Bob and Jonny’s culinary adventure with LNER

Chinese KOL standing with a chef

CTO has been hard at work organising an array of media trips for Chinese journalists, travel bloggers and online influencers. These trips deliver valuable promotion for our clients in some of the most powerful Chinese travel platforms, such as Mafengwo, Qyer and C Trip, and content is widely shared through social media channels such as WeChat and Weibo. This summer, we have explored a slightly different angle for LNER, to promote their exciting on-board menus and the gastronomic delights of London, York, Edinburgh and Moray Speyside in collaboration with popular Chinese ‘foodies’, Bob and Jonny.

Bob and Johnny on LNER train

Bob & Jonny are food, restaurant and hotel reviewers. They have profiles on most of the travel review sites and social media platforms in China and have more than 750,000 combined followers on WeChat and Weibo. With Jonny’s photographic skills and Bob’s in-depth culinary analysis, they are a perfect team, producing high quality, professional content and social posts. A positive review from these two would work wonders for a company investing in the Chinese market. Their target audience are young, middle class individuals who love travelling and trying diverse, international dishes.

KOL Bob visiting the UK

Starting from London, the two bloggers have made the journey all the way up to Scotland, frequently stopping at points of interest along the route and documenting their activities as they go. Some of their stops include: Bottomless brunches in London, Chocolate stories and fine dining in York, Distillery tours and whiskey sampling in Moray Speyside, wandering through the V&A museum in Dundee and returning to London for scrumptious afternoon tea at Royal Museums of Greenwich’s Cutty Sark, one of London’s top historic landmarks, and an educational insight into the Houses of Parliament.

Royal Museum Greenwich Cutty Sark

If you would like to find out more about reaching out to Chinese bloggers and influencers. Please get in touch and we’ll be happy to discuss this with you further.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of our related articles here:

Two Chinese KOLs travel the UK with London North Eastern Railway

London North Eastern Railway wins CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Award

Integrated Chinese trade and media campaign for London North Eastern Railway

*Images from Bob and Jonny’s Weibo account


Integrated Chinese trade and media campaign for London North Eastern Railway

You may remember the incredibly talented KOL and illustrator, Liu Huan (pen name Queenio), from one of our articles last year about her trip to the UK. We were so impressed with her unique travel blogs which are brought to life by her vibrant illustrative style that we invited her to collaborate on a new campaign with London North Eastern Railway (LNER).

The purpose of the project was to highlight to Chinese tourists planning their next trip abroad that there is more to the UK than its iconic capital – our country boasts many fascinating destinations up the East Coast to Scotland, all with their unique charm and history, and the best way to visit them is by train. Huan landed in London and journeyed up the country in first-class luxury, stopping at Lincoln, Leeds, York, Harrogate, Durham, Edinburgh and Inverness, experiencing their essential sights and attractions. She even made it to the Isle of Skye.

The Trip

In addition to LNER, we worked with twelve partners to craft an exciting and eventful nine-day itinerary for Huan, including the tourist boards Visit Lincoln, Visit Leeds, Visit York, Visit Harrogate, Visit County Durham, and Visit Scotland, City Cruises, The London Eye, Holiday Inn Stratford City, Westfield Shopping Centre, Rabbie’s Tours and RHS Harlow Carr Gardens.

During the trip, Huan took hundreds of photographs showcasing each city’s sights and attractions. She adds vivacity to her favourite photographs by illustrating her cartoon persona within the frame, interacting with the environment around her. Cartoon Huan can be seen perched atop the balcony of Leeds Grand Theatre playfully re-enacting ‘The Nutcracker’ performance with her dolls, embracing her inner wizard at Platform 9 ¾, and enjoying the tranquillity of Harrogate’s Turkish Baths.

Following the trip, Huan produced an in-depth travelogue documenting her train journey with LNER and the destinations visited, which is now live on China’s key travel review sites. The blog is brimming with high-quality writing and photography showcasing to Chinese internet users the appeal of the UK’s beautiful countryside and historic cities.

