Going mobile

Updated: 2016-01-08 07:53

By Li Jing and Yang Feiyue(China Daily Europe)

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Going mobile

Visitors take a selfie in the French president's office at the Elysee Palace during European Heritage Days in Paris, France in September. Provided to China Daily

And it's not just tourists who have benefited; travel agencies have also been able to reduce costs, while tech firms have latched on to the opportunities created by a fast-growing market.

"The Internet has allowed travel agencies to close brick-and-mortar offices, cut out the middleman and gain easier access to target customers," Zhu says. "Since 2014, many companies have also launched smartphone apps aimed at Chinese travelers, providing services like car rental and restaurant reviews, which removes the language barrier and facilitates independent travel."

In fact, despite China coming late to the Internet, studies suggest the nation's tourists are now the most connected in the world.

Going mobile

The Chinese International Travel Monitor, compiled by online booking agency hotel.com, says at least 50 percent of tourists arranged a holiday through a smartphone app in 2015, up 17 percent year-on-year.

In December, TripBarometer, the research arm of TripAdvisor, also released its 2016 Travel Trends. The report includes a poll of 44,000 global travelers that found 75 percent now see mobile devices are the most essential item for a holiday, overtaking toiletries. Among the Chinese respondents, it was 87 percent.

Tech companies have been quick to see the potential in China's outbound tourism market.

One example is Yidao Yongche, an Uber-like app that provides Chinese-speaking drivers to Chinese travelers in 25 cities overseas. Launched as a car rental website in 2010, the company shifted focus when mobile Internet devices started to become popular in China.

"Most Chinese don't speak English, so they find it difficult to communicate with foreign drivers after they land in another country," says founder and chief executive Zhou Hang.

With offices in Paris, London, Edinburgh and Manchester in Europe, as well as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix in the US, Yidao Yongche offers services, that include airport pickups for passengers who book flights through Ctrip, a major online travel agency and an investor in the app.

China is also arguably the most competitive market for websites and apps that allow tourists to post reviews and swap travel stories.

TripAdvisor is the biggest player in the West and beyond; at least half of its total revenue is generated in North America, with 33 percent coming from Europe and the Middle East. Yet in China, local rivals such as Mafengwo and Qyer are providing stiff competition.