Travel sector targets new generation
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2023-07-28  ·   Source: NO.31 AUGUST 3, 2023
Tourists enjoy the scenery at the Tianzi Mountain scenic area in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan Province on July 24 (XINHUA)

As many younger people calculate how many days they can take off from work to go travel and how much a trip is going to cost them, many seniors don't have to worry much about any of that.

With plenty of time and savings, the growing number of seniors, or people aged 60 and above, in China has created a goldmine for senior tourism. On July 19, New Oriental Education and Technology Group, an education company in China, officially set up its tourism sub-company with a registered capital of 1 billion yuan ($140 million), mainly targeting senior travelers.

The group, which started out as an educational training company, lost its primary business with the introduction of China's "double reduction" policies, released in 2021 to reduce the burden of excessive homework and off-campus tutoring on young students. The group managed to shift its business focus to live-commerce, a term used to describe the combination of livestreaming and e-commerce. Its livestreaming business, after going through an initial difficult period, picked up and then even boomed in late 2022.

After going through these twists and turns, today, the group is on a new path—tourism.

A tailored fit 

But the group isn't entirely unfamiliar with the tourism industry as it has more than 10 years of experience in organizing educational tours for students, from those looking for the perfect middle school to attend to soon-to-be high school grads catching a glimpse of college campus life. When said tours reached new heights early this summer school vacation, the group decided the time had come to expand its tourism business, something it'd already been pondering in the months leading up to the holiday.

This time, the group is targeting older travel enthusiasts. On June 5, the company registered a travel agency in Zhejiang Province. In late June, the group had already piloted its first-ever senior-suitable route in the province. The destinations included two cities—Hangzhou and Shaoxing, and the route was sold at two price levels based on the number of travel days—3,999 yuan ($560) for four days and three nights and 5,999 yuan ($840) for six days and five nights, all catering to seniors with different physical conditions.

On June 21, the route's launch day, the group's live-commerce helped it sell 500 travel packages; the first group embarked on their trip on July 4.

A customer service representative by the name of Xiaolu told Beijing Review that each travel group was accompanied by three staff members—a cultural lecturer who knows and introduces every single detail of every single scenic spot they visit, a trip manager and a tour guide.

The whole group stayed only at five-star hotels, echoing the "luxurious" price tag of the tailored route. "We will take our travelers to spots other tourism agencies won't go to," Zhang Yujia, a cultural lecturer, said while introducing the route in a short video on Douyin, China's TikTok, taking the example of Mount Gushan, which sits next to the very popular West Lake in Hangzhou. 

The group chose to include this mountain on the itinerary as it is home to the Xiling Seal Engraver's Society. "It is an academic organization dedicated to the art of seal carving and has a history of over 100 years. Our tourists can make their own seals there," she said.

The staff created a group chat on Weixin, one of China's most popular super apps, sharing the travelers' daily updates. Some tourists would write poems after visiting a spot and then share them in the group. A 71-year-old man from Jiangsu Province took photos of every scenic spot's introduction so he would be able to thoroughly read them later.

"These lovely tourists remind me of my grandparents," Xiaolu shared. "They learn hard, like students, and try to remember every detail along the route."

A large market 

According to the 2020 Chinese census, the number of people aged 60 and above in China stood at 264 million that year, 18.7 percent of the total population. This number is projected to reach 300 million by 2025 and 400 million by 2035.

Figures from the China National Committee on Aging showed that the consumption of senior group tourism increased an average of 23 percent each year, from 2016 to 2020, reaching 700 billion yuan ($98 billion) in 2021. Today, senior travelers account for more than 20 percent of the total number of travelers in the country. That means among every five tourists in China, one is a senior.

New Oriental is no early bird in this industry. Many tourism agencies already tapped into the senior travel sector years ago. Take Lou Yawei from Wuxi in Jiangsu, who has been working in senior tourism from 2018.

Lou refers to the seniors in his travel group as "retired students" and told Beijing Review that a growing number of seniors are now starting to enjoy traveling around, freeing themselves from family undertakings such as looking after their grandchildren. "This is especially more obvious in some more developed areas in east China," he explained. 

"Many older tourists are not satisfied with simply visiting a scenic spot," he said. "They want to spend more time learning about the customs and cultures of their destinations." 

He revealed that Chinese people aged 60 to 65 are today's most active senior travel group and are more likely to travel independently. "Some in this group know how to use a smartphone to book hotels and make other reservations so they enjoy more flexible travel plans," he said. "Some stay in one place for months and then move on to a new place. Some purchase recreational vehicles to be able to do so."

Older seniors are more inclined to join a tour group as doing so saves the hassles of making travel arrangements and they also need company should a physical mishap occur.

A growing number of tourism services aim to meet this group's demands. For example, in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a train boasting only deluxe sleeping compartments takes passengers on a 15-day tour of major scenic spots all over the region. "It largely relieves the possible fatigue of traveling through Xinjiang—because it's such a big region," Lou said. "Many of my customers love to board this train."

More places are working on developing tailored routes and spots for senior tourists as well as more facilities serving senior travelers, Dai Bin, Director of the China Tourism Academy, told Xinhua News Agency. "As China has seen a strong boom of post-pandemic tourism, we should provide more diverse services to meet the evolving demands of senior tourists."  

(Print Edition Title: Suits You, Seniors!)  

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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