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3 Jan, 2015

Surge in vacationing Chinese senior-citizens

By Xiaolixin and Zhengxin

Beijing, (China Daily) 2015-01-02 — Domestic and overseas travel have seen a sharp boost in the past decade, as groups of freshly retired Chinese senior citizens with abundant time and financial support enter the country’s tourism market.

Surge in vacationing Chinese seniors drives travel business
Senior citizens in China love to go on a trip with companions. [Photo by Shi Yucheng / China Daily]

According to the China National Committee on Aging, as the country has gradually grown older, it is expected that by the end of 2013 the number of older Chinese individuals will reach 202 million, with the population estimated to hit 248 million by 2020.

Among this expanding and sizable social group, men, 60 to 75 years old, and women, 55 to 75, whose health condition would allow both short and relatively long-term travel, are potential targets of travel agencies who eye this emerging and fast-growing market.

Statistics show that as much as 40 percent of the senior Chinese are willing and able of going on a tour, at home and abroad, and they are willing to set aside 15 percent of their annual income to trips, according to Mafengwo.com, the country’s largest tourist information-sharing website.

The total income of senior people in China is around 300 to 400 billion yuan ($48 to 64 billion), including their pension, employment and those from relatives and heirs.

Sixty-two percent of the senior citizens choose to go with a company while going on a trip, and when compared to 2013, this year has seen the number of senior tourists increase by 58 percent. As transportation and information further become more convenient, it is believed the number of senior people willing to travel, short or long-distance, will further increase, said Chen Gang, CEO of Mafengwo.

Along with the “red tour” that covers major historically significant sites during the Long March and leisure routes in Bama county of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Gulangyu Island of Fujian province, Sanya, Hainan province and Dali, Yunnan province, which are traditionally favored by senior Chinese, customized travel products have become the new hit in the country’s travel market.

“Senior citizens in China love to go on a trip with companions, such as neighbors living in the same community, former colleagues and alumni or travel friends,” said Zhong Hui, CEO of China Environment International Travel Service. “They form a small group tour and hope the travel agency can design the travel route according to their specific preference.”

Yan Shuizhen, 68, and her husband Chen Ying’en, 69, both retired teachers in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, have been entertaining themselves through frequent travels at home and overseas since their retirement.

“After we retired, we started planning how to spend our spare time not only because of a more-than-enough monthly disposable family income of at least 12,000 yuan, but also because we have not yet had a grandchild to take care of, like what most Chinese at similar age are always occupied with,” said Yan.

Chen joined a community badminton club, of which many members are also seniors and travelers. Once in a while, they organize group tours by themselves across the country and when going on trips within the province they prefer to drive their own cars, as it is more flexible than renting a tour bus or taking trains.

As for outbound tours, the couple would still like to turn to help from travel agencies that would arrange a variety of choices catering to their special needs. In the year 2014, the couple booked a two-week package tour to the United States at the beginning of this year, which cost about 30,000 yuan for each person. In late October, they went to Japan for a week, escaping the rush during the National Day holiday.

With more diversified travel products available and a further segmented travel market, there are more options to choose from for senior citizens who want to travel both home and abroad. Apart from the conventional package tours, senior Chinese have made their appearance in the most popular fashions among younger tourists: be it independent tour or self-driving, and even cruise trips.

HH Travel, the high-end travel brand under Ctrip Group, said the small and medium-sized cruises are very popular with the senior citizens, especially those toward destinations that include the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea, Alaska and the Caribbean.

“Most of the cruises offered offer butler services which can very well take care of the senior tourist,” said Yang Mengyue, publicity officer of HH Travel.

“The senior tourists can go travel on the foreign land in the day time and rest on the cruise in the night, which will excuse them from the possible hardships of travel.”

Most of the cruises only receive some 100 guests, so that the senior citizens do not have to queue up and are guaranteed a well-tailored service, she said.

However, for those senior tourists whose physical conditions are not fit for long-distance trips, home destinations and neighboring countries in the East and Southeast Asia seem best choices.

Ctrip has special tour products tailored for the senior, Happy Tours for Parents, hundreds of routes of which cover home and abroad, said Yan Xin, publicity officer of Ctrip.

Suggested by Yan, the trips are better and less bumpy, to avoid any physical discomfort during the trip. Extreme activities such as scuba diving, jet splash and hot spring are not recommended to prevent possible serious illness or injury.

It is also recommended by Mafengwo that trips should be prepared with essential medical staff and facilities tailored for the senior, or senior citizens should be accompanied by professionals while going on a trip, and go to established destinations with highly developed facilities and services in case of health emergency.

Chen Zhao, a 37-year-old housewife from Liaoning province, recently experienced physical and mental anguish after her father suffered a stroke during an independent tour within the province organized by his former colleagues. He is in a coma and might be left partially paralized.

“My father liked to travel a lot since he retired and has traveled on many package tours over the years to relatively long-distance destinations such as Thailand and Taiwan, and closer ones in East China and within the Northeastern China and no accident ever happened, and my family got careless,” said Chen.

“How I wish there could have been someone in their team, not necessarily professional, but at least knowing some basic first-aid measures when symptoms showed up, or he had never gone to that trip.”