TREND: China—Uncovering the Wealth in Wellness

Outbound Chinese Travel Will Transform Tourism

China’s outbound travel will have the biggest impact on the global wellness market. Wanderlust among Chinese consumers will dominate and reshape global tourism with its explosive growth and unique consumption habits.

In 2017, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) recorded 145 million international trips taken by the country’s 7 percent passport-holding population. Chinese travelers also took the lead as the world’s biggest spenders with an expenditure of $258 billion, followed by the United States at $135 billion. On average, each Chinese traveler spends more per trip than tourists from any other country. As the number of passport holders continues to rise, this number is expected to balloon to 200 million in less than two years. This represents an astounding 20-fold growth since 2000 while spending is predicted to increase to $429 billion. Adding to these phenomenal figures, the number of Chinese outbound tourists is expected to reach 400 million by 2030, representing 29 percent of the global travel market.

Of particular interest to tourism boards is the changing motivation for travel. Increasingly, Chinese tourists are eschewing the long-established shopping and sightseeing tours and are now more focused on authentic experiences. According to a 2017 survey from Qyer, one of China’s leading travel powerhouses, over 70 percent of travelers are seeking local experiences or wellness-related activities, such as culinary exploration, outdoor recreation, gallery and museum visits, nature/ecological tours, beauty and spa treatments (women still prefer facials while men favor body massages), and hot springs. China has jumped from the 11th to the third position in wellness tourism, with 70.2 million wellness trips made in 2017, driving a global revenue of $31.7 billion.

Since the quality of domestic medical care is a major concern, many Chinese look abroad for healthcare and medical treatments. With half a million outbound Chinese medical travelers spending at least $10 billion a year, the market in other countries is highly lucrative for hospitals, clinics and agents. The services range from checkups, prescription fillings, surgical procedures, maternity and plastic surgery. In response to China ending its one-child policy, there is also a wave of outbound travelers seeking fertility treatments. Over-the-counter medicine and health supplements are also high in demand. While the middle class prefers regional destinations, such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore, the ultra-rich prefer France, Germany, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom for more advanced treatments, drugs and technologies that are not available in the Asia-Pacific region. These include stem-cell treatments, advanced cancer and cardiac treatments, in vitro fertilization and wellness programs. There is also a growing trend for consumers to fly by private jets to receive treatments. While most of these charters are from high net-worth individuals in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, there are increasing private flights from second-tier cities such as Dalian, Chengdu and Chongqing where the numbers of ultra-rich individuals are growing.

On the other hand, Global Growth Markets estimates that there will be 900,000 outbound medical tourists from China by 2020, looking for minor treatments such as cosmetic surgery and health checks, along with 100,000 patients traveling for advanced treatments, such as cardiology, oncology and neurology programs, fertility treatment, obstetrics, gynecology and joint replacement.

Forecasting The Future

  • To grasp the impact of outbound Chinese travel, you need to change your brain’s economy of scale. The market expanded 20-fold since 2000, is now at 145 million international trips annually, will rise to 200 million in two years, and then double to 400 million by 2030 (when China will represent 30 percent of the entire international travel market).
  • China is the world’s fastest-growing wellness tourism market, jumping to third globally in lightning-fast time—with huge growth ahead.
  • There will be one million outbound Chinese medical tourists by 2020: 900,000 seeking more minor treatments such as fertility and cosmetic procedures and 100,000 traveling for advanced treatments from cardiology to oncology.


This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the Global Wellness Trends Reports.
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