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Chinese teens on college tours a growing market

An increasing number of Chinese adolescents are embarking on college tours abroad and creating a lucrative market for universities, college towns and tourism-related businesses, a new study by the University of Illinois has suggested.

Teens increasingly want to understand the culture of their destination before arrival. Photo: Lê Minh/ Pexels

By summer 2015 the number of Chinese teenagers who travelled abroad on such trips had reached half a million

The study which appeared in Journal of China Tourism Research was co-written by UI professor of recreation, sport and tourism, Joy Huang and a UI doctoral student as part of research into the factors that influence Chinese families’ to send their children on such excursions.

“They are a very good… way to ‘audition’ potential foreign students”

According to the study, by summer 2015 the number of Chinese teenagers who travelled abroad on such trips had reached half a million annually, up from around 300,000 in 2013.

The two- to four-week trips were revealed to typically cost Chinese families between US$5,000-$8,000.

Through interviews with 30 Chinese adolescents who had travelled on a group study tour within the last three years and 20 of their parents, the study found that parents hoped the trip would enrich their children’s life experience and foster “global perspectives” that would enhance their competitiveness in the job market.

Meanwhile, the adolescents said they were motivated by their desire to learn about other cultures and improve their English language skills.

“[Many] indicated that they hoped the study tours, which were the youths’ first trips without their parents in tow, would foster greater independence” and prepare them for college life,” lead-author Huang explained.

“The teens thought it was important to learn how to socialise and communicate with other people in new environments.”

Specific to the US, the study showed that while the itineraries of these study tours previously concentrated on Ivy League schools, the study found that intense competition for admission and rising tuition costs are prompting more Chinese students to look at public universities.

“These short-term overseas tours and summer camps are a very important market for the tourist industry in the [US] Midwest,” Huang said.

“They are also a very good recruiting tool for universities and a way to ‘audition’ potential foreign students – who usually pay much higher tuition.”

She added that universities that want to appeal to college-bound Chinese teenagers should offer itineraries with a mix of educational, social and recreational activities that immerse them in campus life.

“Marketing campaigns aimed at the parents… however, should highlight the educational benefits and career opportunities available to students who attend the colleges they will visit.”

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