Planners help come up with trips and tips

By Ouyang Shijia | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-29 07:58

Travel companies such as are sprouting up to cater for a new breed of tourist.

Gone are traditional holidays to predictable destinations, swept away by a wave of adventure and curiosity.

Zhang Yaping is 46 years old and a teacher in Guangzhou. She also has no time for cookie-cutter holiday packages.

Instead, she is willing to pay 1,500 yuan ($219) to get a tailor-made, 15-day travel itinerary to Europe from a senior freelance planner at online.

"I love the new type of customized travel model," Zhang said. "It just takes a few minutes to tell the travel planner what you want.

"I got the full package, including electronic itinerary, booked accommodation and transport as well as urgent assistance during the trip ... it's really convenient," she added. was launched in Shanghai back in 2013 and focuses exclusively on custom-designed trips. The app also allows designers to share their experiences with handy tips on where to go and what to see.

"It is a huge market," said Ren Jing, founder and chief executive officer of "So, it is not surprising that customized traveling is picking up quickly in China.

"With trips fueled by an open visa policy and emerging budget airlines, this is an industry that is changing fast, and presenting opportunities and challenges," she added.

Since is privately-owned, Ren has yet to release detailed financial figures.

But the company did announce that its latest A round of financing raised tens of millions of yuan, taking investor funding to nearly 100 million yuan during the past four years.

Behind the app is a 15,000-strong army of freelance destination planners. They work on mapping out schedules and itineraries, and are paid a fee for their efforts.

Again, financial figure is sketchy.

Still, they provided destination plans for more than 80,000 clients. They were also involved in travel arrangements worth 1 billion yuan last year, the company reported.

"Back in 2013, I noticed that travelers seeking independent outbound trips were often troubled by planning the itinerary," Ren said. "Having traveled to more than 200 cities around the world, I realized there was a market out there."

Just five years ago, personalized trips and destination planning were considered a privilege of the wealthy. But that has changed dramatically as a new wave of tourists, especially among the older and more influential middle class, crave for something different.

"Outbound trips can even cost less than inbound ones," Ren said. "A trip to Guangxi or Yunnan province usually costs more than 5,000 yuan, while traveling to the Southeast Asia can cost only 3,000 yuan."

The majority of customers come from first- and second-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Remarkably, the majority are middle-aged clients working in IT and finance industries or Millennials born in the 1990s searching for a travel experience.

Even so, there are challenges ahead for this niche market. Dang Jianwei, a teacher at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, felt travel companies such as needed to look at the prices they charge.

"It is still a little bit costly to design individual trips," he said. "This is due to the fact that it is easier for people to search for travel information online and everyone's budget varies.

"I just wonder whether there will be room for trip designers to develop their business," Dang added.

A report released in February by China's online travel giant revealed that customized trips increased by 400 percent year-on-year during this year's Spring Festival.

More than 50 domestic, and overseas countries and regions were included in the report from destinations such as Thailand, Japan, Australia and the United States.

With business booming, more players are likely to enter the sector in the next six months as the industry grows rapidly in 2018.

"After all, it is painful for travelers to plan overseas trips," Ren said. "But it will take time to develop the market."

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