We all know Chinese outbound travel is growing. But by how much? How does one get involved? The process is intimidating, so I’ve sought the help of experts to help hoteliers understand this business arena.
I recently spoke with Evan Saunders, CEO of Attract China, about how Chinese tourism is impacting the world and how your hotel can get involved.
Larry Mogelonsky: The stereotypical view of the Chinese traveler is a budget bus tour, focused on primary sights. Is that valid?
Evan Saunders: According to the Hotels.com and Chinese International Travel Monitor 2012 report, 59% of Chinese tourists traveling to the U.S. in the past year were designated independent travelers. Many of these travelers once did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour from Los Angeles to New York City in two weeks. While that was fun, it was entirely exhausting, and they prefer their next visit to be more leisurely. The Chinese who lack the funds and experience to organize a trip themselves will absolutely still do bus tours. However, that market is getting smaller and is generally populated by first-time travelers.
LM: What are the hot destinations for the Chinese traveler today? What about the future?
ES: Paris is packed with Chinese travelers. London can’t issue enough visas. Even Hungary and its surrounding countries are seeing an influx.
One could say America is a hot destination — and we don’t see that changing at all. The individual cities and states will flux. Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas are the top five right now. But other cities will emerge as hot destinations as well. For example, Massachusetts — mainly Boston — gets a strong 13.7% market share of all Chinese travelers coming to America but only attracts 3.7% of overall expenditure. Here is a hot destination that needs to make itself hotter and capitalize on the Chinese already visiting the city and state.
LM: If a hotel in those hot destinations wants to grow its business from China, what are the mandatory elements to its approach?
ES: You have to put yourself out there to be found. Chinese are in China looking for hotels, attractions and things to do — unsurprisingly — in Mandarin. You need a Chinese-facing image, and that doesn’t mean changing who you are. It simply means communicating your brand effectively to a target market that might be looking for different selling points than their American or European counterparts.
Don’t change your brand — just know what your target market wants and give them that. For example, Chinese care very little about hotel room size, even though the square footage of a room is important to some Americans.
LM: If a hotel is not in a hot destination, does that mean it has no hope to attract Chinese visitors?
ES: Not at all. According to the Data Center of China Internet 2011 study, 70% of Chinese citizens find hotels using the Internet, so it’s very easy for someone all the way in China to research and learn about destinations 6,000-plus miles away without ever leaving their home. Chinese look for experiences and activities — hotels should associate themselves with the top things to do in the area.
LM: Once you attract the Chinese visitor, what do you do to retain this business?
ES: To retain the business, find out why they came, what they liked and, most importantly, what they didn’t like. This can be achieved through a simple survey card given at checkout. Connecting with these same visitors online and building a following with them via Chinese social media — which many hotels already do in Western social media — is a simple way to easily allow those who stayed with you to follow you online, keep in touch and share you with others. The easier you make it for Chinese to share your information with their friends, preferably online, the easier you’ll make it for visitors to tell others about their — hopefully fantastic — experience.
LM: We hear a lot about brand names being important to the Chinese traveler. If you are not, for example, a Ritz-Carlton, can you still be successful?
ES: Absolutely. It’s all about knowing your target market and ensuring you appeal to them. With a country of over a billion people, it’s naïve to think one type of general campaign will reach and attract every type of Chinese traveler.
Non-brand names need to understand their focus. Independent, boutique hotels absolutely have a market looking for them. For instance, one of the independent non-branded hotels we work with not only has a Chinese website that can be found via searches in Chinese, but if you go onto the Chinese Wikipedia Page for Boston, it is the only hotel listed. Putting yourself out there and not relying on brand prominence is one of the best ways to drive business.