How technology transformed China’s tourism industry

How technology transformed China’s tourism industry

By Marcus Lee, CEO, China Travel Online

In 2019, while helping the Ministry of Tourism in India launch its largest roadshow in multiple Chinese cities, I stopped by a Chinese fast-food chain in Chengdu for a quick lunch.  Before I could pay with cash, the cashier pointed me to a large touch screen featuring a self-service payment option. That is when I first noticed a Chinese business using facial recognition to accept payments. Reluctantly, I took out some cash to pay for my food. They certainly weren’t happy to have to look for change!

At that moment, I start to think about how technology is transforming us.

Fast forward to 2020. Covid-19 caught the world off-guard. Since March 2020, many NTOs, DMOs, tourism boards, hotels, airlines, and attractions started offering webinars.  Much of the target audience for these businesses were new to the idea and were not sure what do to, so they just signed up. In the beginning, the webinars were well-received, even though many of the webinars lasted for more than an hour. China Travel Online also did several successful webinars in this early stage.

A few months later, tourism boards, hotels, airlines, and the like cut webinars to 30 minutes and then 10 minutes. The last webinar I saw in April 2021 was done by the Polish National Tourist Office in Beijing. And only nine participants signed up during the EUROPE Virtual Travel Trade Show in China.

What is happening?

A webinar is one or a few speakers doing a presentation or briefing, sometimes with a Q&A. However, webinars slowly became less popular in China, because — in my opinion — the Chinese felt bored. Interestingly, this is when our sister firm, Digital China, started to receive more enquiries for e-learning.  Slowly, Digital China attracted more Chinese tourism buyers, simply because e-learning is more interactive.

For example, let’s say you have a student named Ms. Chen. Ms. Chen can collect points in real-time while answering a set of questions in exchange for a gift card or even cash! Online training or e-learning is nothing new, but e-learning has evolved tremendously, thanks to 3.0 technology within PCs and mobile phones, as well as a gamification and reward system to make the lessons more appealing. At the point of writing this blog post, we have managed to help approximately 25 destinations launch e-learning programs.  Click to learn more.

How about a virtual expo?

Mr. Zhigang Hao, CEO of a leading MICE company in China, is one of the buyers who attended our Virtual Roadshow in 2021. He said he has attended many virtual roadshows and online exhibitions in 2020 and 2021, and that “None of them had no problems.”

Without going into too many technical details, some of the common problems experienced during a virtual expo or virtual roadshow include issues with sound, the visuals, or translation problems, etc. The worst example I have heard of was that of a virtual roadshow hosted by the Saudi Tourism Authority, and executed by a Beijing firm in China. The experience was a complete disaster because almost all Chinese buyers couldn’t log in to a B2B meeting on the first day of the virtual roadshow. This was in March 2021. The lesson is to identify pitfalls and keep improving along the way.

Digital China, a sister company of China Travel Online, is one of the three companies in China with full-scale proprietary technology for virtual expos and virtual roadshows for the Chinese tourism industry.

However, I believe more advanced technology can be integrated into the platform to make it more accessible and easier to use, for both buyers and exhibitors. The Chinese market is also in need of more advanced platforms and technology from other countries.

How about tourists or the end-user?

Technology creates different ways of traveling. During Covid-19, tourism sectors sped up the digitalization process to allow for a different experience in food, accommodation, transportation, travel, shopping and entertainment.

For those who are traveling into China and need to quarantine (by the way, quarantine is a word derived from Venice that means “40 days”), you will probably get quarantined for 14 or more days in a hotel. You might be surprised to find out that the one who delivers your food is not human. Many hotels now use robotics to deliver food to your room. This is also a new service that my firm is introducing to the world.

To increase the safety of tourists traveling during Covid-19, Fliggy (an Alibaba company) introduced Smart Hotel Room Protection. Under this system, tourists can use voice recognition to adjust the light, open or close the curtains, turn off the TV and order video on demand.

Destinations and attraction sites have also increased their digitalization. For example — before arrival — tourists can use their smartphone to log in to a destination or attraction website to buy a ticket or souvenir. When you arrive at the destination or attraction, you can use an e-tour guide to search for the best restaurants, toilets, car parks, etc. You can complete all these activities with a mere push of a button.

This is just the beginning. I hope to show you more at the upcoming Travel Forward and WTM London 2021. See you soon!

About China Travel Online

China Travel Online is the leading China Outbound Travel portal on the China-wide web, with over 100 destinations listed. It connects world travel resources to Chinese operators and professionals. The portal mainly introduces destinations, attractions, DMCs, hotels, MICE, luxury, shopping and transportation. In 2019, its subsidiary Welcome China was appointed coordinator of the “China Pacific Tourism Year” which brought in $4 billion in investments and 200,000 Chinese tourists. China Travel Online’s subsidiary owns proprietary technology in e-learning, virtual roadshows and an online exhibition platform.

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