More Chinese are customizing their journeys. Yang Feiyue discovers privacy and flexibility intersect with various price ranges to imbue value in increasingly popular personalized trips
A desire to make travel experiences truly personal journeys is propelling more Chinese to take customized tours. Privacy, tailored arrangements and one-on-one services offer an appeal that has pushed the number of customized trips booked through Ctrip, China's largest online travel agency, up to 80,000 a month.
The company expects the number to surge to 120,000 this year.
Tailored trips from Beijing surged 240 percent year-on-year in 2016, the agency reports.
Affluent Chinese aged 30 to 39 are the main force energizing the trend, Ctrip says.
Families account for 60 percent of the company's customized tours.
Tao Peng, who tailors tours for Ctrip from Jiangsu's provincial capital, Nanjing, says orders are nearly doubling on a monthly basis.
He asks customers' requirements, develops travel plans and manages logistics before departure. Tao offers follow-up services during the trips.
"(Our) knowledge about destinations saves customers time and helps them avoid traps," he says.
"We optimize resource integration and spend a lot of time comparing prices."
His clients seek freedom and flexibility.
Most ask for moderately paced itineraries. Over 60 percent of such trips last four to seven days.
"They want to understand destinations in depth," Tao says.
His orders have included a museum-themed Beijing trip and a photography tour to capture the colorfully banded Danxia red-sandstone formations in Gansu province's Zhangye.
Ctrip's network of customized tours spans 956 cities in 107 countries.
Hainan province's Sanya, Yunnan province's Lijiang and Fujian province's Xiamen are favorite destinations among Beijingers for customized trips, Ctrip reports.
Japan, Thailand and the United States are the most popular foreign sites.
Quality hotels are a common request.
About 85 percent of customers ask for at least four-star accommodations. Family rooms are frequent requirements.
The most expensive customized Ctrip itinerary to date was 420,000 yuan ($60,800; 57,470; 49,000).
Ctrip also offers tailored trips for as little as 209 yuan for two days in Sichuan province's Dujiangyan.
"These tours aren't necessarily expensive," says Lei Tao, co-founder of Beijing-based UniqueWay Inc, which customizes overseas tours.
The idea is to get as close to customers' expectations as possible within their budget, he says.
His company's business growth doubled in March.
Its most popular destinations are Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Lei says prices are roughly equivalent to group packages.
"Our customers give us a budget and some specific requests for certain tours. We use our resources to help them get a good run for their money," he says.
Customers don't have to bother researching and booking flights and hotels, let alone visa applications. Plus, the company crafts their requested travel itinerary, Lei says.
They also don't have to search for travel tips that may ultimately be inaccurate.
"Some sites' tickets are available for only a short time. Some are much cheaper online. These are available for customized tours."
Lei's company also offers a book of tour tips targeting specific destinations and 24-hour, on-call service.
Ctrip developed its tailored-tour platform in late January. It offers about 4,000 trip "customizers".
Users and customizers can choose each other. The match rate has reached 93 percent, Ctrip claims.
Cost breakdowns, covering plane tickets, hotels and transportation, will be shown to each user.
The company plans to offer customized-tour guests real-time updates of specific scenic spots and nearby shopping and dining, says Xu Zhiyun, general manager of Ctrip's tailored tour service. It also plans to add recommendations.
Indeed, it seems travel customization will likely continue to accelerate specialization in services - in every sense.
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(China Daily Africa Weekly 04/14/2017 page20)