By John O'Callaghan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chinese tourists are seeking more exotic locales for their trips as the popularity of most of their top 20 destinations soars, TripAdvisor said on Tuesday, reflecting the boom by the world's highest-spending group of travellers.
The travel website said its data on customer searches showed people from mainland China still love to go to nearby Hong Kong and Macau for getaways and shopping, but are increasingly adventurous, with holidays in Asia, Europe and North America.
"This new generation of Chinese outbound travellers is making their own decisions about where to go, where to stay and what to do by doing their own research online, going beyond the old stereotype of big buses of group tourists," Lily Cheng, managing director of TripAdvisor China, said in a statement.
Hong Kong was the most popular destination search in July to August, with interest from Chinese travellers rising 50 percent from the same period of 2012, TripAdvisor said.
Phuket, a beach resort in Thailand, was in second place, with 3.5 times as many searches than a year earlier. Taiwan was third (up 4.5 times), Bangkok was fourth (up 3.7 times) and Paris was fifth (up 4.6 times).
Other popular places in the Chinese top 20 included Dubai, Seoul, Singapore, the Indonesian island of Bali, Rome, New York and London.
Four destinations had booming growth, with searches up by more than six times: Jeju Island in South Korea, Kyoto in Japan, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and Vietnam's capital, Hanoi.
While tourism spending is on the rise globally, Chinese travellers are the most avid consumers and a big target market for operators of hotels, shops and attractions.
Barclays analysts said in July that spending by Chinese tourists rose 22 percent in the second quarter, compared with 20 percent in the first three months of the year, as global tourism spending grew 14 percent.
Last year, more than 83 million Chinese traveled abroad - a number expected to soar to 200 million by 2020. Chinese spending on overseas travel was the highest in the world last year at $102 billion, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organisation.
But as welcome as the spending is, the behaviour of some Chinese tourists - including spitting, being noisy in public places and scrawling their names on monuments - has caused offence abroad, along with disgust and soul-searching at home.
Embarrassment over the antics has prompted admonition from senior members of the government, which seeks to portray China as a benign and cultured emerging power whose rising wealth can benefit the rest of the world.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)