Tourism businesses who want to attract the Chinese travel market need to make sure they have Chinese-specific websites and brush up on their language skills to attract a new breed of more independent traveller.

This is according to a discussion at the World Travel Market (WTM) China Tourism Forum, held at WTM London this week.

The Chinese have already made 81 million trips this year, compared with a total of 150 million last year, delegates heard. They are the world’s highest spenders on overseas travel, splashing out $277 billion last year, which was twice as much as Americans, six times more than the French and four times more than the British.

While previously they preferred to travel in groups, 56% now take Free Independent Traveller (FIT) trips. “The Chinese FITs like to book directly with the service providers,” said Adam Wu, CEO of CBN Travel.

He said tourism businesses needed to make it easy for Chinese visitors by having websites in their language, guides able to communicate with them, and payment via WeChat. “You need to make it easy for the Chinese to pay. I can guarantee that someone who has WeChat pay will get more sales than one that doesn’t. We want ease of spending.”

What Chinese visitors want are heritage, culture and authentic experiences, said Wu. More than 20% said attractions were their most important consideration, followed by food (15%) and shopping (6.5%).

However, Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association, disagreed that companies should specifically target independent Chinese travellers, saying that the greatest growth would come from first-time visitors who will still want to visit the “honeypot” destinations and travel in larger groups.

“There are millions of Chinese who have already visited Europe but there are billions who haven’t.”