Written by Stéphane Lasserre
Between 2000 and 2015, the biggest travel boom the world has ever seen took place. At the turn of the millennium, approximately 10 million Chinese travellers made trips abroad, and in 2015 that number soared to more than 120 million, with only 4% of the Chinese population in possession of a passport1. Chinese outbound tourism traffic is expected to double by 20252. This phenomenon is recent as well as rapid: outbound tourism was impossible for most Chinese citizens until the early 1990s, when the government introduced the Approved Destination Status (ADS) policy3. This would permit travel to selected countries for leisure, starting with countries in Southeast Asia4. China’s importance in the global economy began to grow exponentially, and the rise of China’s middle class has produced an entirely new tourism market in the world’s most populous country. More and more of China’s 1.38 billion people5 are now taking trips overseas, and many of them are spending liberally on these excursions. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2012 Chinese travellers’ overseas expenditures soared to the first place for the first time, at a record total of US$102 billion.
Who are these tourists?
Current research6 7 8 offers insight into the demographics of China’s outbound tourists:
- Most are young: Those between the ages of 25 and 44 represent 65% of Chinese outbound tourists. People in this group tend to be looking for local cultural experiences and are often interested in sharing their travel adventures on social networks.
- Many favour group travel: Vacationing outside of China is a new option for most Chinese residents, and many of them are attracted to the convenience and safety of group inclusive tours. Older travellers are particularly likely to opt for structured, guided tours.
- Shopping is part of the fun: Whether they travel on their own or in a group, many Chinese outbound tourists appreciate having opportunities to shop for name-brand merchandise at vacation destinations.
- World travel pairs well with home-style dining: Chinese outbound tourists are eager to see other countries, but they may have a limited appetite for the local cuisine. Vacation spots serving up the option of meals similar to those enjoyed at home are popular with this group.
If you build it, they will come
Countries around the globe are eager to position themselves as prime destinations for Chinese tourists, and with that comes an increase in the demand for infrastructure to sustain the rapidly growing market. B+H is responding to the tourism boom with several high-profile hospitality projects around the world – such as the Pullman Oceanview Sanya Bay Resort and Spa in Hainan, China (completed in 2013), and most recently the King’s Harbour Integrated Beach Resort in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
The client’s vision for the King’s Harbour project is a vast and spectacular transformation of Cambodia’s Sihanoukville province from a secondary tourism destination in Southwest Cambodia – most popular with beach lovers and backpackers – into the top regional resort destination: the Cancun of Southeast Asia.
The site is Cambodia’s first and only deep-water port. With all essential cruise ship connectivity in place, Sihanoukville currently receives approximately two of these vessels per month. Our client aspires to transform this port into the main stopover and cruise hub of the region, attracting not only Chinese outbound tourists but also local ferries from Vietnam and the surrounding islands. The international airport at Sihanoukville is directly connected by international flights to major cities in China and Vietnam, including Chengdu, Shi Jia Zhuang, Tianjin, Xi’an and Ho Chi Minh City.
As the flagship project of Sihanoukville, King’s Harbour Integrated Beach Resort is poised to be at the forefront of the new tourism wave in Southeast Asia. The resort targets individual travellers and groups, and estimates about 900,000 visitor trips per year. The project features 850 rooms in total, representing a range of accommodation types and tiers, and supported by diverse amenities.
The project will also involve reclaiming and upgrading a 600m-long coastal belt into a white sandy beach with a new public boardwalk. Occupying a narrow strip of land, the undulating form of the complex is inspired by Naga – a guardian Cambodian serpent deity. The entertainment complex is located at the tip of the strip, symbolically, the tallest point of the serpent, which is the head. This development is expected to generate more than 2,000 jobs and create additional positive impacts on the local community, such as improvements to transportation infrastructure and public areas, including the public wharf, boardwalk and beach zone.
- An entertainment complex featuring a casino, an outdoor roof party pool, a 24/7 live music pub, and a large variety of other retail, food and beverage options
- A 110-room boutique hotel along the boardwalk that is well connected to a civic plaza and an entertainment zone packed with leisure activities
- A 350-room budget hotel with slightly larger rooms than would be expected in an urban context
- A 400-room, 5-star beach resort, situated away from the more crowded areas and offering quality dining, specialty restaurant options and a wellness centre
The design of the integrated complex specifically addresses the preferences and targets the needs of the various Chinese traveller demographics. Tax-free shopping for a wide selection of local and luxury brands is a key part of the program; other well-represented leisure options range from karaoke bars to swimming pools for vacationers of all ages.
To appeal to younger travellers seeking memorable, authentic and photogenic cultural experiences, roof designs and façade treatments feature wood accents and other locally procured materials. As well, spacious guest rooms with shaded balconies open to dramatic sunset beach views for photo opportunities. Many of those who come to stay at King’s Harbour will be visiting a tropical climate for the first time; covered walkways and overhangs will protect them from direct sun exposure.
Sufficient parking with convenient drop-off points allocated for huge volumes of coaches and tour buses will minimize traffic congestion, while maintaining an efficient, safe and seamless experience for elderly visitors, group travellers and families.
The varied dining options will appeal to a wide range of budgets and palates. For group travellers and families, there are large dining areas with round tables; many of the venues with this type of seating are Chinese specialty restaurants catering to visitors who prefer familiar food. At the more exclusive end of the dining spectrum, there are private dining rooms, each with a dedicated service counter and personal assistance crew.
Shaping the future of hospitality and tourism
The King’s Harbour project, currently at the developed design stage, is expected to break ground in January 2017. We at B+H are particularly excited to see this ambitious project transition from concept to reality, in part because our involvement in it has gone beyond providing the integrated design services of master planning, architecture, interior design and landscape design. We are working very closely with our client to facilitate meetings with hotel operators and investors, and to provide full support in presentations to government officials. We see King’s Harbour as a landmark project and an important precedent for future tourism developments in Asia. Residents of China are now eager and increasingly able to see the world, and the world is just beginning to understand the phenomenal possibilities opened up by extending a warm welcome to them.