More Chinese driven by desire for DIY road trips
A TOURIST bus pulls up near the Eiffel Tower in Paris - or any other major tourist attraction in Europe you care to name - and out troops a mass of Chinese visitors, with cameras, selfie sticks and credit cards at the ready.
These are stereotypical Chinese tourists on a stereotypical tourist jaunt, one that will have them "doing Europe" in seven days and back at work on Monday, ready to regale their workmates with tales of where they stayed, what they saw and what they bought.
Now, consider Li Xiaowei, 40, hunched over a computer in her Beijing home, admiring motor vehicles of all types and models, before she chooses one and uploads photos of her and her husband's driving licences.
She is among a growing band of Chinese travellers who have turned their backs on package holidays in the company of strangers.
They have embraced a way of travel that they can intimately share with close friends and family members.
This mode includes renting cars and staying in hotels, and renting camper vans or caravans and spending the nights in camping grounds.
The key word is independence, and according to China's Outbound Road Trip Report for last year, many Chinese people are renting cars online.
Some 28 per cent of such bookings were made from mobile devices.
That report was published recently by Chinese tourism information-sharing website Mafengwo.cn and Chinese website zuzuche.com, which rents cars outside China. This is based on data related to the latter's more than 1.4 million car rentals last year.
Those who went on overseas road trips last year spent the longest time on average in North America - a little more than eight days - and the shortest time in South-east Asia, under five days.
The report added that many who made these trips were accompanied by their children, partners and parents.
Li Bin, co-founder of zuzuche.com, said the overseas road trip market in China is growing.
The average cost of renting a car through zuzuche.com has fallen about 30 per cent over the past three or four years, especially in long-haul destinations, he added.
As more overseas suppliers join the market, competition has become fierce and prices will fall further, he added.
"Renting cars is particularly cheap when three or four people share the cost," he noted.
A Chinese mainland driving licence does not qualify the holder for an International Driving Permit. But authorities and companies in many countries will recognise a Chinese driving licence accompanied by a notarised translation.
Some Chinese agencies that deal in rental cars can help with the procedure, by offering a translation recognised by their overseas suppliers.
AGENCIES PAVING WAY FOR EASIER TRIPS
Already, companies in overseas destinations that are popular for road trips are working with partners in China.
For example, German airline Lufthansa and the German National Tourist Board recently unveiled a Chinese-language app designed for the Chinese market, German Road Trip and Shopping.
It helps tourists plan routes and share their experience on social media.
The app also offers information about popular routes, car rental agencies, petrol stations and shopping malls.
"Road trips in Germany have become popular with the Chinese, and it is one of the themes of our promotions this year," says Li Zhaohui, director of the tourist board's Beijing office.
Last October, Meng Ni, 31, who works for a culture company, and her husband went on a five-day road trip in Germany, spending less than 2,000 yuan (S$416) on car rental and diesel.
"The decision of whether you should do a road trip depends very much on your destinations," she said, explaining that the cities they wanted to visit are scattered, and some scenic spots they were interested in are remote.
But within the cities, they opted for the relative ease of public transport.
While doing road trips as a couple can be idyllic, adding a child to the equation can add a layer of difficulty.
"If you take a baby along, it takes priority," says Zhou Wei, 30, an engineer from Beijing.
"That means taking care of the child's everyday needs and ensuring safety. A child safety seat is a must, and the itinerary should not be too onerous."
Mr Zhou and his wife took their daughter on a road trip in the United States in 2014, when their infant was eight months old. They had to pack baby supplies like feeding bottles and diapers.
"Our daughter may not remember this trip... For us, as parents, we will always remember it as our first overseas holiday as a family."
As for older children, teacher Xu Jihang, 41, from Guangzhou, says it is better to travel with another family so one's children have someone of their age to interact with.
He advises anyone travelling with children not to have them cooped up in a car for very long periods, "otherwise they are going to get bored".
"When I mapped out my itinerary in Australia, I did it with my son in mind.
"We drove along the coast where we could stop and he could play in the water."
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK