even more sensitive to terrorism than other nationalities
IPK International’s World Travel Monitor research shows that travelers tend to overestimate the risk of terrorism. While the actual risk is extremely low, especially in Europe, media reports still have tourists on edge. IPK’s September 2017 survey among 29,000 outbound travelers in Europe, Asia and the Americas asked whether the recent instability and terror warnings have an influence on their travel plans in the next 12 months. Around 40% said yes, down from 45% in 2016. Chinese respondents were even more sensitive, with an above average share of travelers saying their travel plans will be influenced by their fear of terrorism. Jing Travel’s recently released study, “The Terrorism Impact on Chinese Tourism,” agrees that Chinese tourists are more sensitive than Western ones about the risk of terrorism, citing Chinese tourists’ lack of experience abroad as a key factor.
To use a concrete example, before the terrorist attacks of 2015, Chinese tourism to Paris was up 41.8% year-on-year. It then dropped 21.5% in 2016. In this same period, tourism from other countries dropped as well, but not by as much, with the US down 4.9%, the UK 8.9%, and Spain 9.9%. Italy was down 27.6% and Japan 41.2%, but these markets were already declining in 2014 and 2015, indicating that there were reasons other than terrorism behind the reduced numbers.
However, the IPK International report does reveal that other Asian source markets are even more sensitive than China, as an even higher share of respondents from Taiwan and Japan said that the recent instability and terror warnings would have an influence on their travel plans for the coming year. This data suggests that perhaps the caution is more cultural to East Asia and not just because the Chinese outbound market is new – if this is the case, we should not expect the Chinese market to become less sensitive to the risk of terrorism anytime soon.
3. The effects of terrorism on tourism are not long-term
After an initial drop in tourism, places that have experienced a terrorist attack tend to recover within a few months to a year, especially if the attack is an isolated event. This is true for the global outbound travel market, as well as for the Chinese one. Chinese tourism to Paris had rebounded a year after the attacks, and was again increasing by the end of 2016, reports Jing Travel – and this was considered quite a long recovery time. This means that tour operators will need to be flexible, as customers may decide to delay their travel, but a terrorist attack will not put travelers off for very long.
Although Chinese continue to report high levels of sensitivity towards safety concerns, it’s also interesting to see that recent terrorist attacks in the UK – including the Westminster attack in March 2017, in which a Chinese national was killed – have not resulted in decreased Chinese tourism to the UK. This indicates that the market, or at least the more experienced travelers that would visit Britain, may be less impacted by terrorism going forward.
4. Terrorism fears create opportunities for new destinations
Of the around 40% of international travelers who said they would change their travel plans because of instability and terrorism warnings in the IPK International survey, around one in four said they would not travel abroad at all, with the remaining share saying that they would divert to “safer” destinations. While Chinese tourism to France may have fallen, Chinese visitors to eastern and northern Europe have been growing – according to the European Tourism Commission, the countries with the highest growth in Chinese tourist number in the first half of 2017 include Finland and Poland. Respondents to IPK’s September 2017 survey indicated that they perceived these two countries as particularly “safe.”
5. There are serious risks for the Southeast Asian tourism market
As the Jing Travel report points out, although Chinese tourists might perceive the terrorism risk in Western Europe to be higher because of media reports, Southeast Asia is actually a much riskier part of the world. The Philippines has Muslim and communist insurgencies, and Thailand and Indonesia have both had bombings in the last several years. Safety concerns regarding terrorism, kidnapping and other fears have impacted Chinese tourism to Southeast Asia in the past, although this part of the world remains the most popular destination for Chinese outbound tourists outside of Hong Kong and Macau. But despite the actual risk of terrorism, which is predicted to grow in this region, according to the Jing Travel report, Southeast Asia is not globally perceived as very dangerous – not a single Southeast Asian country made it to the IPK’s ‘top 10 terror fear list,’ which is based on the views held about destinations by travelers. On the other hand, France, the US and the UK are included on this list.
“It may take only one high profile attack involving Chinese tourists in the Philippines, Thailand or Indonesia to encourage Chinese media to engage in heavy coverage and impact outbound Chinese tourism to these countries,” writes the Jing Travel report. It is also likely that there would be a spillover effect to nearby countries – after the Paris attacks, Chinese tourism to Britain fell 3.4%, with a 2.2% decrease in trips to Germany. Southeast Asia is particularly at risk, too, as Chinese tourists to these countries tend to be less experienced travelers than those who would go to Europe or more niche destinations.
6. Safety isn’t just about terrorism
Of course, terrorism is not the only safety concern when traveling – in fact, the likelihood of being affected by terrorism is tiny compared to other crime and health risks. While Chinese tourists to the UK might not be put off because of terrorism, this doesn’t mean that other safety issues won’t have a real impact. After several high profile robberies of Chinese tourists in Paris over the past several years, as well as a Chinese national dying from injuries after a mugging, terrorism might be the least of the French capital’s worries when it comes to assuring Chinese tourists that it’s a safe place to visit.
7. There are ways to effectively manage perception
Israel can also be found on IPK’s top 10 terror fear list, yet Chinese tourism to Israel grew 68.6% from 2015 to 2016, and the Chinese market has become an extremely important source of tourism to the Middle Eastern country. Israel has assuaged the fears of Chinese tourists by offering clear and detailed information about safety in the country on their tourism website. Chinese traveling to Israel are also likely to be quite experienced and adventurous, and therefore less concerned about terrorist threats than newbie tourists.
For further information from IPK International and their special survey on the influence of terrorism on tourism, please contact Fenja Weberskirch via firstname.lastname@example.org