Results

The travelogue, which has been published on Mafengwo, Ctrip, Qyer and Tuniu, has so far received a total of 45,000 views across the four platforms. It has over 650 likes and 470 saves, demonstrating the keen interest among Chinese travellers for UK themed content. Tuniu and Qyer Forum (where Qyer’s travel articles are published) promoted the travelogue to their front pages which greatly increased its exposure, and Qyer tagged the piece as ‘Essential’, recommending it to Chinese internet users as a high-quality article about UK travel. We are expecting the travelogue to continue gaining traction on these platforms as it grows to become a popular and reliable source of information about travel to the UK.

Furthermore, Huan shared her travel experience across 19 social media posts published on her personal WeChat and Weibo accounts where she has 50,000 followers. Many of these posts have received great engagement among Chinese internet users.

The Brochure

Upon her return to China, Huan produced a 24-page Chinese brochure for LNER promoting the services of the train operator and all the destinations and attractions she visited on the trip. This will be distributed at sales calls with media and travel trade in China and at promotional events and trade shows throughout 2019, further expanding the promotion of LNER and its destinations and demonstrating the company’s commitment to the China market. We are also planning to provide the brochure to Chinese tour operators launching LNER products in the future.

Travel Trade and Media Workshop

The brochure was also given to attendees of an LNER workshop held in Beijing and entitled “Taste of the Train Tour”. 30 selected travel agents and operators, and 10 travel media attended the event, held in a trendy café venue in central Beijing. Companies represented included media outlets National Geographic Traveller, Sina.com.cn and Time Out Beijing and tour operators Ctrip, Youpu Travel and GoEuro. Laetitia Beneteau, LNER’s Business Development Manager, introduced LNER’s services to the representatives, and Liu Huan herself came along to deliver a presentation about her experience travelling from London to Scotland. The representatives also enjoyed immersing themselves in the UK by experiencing the scents of different UK’s cities, produced by renowned perfume brand, Charm Kaiser.

Output from the event included 10 pieces of editorial about LNER and its new Azuma trains, which are coming on line this year. Laetitia maximised her time in Beijing on a tailormade sales mission and she was escorted to meetings at the offices of travel trade partners by China Travel Outbound’s team.

The campaign has been posted on LNER’s Weibo account which now boasts over 35,000 followers.

Two Chinese KOLs travel the UK with London North Eastern Railway

On behalf of London North Eastern Railway, we welcomed two influential Chinese travel KOLs to the UK on a cross-country trip back in June 2018.

One of the KOLs was Wang Yuan, the Chief Editor of one of China’s premier fashion and lifestyle apps, MOGU Street Lifestyle, which has over 160 million registered members. This social commerce app targets affluent millennials interested in fashion and attracts approximately half a million daily visitors. Wang Yuan manages two popular Weibo accounts – her personal account has over 160,000 followers and her Weibo, dedicated to the food she enjoys on her travels, has more than 421,000 followers.

Our other blogger was Liu Bo, a prolific travel KOL and lifestyle writer who has over 10 years’ experience working at Madame Figaro Magazine and other top media groups. Her personal Weibo account has over 260,000 followers, who include fashion and lifestyle media, world-class restaurants, hotels and resort groups. Her WeChat account has a global fanbase of more than 186,000 followers.

In order to create an exciting travel itinerary with visits to attractive UK destinations, we worked with eighteen partners who helped make the trip a success. These include the tourist boards, Visit York and Visit Scotland, Marketing Edinburgh, tour operator, Jacobite Tours, London attractions Royal Museums Greenwich, City Cruises and Household Cavalry Museum, and our accommodation partners including Hotel Café Royal, Ardconnel Court Apartments, Eagle Brae, and The Dunstane Houses.

