Top tips for marketing to affluent Chinese travellers
This is a guest article by Jens Thraenhart, president of Dragon Trail, a travel technology and digital marketing company focused on helping travel, tourism, and hotel companies to reach and connect with consumers in China.
The rise of Chinese tourism has gotten the attention of a lot of travel, tourism, and hotel companies – not least because the bounty to be had is enormous.
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 segments, but not without challenges and disappointments, due to various reasons.
1. Spot the China travel trends
- The China travel market is growing both domestically and outbound, and the UNWTO predicts that Chinese outbound travelers will exceed 100 million by 2020, with international destinations beyond Asia on the rise.
- The internet is used to “plan & 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, from hot water cookers for instant noodles and slippers in the hotel room, to Chinese dishes such as Congee at breakfast, to Chinese language services from Chinese menus in restaurants to Chinese-speaking staff to Chinese audio guides for destinations and museums.
- Affluent Chinese consumers are on average 20 years younger compared to the US and Europe, and have high incomes either having their own companies, or 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 even 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, according to the Chinese Internet Network Information Center.
- 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 believe that the internet will be more influential in the next two years, compared to 22% in the US, says eMarketer.
- PR works differently in China than anywhere else in the world, and is not free; secondly the power of celebrities and key opinion leaders is important; and lastly there is a strong 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, at a penetration of just over 35%, the internet in China is different, complex, very active, and fast growing. Forrester Research predicts that in 2014, 1.3 billion people will have mobile devices, and 75% of them will access the internet via their mobile devices.
- Marketing online requires local expertise and relationships, when it comes to search marketing on Baidu, online travel agent distribution on Ctrip and eLong, group buying, or just simply dealing with local regulations.
- Reaching the fastest growing millionaires in China, located in second, third, and forth 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 any more, 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 over 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. Also linking to non-Chinese language websites (especially without prior notification), and adding blocked social media links (ie. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), also leads to irrelevant online experiences.
- Important to remember that Chinese consumers associate irrelevant websites with bad offline experiences and a lack of respect of the brand to them. Company websites are the first touch-point 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 online users are engaged in social media in some kind of form, and the percentage of active creators (people that write blogs, upload photos and videos, etc.) is double to the percentage of active social media participants in European or North American countries, which makes it the most engaged country online in the world.
- 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 set-up 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 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 devlopment leading with story telling instead of promotional offers needs to be constructed, including relevant associations with Chinese interest areas, such as shopping, celebrities, and culture (i.e. historic communist locations in Germany – Karl Marx)
- Integrate influencers into brand campaigns, such as celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOL) for specific topics. These KOLs in most cases have large followers on Chinese micro-bloggers and the ability to influence trends and purchase decisions. Developed content (i.e. video clips) should be shared online (i.e. brand website and social media), as well as offline (i.e. big screen in Sanlitun Village in Beijing, screen on the back of the seat in taxi cabs).
- Encouraging and making it easy for consumers to engage with brands online by enabling to share experiences from uploading photos and videos, as well as publish blogs and micro-blog posts. Integrating Chinese social media into the mandarin-language brand websites, as well communicating Chinese social media profiles while Chinese tourists are experiencing the destination or hotel, cruise, tour, attraction, etc., and possibly cinsider to offer incentives for sharing experiences.
8. Build relationships via campaigns
- Develop 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 especially when running campaigns, to ensure data quality and protect the database from online hackers.