A worker changes the window display of Thomas Cook in Loughborough, central England.(Photo provided to China Daily)
Leading travel operator Thomas Cook forecasts that its business in China will grow tenfold in the next year.
Thomas Cook China, a joint venture formed in 2016 between UK-based travel company and Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, is on track to serve 20,000 customers in its first year of operations.
"Over the next 12 months, we plan to grow this number by more than ten times," said Alessandro Dassi, managing director of Thomas Cook China.
Speaking at the 2017 FVW Congress in Cologne, Germany, Dassi said the unit has the full commitment of Fosun and Thomas Cook to support the future growth of the business.
"The ambition is to make China a sizeable market for Thomas Cook Group, comparable, over time, with our more mature source markets in Europe," he said.
The two-day tourism conference covered a variety of topics impacting the future of tourism, including the growth of China as the emerging power in the global travel market.
"Thomas Cook has looked at China for many years," Dassi said. "But it was not until we partnered with Fosun that we had the confidence to bring our brand and resources in to China."
The 176-year-old Thomas Cook is a recognized name for both European travel consumers and distributors in Western markets, but is less well known among Chinese consumers.
The company's Chinese arm has developed into a one-stop full service travel company. With offices in Shanghai and Beijing, it offers inbound travel to and within China, as well as holidays and tours for Chinese customers.
Thomas Cook China said that while the Chinese travel market is large, growing fast and represents the world's largest number of outbound visitors, it is also very competitive and fragmented.
Dassi said: "There is already huge choice in the market for the Chinese leisure travelers, and a great focus on price."
One of the biggest opportunities for the company comes from the rapid change in the behavior of Chinese travelers, with traditional group tours becoming less popular in favor of more independent and higher quality type of travel.
According to a survey by booking site Hotels.com and Ipsos, shopping is no longer the major reason for international travel among Chinese tourists.
Instead, dining, sightseeing and exploring the local culture have all become increasingly appealing.
"The industry is not yet keeping up with the pace of change in the behavior of Chinese consumers," said Dassi. "To exploit this gap we have focused on developing products that are truly unique and differentiated, leveraging Thomas Cook's resources across key tourist destinations."