Throughout the nine-day cross-country trip, the pair travelled in luxury on London North Eastern Railway’s world-class train service.  The KOLs immersed themselves in the lived history of York and enjoyed beautiful landscapes and essential attractions in Inverness and Edinburgh. They then travelled down to London to stay at the iconic Hotel Café Royal where they indulged in their one-of-a-kind afternoon tea experience. While exploring the capital, the pair sailed down the Thames on a City Cruise, saw breath-taking views from atop the London Eye, had a great day out at Royal Museums Greenwich, and met the Queen’s Horses at the Household Cavalry Museum.

Results

The KOLs had a fantastic time on the trip and this reflects in their passionately detailed travel blogs and social media posts. They published a staggering total of 43 Weibo posts and 21 WeChat posts throughout the trip for their travel loving followers to enjoy and be inspired by. The reach of their Weibo and WeChat posts exceeds over 1 million social media followers.

Liu Bo filled her social media posts with stunning collage images providing a snapshot of the attractions she enjoyed in each given destination.

Wang Yuan wrote and published a detailed travel guide on her MOGU Street Lifestyle app; on average, articles published on the app receive 1 million views. This was accompanied by two extensive Weibo articles about the trip which to date have combined total views of over 67,000.

In addition, Liu Bo shared an in-depth WeChat City guide with her followers about the destinations she visited via London North Eastern Railway, which has been viewed nearly 25,000 times and has 169 likes.

One important finding from this trip was that, when two people travel together, the photo and sharing results are increased as, naturally, friends like to photograph each other! Wherever the budget will allow, we highly recommend inviting two bloggers to travel together.

 “Thank you for arranging the trip for us. It was an amazing and fantastic trip for us to learn more about the UK” – Liu Bo.

If you are interested in being involved in one of our Chinese KOL trips, please contact us for a chat.

Enjoyed this article? Then these may also be of interest to you:

Selecting Travel KOLs: How do we choose our bloggers?

Chinese KOLs – it’s not all about WeChat and Weibo

Chinese KOL Trip from London to Scotland by Rail (Case Study)

Taiwanese Superstar Nana Ou-yang Visits Bristol (Case Study)

Join our Chinese Media Hospitality List

We have launched a new opportunity for British hotels and restaurants to host visiting Chinese media, travel bloggers and Key Opinion Leaders. Our Chinese Media Hospitality List will include a maximum of five hotels in each town or city to be contacted with opportunities to host Chinese media and VIPs visiting the UK.

There will be no charge to join the list, but participating hotels must be of a standard equivalent to 4 star or above, and be able to deliver against certain criteria including the provision of a free full breakfast option and at least two nights’ free of charge accommodation per trip (subject to availability).

Restaurants are also invited to sign up. Restaurants are required to deliver free of charge meals including wine and soft drinks. The restaurant list will have no maximum but opportunities to host will be determined by itineraries.

Across the spring and summer of 2018, we organised trips for 14 KOLs and media to the UK on behalf of their tourism clients, with still more planned. Each hosting hotel received the benefit of exposure in top magazines and websites, such as National Geographic Traveler, Mafengwo and Qyer. In many cases, hotels and restaurants also featured within posts on the Chinese social media platforms, WeChat and Weibo.

Car rental companies, rail providers, domestic airlines, Mandarin-speaking tour operators, and private transfer providers are also invited to get in touch to register their interest in supporting future trips.

If you are interested in joining the Chinese Media Hospitality List, please download and complete the contact form and email it across to [email protected]

Selecting Travel KOLs: How do we choose our bloggers?

In our last blog, we wrote about the metrics you need to understand when selecting a travel KOL. So what’s the process when our clients come to us and suggest they would like us to organise a KOL trip?

