Independent travel is on the rise

National Day may be over…but travel is still going strong this month. Temperate weather from Beijing down to Hong Kong spurs those with the desire and means to hit the roads.

But, to paraphrase a Bob Dylan lyric, travel habits they are a’ changing.

These articles from the Xinhua news agency (Chinese) and Financial World (Chinese) point to one thing: an increase in independent travel.

To get a little perspective on this, the Financial World article points out that, on average, there were three times the requests from independent travelers — those who only booked plane tickets and/or hotel rooms — compared to 2005. It goes on to mention that while around 20 billion trips are taken each year, independent travel only accounts for 1/1000 of that.

This is one hot, untapped market, and currently there are only a handful of suppliers — such as Ctrip and eLong — that offer competitive services.

I say, it’s about time people challenged the tour group model. When I discussed travel with my former colleagues in China, most saw tour groups as a necessary evil that got in the way of the enjoyment of travel. Many would rather do it themselves, were it not for the prohibitive pricing.

Lest you think this needs to be a homegrown effort, remember this: Ctrip and eLong are primarily online businesses — and online businesses are quite robust in certain parts of the West. Got a great idea for travel services that might translate well online? Why not start investigating how it might work in China?

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