The rise of Chinese tourism has gotten the attention of a lot of travel, tourism and hotel companies. Sixty-six million Chinese will travel overseas this year, a 15% increase over last year, and 100 million will be global travelers by 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. On the back of three decades of spectacular growth and development, China recently became the second-largest economy in the world behind the United States. The country has also become a major market for the world’s leading international consumer goods companies. Many travel brands are trying to capture the attention of this very valuable new customer segment, but not without challenges and disappointments. Below are some tips for marketing to affluent Chinese consumers successfully.
1. Spot the China travel trends.
- The China travel market is growing both domestically and outbound, and the UNWTO predicts Chinese outbound travelers will exceed 100 million by 2020, with international destinations beyond Asia on the rise.
- The Internet is used to “plan and tell”; however, offline travel agents are still the dominant distribution channel, even though online channels are growing.
- Chinese consumers are moving towards an experienced-based choice model from a price-based choice model, demanding higher-quality services and moving from traditional tour groups to more individual travel experiences.
2. Understand the Chinese consumer.
- It is critically important for travel suppliers to offer China-ready services: hot water cookers for instant noodles and slippers in the hotel room, Chinese dishes such as congee at breakfast, Chinese language services, Chinese menus in restaurants, Chinese-speaking staff and Chinese audio guides for destinations and museums.
- Affluent Chinese consumers are on average 20 years younger compared to those from the United States and Europe, and have high incomes from their own companies or from working for multi-national firms.
- Affluent Chinese consumers are not all the same; there are various segments that need to be understood to have them engage with your brand or become brand ambassadors.
3. Develop a multi-channel plan.
- Offline and online channels converge in China, and various mediums need to be used in tandem with a consistent message for the right channel. Mobile is growing rapidly, and 30% of the 950 million mobile users access the Internet on their mobile devices. (Source: CNNIC)
- Digital and social media is the most influential medium in China, and even more influential in China than in Europe, Australia or North America — in 2010, 85% of Chinese people believed the Internet will be more influential in the next two years, compared to 22% in the U.S. (Source: e-Marketer)
- PR works differently in China than anywhere else in the world — it is not free, it leverages the power of celebrities and key opinion leaders and it is a blend between social media, traditional media and events.
4. Leverage the Internet as a medium.
- With close to 500 million Internet users in October 2011 — more than anywhere else in the world, and at a penetration of just over 35% — the Internet in China is different, complex, very active and growing fast. (Source CNNIC)
- Marketing online requires local expertise and relationships.
- Reaching the fastest-growing millionaires in China — located in second-, third- and fourth-tier cities — is only possible by leveraging the Internet as a medium, as a physical presence would not be feasible for most companies. Developing brand awareness via travel agents, tour operators, traditional media and events alone will not yield effective results anymore, especially for new market entrants.
5. Develop a relevant Chinese website.
- Website hosting in China is important, not only to be able to react to potential censorship of websites, but also for increased download speed as well as improved search engine placement on Baidu, which has more than 80% market share in China.
- Straight translation from English to Mandarin (Simplified Chinese) will result in many cases in irrelevant websites. Rewriting content for market relevancy and for search engines, as well as adding important content pieces non-existent on the English website but important for Chinese consumers to make purchase decisions, is critical. Linking to non-Chinese language websites (especially without prior notification) and adding blocked social media links (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) also leads to irrelevant online experiences.
- Remember that Chinese consumers associate irrelevant websites with bad offline experiences and a lack of respect of the brand for them. Company websites are the first touchpoint with the Chinese consumer before checking on online forums and social media sites for opinions from fellow Chinese consumers.
6. Be social to connect.
- 92% of Chinese online users are engaged in social media in some form, and the percentage of active creators (people who write blogs, upload photos and videos, etc.) is double the percentage of active social media participants in European or North American countries, which makes China the most engaged country online in the world.
- The Chinese digital media landscape is dominated by local players, while western or international sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are blocked by the “Great Firewall” of China. The setup and constant optimization of branded profiles on Chinese social media sites is critical.
- While the presence of brands in social media is often subject to debate in Europe or the Americas, the Chinese have a very positive attitude towards brands using these tools to communicate. According to a study by Fleishman-Hillard, no Chinese Internet user has less confidence in a brand because it is present on a micro-blogging platform, unlike in Europe and the United States, where this is the case for a small proportion of users. In addition, the Chinese are more likely than users anywhere else in the world to appreciate brands listening to conversations on micro-blogging platforms. This is particularly interesting for brands given that 62% of Chinese Internet users share negative opinions online, versus 41% worldwide.
7. Tell your story.
- In order to engage people online, a careful blend of content development — leading with storytelling instead of promotional offers — needs to be constructed, including relevant associations with Chinese interest areas such as shopping, celebrities and culture.
- Integrate influencers, such as celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs), into brand campaigns for specific topics. These KOLs in most cases have large followers on Chinese micro-blogs and the ability to influence trends and purchase decisions. Developed content (such as video clips) should be shared online (via a brand website and social media) as well as offline (on the big screen in Sanlitun Village in Beijing or on screens on the back of the seat in taxi cabs).
- Make it easy for consumers to engage with brands online by enabling them to share experiences from uploading photos and videos as well as publishing blogs and micro-blog posts.
8. Build relationships via campaigns.
- Developing web campaign platforms with integrated incentive schemes to execute campaigns will result in brand engagement. Leveraging social media to increase viral spread will reduce advertising cost and increase participation conversion rates.
- Metrics should focus primarily on capturing permission-based consumer data and increasing fans/followers on social media and micro-blogging sites in order to help develop a holistic and long-term China marketing strategy as opposed to short-term ROI sales-driven campaigns. The captured data can be used for future digital, social media and email marketing campaigns.
- Local presence as well as travel and technology expertise are important factors when executing complex digital marketing campaigns. A solid technology partner is vital to ensure data quality and protect the database from online hackers.
9. Inspire via visual content.
- Chinese travelers share photos online via their Sina Weibo accounts. For example, more than 100,000 photos alone have been shared via Instagram to Sina Weibo alone. As mobile usage and smartphone ownership is skyrocketing in China, photo and video sharing will continue to increase.
- Imagine a Chinese consumer visits your hotel or destination, takes a photo and posts it on his or her Chinese social media profile to share the experience. The hotel, destination, tour, attraction or cruise would never know. These images are a lost opportunity for travel companies to market their products and services as well as connect with these travelers.
- Tripshow.com inspires Chinese consumers via user-generated images and videos posted on Chinese social media sites, including Sina Weibo, and at the same time connects Chinese consumers with travel brands from tourist boards, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, tours, travel agencies, attractions, travel and lifestyle magazines and more — online as well as via mobile. Hotels, tourist boards, travel magazines, tours, attractions, cruise lines, restaurants, shops and more can have a low-cost presence on Tripshow.com.