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The luxury of travel

By Wang Wen | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-03 09:05

The luxury of travel

Chinese tourists observe wild animals at Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park on May 2, 2005. The number of Chinese touring abroad in 2013 is expected to increase 15 percent over last year to 95.7 million individual trips. Wang Hongda / Xinhua

Growing prosperity has given wings to not only an elite Chinese jetsetter class but also to a high-end outbound tourism sector to help them fly higher. Wang Wen reports.

The luxury of travel
Swilling wine at a 17th century cellar in central Paris. Boarding an Arctic icebreaker. Trekking the Amazon rainforest.

Such high-end tourism activities have long been pastimes of the Western upper class. But they increasingly cater to China's emerging new rich.

Take HHtravel, the Ctrip.com subsidiary focused on high-end tourism. Its "around the world in 80 days" trip departing in February 2014 sold out 15 seconds after the service became available in March 2013.

The travel agency offers the group tour once a year. No more than 10 travelers attend annually. The 2014 trip costs 1.18 million yuan ($192,800) a person.

The offer's ticket prices keep going up. And the time it takes to sell out keeps going down.

The trip that departed in February 2013 was priced at 1.01 million yuan and sold out in 17 seconds. It took nine minutes to sell out HHtravel's 2011 60-day trip.

"China's luxury tourism market is growing much faster than we expected in quality and quantity," HHtravel's CEO Jack You said.

The market doubles or triples every year, he explained.

But luxury tourism remains a niche market in China.

HHtravel's 10-person maximum is less than the country's average 15-person minimum for ordinary tour groups.

But the travel agency said it is not about the numbers as much as the influence - ultimately, the affluence - of elite tourists. The economic pyramid's tip enjoys a comparable amount of spending power to the broader base of consumers beneath.

"China's (wealthy) minority wields huge influence," You said.

The overall growth of outbound tourism from the country has grown fast. That creates market demand for luxury travel.

The number of Chinese residents touring abroad in 2013 is expected to increase 15 percent over last year to 95.7 million individual trips. Spending on outbound tourism is expected to reach $117.6 billion, a 20 percent year-on-year increase, the China Tourism Academy has forecast.

The luxury of travel

Chinese tourists climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge with Matthew Mitcham (third from the left), the Australian diver who took the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, on Feb 3, 2011, to celebrate the Chinese Spring Festival. Jiang Yaping / Xinhua

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