Get a WeChat account, enable mobile payments and make Chinese visitors feel welcome – just some of the ways European businesses and travel companies can attract more Chinese travellers according to speakers at the Asia Inspiration Zone on the first day of WTM in London, 2018.
Chinese travellers are still travelling in groups, however more are choosing to travel independently, looking to research their own trips, hire cars and stay longer in one place, rather than tick big city icons off their list, panellists said. Businesses should also think about becoming Chinese-friendly, adopting and ‘owning’ a Chinese name for their brand or destination and help Chinese visitors by offering mobile payment facilities, such as UnionPay, WeChat Pay and AliPay.
Research commissioned by the World Tourism Cities Federation and research company Ipsos (Market Research Report on Chinese Outbound Tourist Consumption 2017-2018) found that in the five years from 2010 to 2014 the number of China’s outbound tourists increased rapidly at an average annual rate of 18%. In 2014 the number of China’s outbound tourists exceeded 100 million for the first time and the growth rate started to level off after 2015. In 2017, China’s outbound tourists reached 130.51 million, a year-on-year growth of 7%.
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt, from COTRI China Outbound Tourism and Research Institute, said tourism from China was booming however the demands and travel habits of the Chinese were changing.
“There’s ongoing segmentation and an increase in age group diversity, more kids and more older people travelling.” He said the creation in March 2018 of China’s own Ministry of Culture and Tourism signified more emphasis on tourism, travellers were looking for quality over quantity and were looking for more locally sourced products and authentic experiences.
According to Arlt, it’s becoming easier for Chinese to travel, with less visa restrictions (27 destinations offer visa-free entry to Chinese, improved connectivity with flights to second tier cities in China and far better information through the use of social media and mobile payment options.
The audience also heard how China is virtually a cashless society, with more and more people using their mobile phones to pay for items as small as a bottle of milk, to flights.
Sienna Parulis-Cook, Communications Manager at Dragon Trail Interactive, said Chinese travellers will look to social media for inspiration. WeChat and Weibo are the largest social media networking platforms in China and the only way to reach Chinese travellers and influencers.
“Get a WeChat account,” urged Parulis-Cook. “Personal accounts are free and it’s China’s number one social media platform with 1bn monthly active users. It’s known as the Swiss Army Knife of social media because it offers users so many platforms, including messaging, WeChat Moments, newsletters, WeChat mini-programs (offering services such as e-commerce and coupons).”
Jennifer McCormack, from Windermere Lake Cruises, uses WeChat and created the Lake District China Forum – a group of tourism attraction together in Cumbria – to actively target the Chinese traveller. She said her website was translated into Chinese, social media activity for the Chinese market was outsourced to a professional and even used a Chinese name for her email signature.
“Making Chinese visitors feel welcome is a really important aspect as well. If you’ve made an effort to translate your website, your marketing materials and your timetables, then Chinese visitors will feel like you’ve made an effort,” added McCormack.
According to Gary Grieve, Managing Director of training and consulting firm Capela China, the challenge for businesses in attracting the Chinese tourist is to take advantage of the trend in sharing photos and using social media and make WiFi instantly available to guests. He also said companies should get a Chinese name for their business, so Chinese travellers can correctly tag it and share it.
Julie Chappell, Managing Director, International Markets, London & Partners, said inbound tourism from China was booming.
“The numbers have doubled in the first half of 2016 to 2018. The Chinese market is hugely important for London. The trends we are seeing is that it’s all about experience over geography. Simplification for Chinese authentic creation and mobile payments. I feel left out that I can’t use WeChat Pay.”
Chappell said social media marketing was hugely important to promote London to China, using the royal family, London’s history and Shakespeare all helping raise awareness of London. However she said she wanted to show the modern side of London to appeal to the younger travellers using WeChat and Weibo who see themselves as influencers and trend setters.
Closing the day’s sessions tourism officials talked up the untapped potential of Sanya for European travellers, citing its great climate, quality hotels, free-visa policy with Hong Kong and new direct flights from the UK.
Also known as the Hawaii of the East, Sanya on China’s southern tip, has long been a holiday destination for Chinese travellers, but the challenge was raising its awareness among Europeans and other international visitors.
Thomas Cook opened its first office in Sanya today (Monday 5th November) becoming the first European company to do so, with a pledge to bring 3% of European tourists to Sanya.
Kris Van Goethem, director of Inbound & MICE for Thomas Cook Group China, said: “The biggest challenge is how to add Sanya into the mix.”
Rudolf A Gimmi, General Manager of Shangri-la Sanya Resort & Spa, Hainan, said there was also a negative perception of China as a controlled destination.
“As Europeans we do have this privacy thing; yes it’s there but you work with it and you don’t have to worry about your personal safety.”