China’s burgeoning appetite for sustainable travel is creating new opportunities within the world’s most lucrative travel market, according to the chairwoman of Booking.com.
Gillian Tans told CNBC that the U.S.-owned travel operator, which has been operating in China for close to a decade, has recorded a recent uptick in demand from Chinese tourists looking for responsible travel alternatives, bringing the country closer in line with a wider shift in global travel trends.
“We see trends here in China, which is a bit comparable to what we see anywhere else in the world, but we see for instance that customers think about responsible tourism and Chinese customers think about overtourism,” Tans said Tuesday at CNBC’s East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China.
Citing a recent study conducted by Booking.com on sustainable tourism trends, Tans noted that 79% of customers said they would be happy to switch their chosen holiday destination if they were presented with an alternative that was better for the environment. The findings come amid growing international concern about the social and environmental impacts of growing global tourism.
“Chinese customers find it very important that they understand the contribution they’re making to tourism in the local market,” Tans told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore during a discussion entitled “Business and Investment Opportunities at Greater Bay Area.”
“They want to make sure they understand what impact they have on the destination when they travel there, they want to know that the food is locally produced,” she later added.
The shifting sentiment comes even as China’s outbound tourism market continues to boom.
Last year, China ranked as the world’s largest tourism market by expenditure, spending $277 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization. That figured eclipsed the $144 billion spent by the world’s second-largest travel market, the U.S.
Tans said that presents huge opportunities for the bookings site as it continues its expansion across the country.
Asked by CNBC’s Christine Tan whether China could become Booking.com’s largest market, Tans said: “It could be, one day.”
“China is a market which has huge, huge potential,” she said. You see more and more of the middle class have started to travel, even in their own country but also outside,” said Tan.
To assist with that, Tans said the company will continue to partner with local operators, such as Ctrip, DiDi and Meituan, as well as further rolling out its alternative travel services, including homestay accommodations and localized experiences.
Competition is heating up in the alternative travel space as more brands move to diversify their services. Tans said homestay reservations now account for 20% of Booking.com’s overall revenues, bringing the business head-to-head with vacation rental competitors like Airbnb and HomeAway.