Match product with skills, audience and interests

The first thing we consider is the objective of the project and the product itself. When we were looking to promote the destinations accessible by rail for our client, London North Eastern Railway, we needed to find a mainstream travel blogger with a strong reputation and access to a wide reach on China’s popular travel review sites. We also wanted someone with excellent photography skills so they could really showcase the personality of the North East of England and Scotland. Thus, the influential blogger Sicilia (西西里玩不停) was the perfect choice.

However, when we were looking at our Heritage is GREAT trip for English Heritage, we knew we needed to find someone with a really keen, genuine interest in both history and heritage. The trip involves visits to many sites up and down the country, so a love of heritage was essential. Our choice, in the end, surprised us all, as we discovered that the actual co-founder of one of China’s premier travel review sites, Qyer, Mr Cai Jinghui, is a huge heritage fan. Never backwards in coming forwards, our team in Beijing approached him with the proposed trip and we are delighted that Mr Cai will be visiting in September, bringing with him a museum expert and photographer. The review will appear on Qyer and posts will be shared on Mr Cai’s personal social media accounts – presumably with many of the Chinese travel industry’s A-listers.

We also ensure your blogger appeals to the right audience. If you are VisitBrighton or Destination Bristol, we might look for a blogger with a predominantly millennial audience. If you are London Zoo, families are probably more important to you. We will choose the right blogger who actively markets to your target segment.

Be practical and flexible

We always have to consider budget and scheduling. We know lots of great Chinese travel bloggers, but they are busy people and charge different fees for their time. Travel blogging is how they make their living (lucky for some!). Sometimes, it’s a difficult balancing act to find someone who matches our budget, wants to visit the UK, and has the time in their schedule to do so. Where we can’t pay the normal fees, sometimes we can offer the KOLs something else; help with a future holiday, discounts on hotel rooms, or the promise of more work for other clients. We are competing for these bloggers with places like Australia and Dubai who have huge Chinese KOL budgets, so we have to be prepared to find a work-around to make things work with the right blogger.

Success often depends on the destination. We have never had to pay for bloggers we’ve hosted at the paradise island of Vanuatu because the bloggers have never been before, were really excited to go (who wouldn’t be?), and know that the island will offer them new and original content that give them a competitive edge over other bloggers. But, over time, as more travel blogs are written about Vanuatu, fees will inevitably come into play.

Occasionally, bloggers are free when the opportunity is too good to refuse – this is usually when the entire trip includes luxury accommodation and business-class flights.

It can also depend on their personal circumstances, who we know, and whom they know. We invited Wang Yuan (王二媛), the food blogger and editor of the Chinese fashion website MOGU Street Lifestyle to England and Scotland in June. Yuan brought her friend, Liu Bo (bobobaby7), along, who is also an influential KOL, free of charge. Liu Bo has a staggering popularity on Weibo and their being on a trip together meant that the two ladies took more pictures, shared more content, and had more fun, making for an even better result for the client at minimal extra cost.

The platforms are always in charge

It’s important to think about how the content will be promoted. Weibo have set up a group for Fashion KOLs, whereby bloggers pay a fee to have their content promoted. For example, a celebrity would have to pay Weibo a sum for people to see their posts otherwise they won’t be sent traffic. This cost can be as little as 200 RMB (£22.00) or upwards of 5,000 RMB (£575.00) if the blogger represents a big brand. Fashion KOLs often include this cost into their service fee, but if you just want a detailed blog with no Weibo promotion behind it, they will only charge you for travel time.

Contrary to popular belief, most Chinese bloggers are no longer freelancers – they have to partner with a company for Weibo to send them traffic. These companies manage a network of bloggers and have direct contacts with Weibo, and bloggers have to share profits with their company.

It’s a professional service and you’ll need a contract

Working with KOLs is completely different to working with journalists. Bloggers will agree a fee and the deliverables and this will be written in a contract, signed by both parties. It will cover things like the minimum number of social posts which will be delivered, and how many platforms the review will be published on. Remember, Chinese bloggers don’t publish on their own blogging websites (this is very old school indeed and the market moved on from that about 10 years ago). They publish on third party platforms such as Qyer, Mafengwo and Ctrip.

