A tourist scuba dives under the sea around Saipan, the northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY
Outdoor activities, especially those that get the heart pumping, are drawing increasing attention in the country's tourism sector
While many love traveling abroad to go shopping or to experience exotic cultures, history and food, a growing number of Chinese tourists are looking for an adrenaline rush via extreme sports, whether soaring through the sky in Vietnam or exploring the ocean in Thailand, or any of a host of opportunities becoming evermore available.
Sport-oriented tourism has become the next big thing. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism predicted that Chinese people will make 1 billion trips for sport between 2017 and 2020, 15 percent of total travel in the period, creating a trillion-yuan ($159.5 billion) market. The country is also seeing more tourists heading aboard to experience or receive professional training for extreme sports.
"With people's incomes rising, they are looking for more diversified travel experiences abroad," said Peng Liang, director of public relations at Ctrip, the country's biggest online travel agency. "Generally, extreme sports institutions and infrastructure are more professional overseas, with more options and sometimes lower prices."
Take for example Open Water Diver, an entry-level diver certification. In China, only in Hainan province or some indoor institutions in Shanghai and Beijing can one receive training for scuba diving, costing up to 10,000 yuan. But one can obtain the certificate in Southeast Asia, in better waters and with more professional training, for less than half the price, Peng said.
"I started diving in 2012 and it cost me $700 to get an Open Water certificate. I have been diving in Tanzania, Thailand, Australia and the Seychelles," said Lin Yating, a 25-year-old student in Australia.
Peng said more tourists, like Lin, are no longer satisfied with one-off experiences such as diving or sky-diving. They crave repeated experiences and professional training.
The most popular packages Ctrip sells that include activities for certified divers are in the Philippines and the Caribbean, costing 17,980 yuan and 32,900 yuan, respectively.Other popular activities include mountain skiing, cycling and marathons, according to Peng.
"In the future we will focus on those products that combine outdoor sports and tourism. With the number of tourists growing, we believe outdoor sports packages will have more fans," he said.
Some popular global destinations famous for extreme sports have witnessed an increase in Chinese tourists year-on-year.
"Last year 97,271 Chinese visitors came to South Africa," said Bradley Brouwer, president of South African Tourism's Asia-Pacific branch. "The number of Chinese visitors who experience outdoor activities has increased every year. We have found that more and more Chinese travelers are becoming more adventurous and like outdoor activities in wide open spaces."
South Africa is known as an ideal holiday destination for outdoor adventures of all kinds, ranging from surfing, skydiving and bungee jumping, to safaris and even shark cage diving.
Brouwer said he has noticed that Chinese riders participated in the Cape Epic race in March, one of the most televised eight-day mountain bike race events in the world.
"With China's millennial generation increasingly looking for more unique and immersive experiences that others might not yet have tried, South African Tourism hopes to strike this chord with a new focus on authentic cultural and people-to-people experiences, which makes our Rainbow Nation so uniquely warm and welcoming," he added.
Peng said a significant reason behind Chinese tourists going abroad for extreme sports is that other countries might be more competitive in those fields.Although it started later than some countries, China does not lack the necessary natural resources, and the domestic market will catch up as investment flows into the industry, according An Fuxiu, founder of Sportbank, a Beijing-based sport-related investment consultancy.
"Most extreme sports are related to tourism products and the country has a wide range of activities on offer, from ice sports to water sports and even safari," An said. "But the entire sports industry started later than many mature markets, which is why extreme sports have also fallen behind."
The market is of great potential," she said. "The sport industry has been placed under the spotlight in recent years and with investment coming in, infrastructure improving and professional staff being trained, although it is currently just getting started, the industry will catch up in a very short time."