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Self-driving tourism, or car rental, is a growing trend in Chinese outbound tourism that offers significant opportunities to attract independent Chinese travelers to lesser known destinations.
Interviews with Chinese travelers:
Have you done self-driving when traveling abroad?
Yes, because I have a driver’s license in a foreign country. So, I will self-drive in that country.
Yes, I self-drive every time when traveling abroad.
I often self-drive when traveling abroad. I have done self-driving travel in over 10 countries.
Where did you go?
Iceland, Northern Europe, Canada, the US, and South America.
How did you plan your route?
I look up the city I’m going to online in advance, make a plan and go for it straight away.
I usually choose famous road trip routes and epic coastlines, and plan the route around the scenery.
I ask friends for recommendations in advance.
Why did you choose this kind of travel?
It gives me freedom. You are able to decide where you want to go and stay. If you travel with a travel agency, it would be limited.
I like to be free when traveling. You can enjoy the whole experience. You can decide the way you go.
It’s convenient if you have a lot of luggage. You can stop when you want and take any pictures you want, without thinking about transportation timetables, and it gives me freedom.
Have you encountered any problems?
Because of the customs in some African countries, their traffic police will cause some troubles for you.
I have encountered a lot of problems, such as tire blowout, being pulled over by traffic police, a car crash, running out of gas, and so on. But I think the nice thing of self-driving overseas is, many people are willing to help you. My car light was broken when traveling in Iceland, and I got help from strangers.
What are the pros and cons of self-driving? Would you do it again?
The advantage is you can fully enjoy your journey. I don’t think it’s a disadvantage, but it will take a lot of time.
It’s dangerous, for sure, if you’re unfamiliar with the situation abroad.
You will see a lot of different views. Sometimes it will require driving skills, but you will have different experiences.
Between 2013 and 2017, the proportion of Chinese outbound travelers who rented cars increased by 36 times. Despite this rapid growth, the market still has immense potential. According to leading online car rental platform Zuzuche, only 5% of Chinese outbound tourists in 2017 rented a car, compared to 40% of Japanese tourists, and 46% of tourists from the US.
Self-driving tourism is favored by Chinese who want greater freedom and independence in their travels, and is especially popular for visiting places of natural beauty.
It’s also appealing for Chinese who like to drive and want to enjoy the driving experience in countries that are well known for their high-quality and open roads.
Most self-driving tourists are aged between 30-49, and travel either with family or as a group of friends. While more men than women rent cars, the gender balance has been shifting. In 2015, only 28.9% of Zuzuche’s customers were female. By 2017, it was 43.7%.
The US, Australia, and New Zealand are the three most popular countries for self-driving tourism by Chinese travelers, with the US strongly in the lead. Popular routes include California’s Highway 1, and Australia’s Great Ocean Road. Other top countries for self-driving include Canada, Germany, Thailand, the UK, and other parts of Europe.
The People’s Republic of China has never acceded to the UN’s Convention on Road Traffic, so it cannot issue international driving permits. This prevents Chinese tourists from renting cars in countries including Japan and South Korea, but car rental companies in most countries accept an English translation of a Chinese driver’s license – and many Chinese OTAs and car rental platforms now provide this translation service for free.
By and large, self-driving tourism is done by car, but some leading self-driving countries like Australia and Canada also have a growing number of Chinese who travel by caravan/RV.
Self-driving helps Chinese travelers to get off the beaten track. To encourage this dispersal, destinations can help to promote suggested itineraries, and provide useful information on local road safety and traffic laws, in Chinese.