Social media posts on WeChat and Weibo made throughout the blogger’s trip are normally free of charge with a certain number agreed within the contract per trip, but costs may incur for video content. A detailed blog with video can cost between 25,000 and 30,000 RMB (£2,800 – £3,500) per project, which includes an average of 3 to 5 Weibo posts.

Pick the best of the bunch

Of course, we check if the bloggers are actually any good. Chinese social media and travel site users follow bloggers for their personality and to communicate with them, in addition to reading their travel insights. Readers enjoy blogs that inject personality into them while being informative about the destination or attraction. This comes down to effective writing skills – some KOLs can’t write at all!

Travel bloggers don’t all write about the same thing – some will focus on specific travel trends, such as food tourism or flower and garden tourism, to stand out among the rest. If your travel blogger is eating at the finest restaurants during their trip, it makes sense for them to have had blogged about food in the past. The content travel KOLs produce and publish on their social media accounts and travel sites is important to keep in mind.

There are practical considerations too. Does the blogger have a visa for our client’s destination or will we have to cost that into the trip? Where does the blogger live? Will we have to pay for connecting flights in China or transit hotels? Language barriers may be an issue if the blogger only speaks Mandarin, but a detailed and informative itinerary can help assure them and having a Mandarin-speaking colleague on hand to communicate with them is always useful.

Most importantly, we consider whether the blogger will be easy to work with in sticking to the itinerary, communicating promptly if any problems arise, and being an all-round responsible traveller. We never want our blogger trips to turn into a headache, either for us or for our clients.

If you would like to find out more about working with Chinese KOLs, please contact us for a chat.

Enjoyed this article? Then these may also be of interest to you:

Chinese KOLs – it’s not all about WeChat and Weibo

Chinese travel KOL visits the UK

Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

Chinese KOL trip from London to Scotland by rail (Case Study)

Chinese KOLs – it’s not all about WeChat and Weibo

If you are trying to decide on the right Chinese Key Opinion Leader (KOL) or travel blogger to promote your tourism brand, you may be tempted to focus only on the number of followers they have on WeChat and Weibo, China’s most popular social media platforms. However, this is not necessarily the only, or even best metric, to consider to ensure you receive the high-quality coverage and targeted reach that you are looking for. Working with a Chinese KOL is a significant investment in both time and money, and it is important that the best returns are delivered. So how should you go about choosing the right one for you?

What is a follower on Weibo?

To start, let’s consider what exactly you are looking at when you consider followers on Weibo.

Weibo is a micro blogging platform (like Twitter) and has 431 million active monthly users. Every KOL worth his or her salt will state a number of followers. However, it’s often difficult to determine where these followers come from, and whether they are even real. Unfortunately, Weibo is plague ridden with zombie followers – fake users who infect accounts and falsely bolster follower figures. One way to check if a blogger has legitimate followers is by the engagements their posts receive – whether ‘Likes’, Comments’, or ‘Shares’. You also need to look at their posts to check they are well written and relevant.

Don’t underestimate ‘engagements’…

Engagements are important to consider. While follower figures tell you how many people MAY have seen a post about your attraction or destination, engagements confirm that there are Chinese internet users interested in the content. Users may ‘like’ a post to keep a virtual tab on future travel ideas, ‘share’ it to inform friends or family planning a trip, or ‘comment’ to find out useful travel information. Having said that, the level of engagement on Weibo is dropping in recent years so don’t be too disappointed with low levels of engagement.

Huan Liu Weibo post

‘Views’ can also be useful, but this information isn’t made public, meaning you will need to ask your blogger permission to see this statistic. Depending on your blogger’s popularity on social media, ‘views’ can rack up fast. It depends on the content. One of our bloggers, Liu Huan, who we brought over to the UK in May 2018, had over 337,000 users see her post about the beautiful RHS Wisley Gardens. She doesn’t have 337,000 followers herself on Weibo, but her post captured the imagination of others who shared/reposted it, thus racking up the views.

A ‘view’ doesn’t necessarily have to come from Weibo. Weibo posts can be forwarded to WeChat Moments, where WeChat users can share photos, videos, and lifestyle updates with family and friends. WeChat users can open a link to a Weibo post through WeChat Moments and Weibo will register this as a ‘view’.

Another way to get loads of ‘views’ is to have a post promoted on the Weibo side bar. Popular posts displayed here receive engagements in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, bloggers must pay for this privilege.

Weibo post view example

When is a view not a view?

However you shouldn’t take ‘views’ for granted. On Weibo, a ‘view’ is counted as such when a post is seen once – seen being the key word. Users can scroll or swipe past hundreds of posts on their dashboard (just as you may do every day on your Twitter feed), and Weibo registers this as a ‘view’. Users may not have read the post, but as far as Weibo’s concerned, they still viewed it.

What about WeChat?

WeChat is a bit trickier to navigate when it comes to bloggers. WeChat is a private platform (think more along the lines of Facebook and WhatsApp), so, if you want to follow what the blogger is saying about you on WeChat, you’ll need them to accept you as a WeChat friend first. Even then, you are not going to have access to views. WeChat (just like Facebook) doesn’t record views. It does, however, record comments and likes so that is a good way to understand the power of each post. You can also request the number of followers that the KOL has on WeChat.

Who’s looking?

Another problem with basing your decision on Weibo or WeChat follower figures is that you will have no idea who these people are or why they might be following that account. OK, so you can assume that, if your KOL is a professional travel blogger, many of their followers will be interested in travel. But how are you going to know whether they are interested in European travel? Or a trip to the UK? Or, indeed, currently thinking at all about their next trip at all?

The travel review site Mafengwo is targeted at people looking to book holidays. Mafengwo’s popularity is largely due to its user-generated content, especially the user-made travel guides of which there are now over one million on the site. This site receives over 25 million visits a month to its website and popular app. These visitors are researching travel ideas, and are looking for inspiration. Five of the most popular blogs are selected daily by Mafengwo to be featured on the homepage, and some blogs stay up there longer than a day depending on their engagements. If your blogger manages to get his/her work featured on the homepage of Mafengwo, their guide/recommendations could receive up to 50,000+ views, versus around 9,000 if they are not. It is a similar situation for other review sites, such as Qyer, Ctrip or TripAdvisor. One of our recent bloggers, Sicilia, reached the home page of Mafengwo, Qyer AND Ctrip with the same blog about her rail journey from London to Scotland on LNER, with views and engagements racking up into the thousands as a result.

Visitors to the site will also search by destination to find blogs relevant to their holiday. So, a blog about the UK will be served to people who are actually interested in the UK, and the blog will be up there forever. Users can even save the trip so they can replicate it exactly themselves, share it with their family and friends, and even buy elements of it directly from the website.

Mafengwo KOL's content

It’s difficult to determine how successful coverage by KOLs will be on WeChat and Weibo due to how widespread posts can be topically, and the fact we don’t know for sure what stage in the holiday planning process their followers are in. However, what we do know is 70% of Chinese travellers use online resources to help plan their trip, so selecting KOLs who are deliberately targeting travellers with their content in an environment such as Mafengwo, Qyer or Ctrip, where readers are actively seeking travel ideas, is obviously a more effective strategy than basing decisions on followers alone.

If you are interested in finding out more about working with Chinese travel KOLs, please contact us for a chat.

Enjoyed this article? Then these may also be of interest to you:

Chinese travel KOL visits the UK

Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

Chinese KOL trip from London to Scotland by rail (Case Study)

Taiwanese Superstar Nana Ou-yang Visits Bristol (Case Study)