Chinese students and the UK education market: an interview with Tony Evans, Co-Founder of Experio Life and Bristol International College

Tony, tell us about yourself; what’s your experience in education and what do you do?

After graduating in Modern European Studies in 1984 and travelling extensively throughout Europe for a year, I embarked on a career in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) which spanned 6 years and took me to Germany, Italy and France. I then moved into Operations Management (staff recruitment, programming and troubleshooting) before taking on roles in Sales and Marketing with a number of leading organizations in the industry. Since September 1995 I have been involved in the creation and management of 4 start-up companies in the UK, France and Germany. In 2001, I set up Experio Life Ltd., a consultancy business specializing in educational travel for the youth market and in 2019 I co-founded Bristol International College, a University of London-recognised teaching centre located in the heart of Bristol.

What proportion of Chinese students attend your independent and public schools? And how has the market changed over the last few years?

In 2019, 50% of our international students were from China compared to less than 10% in 2016. While it’s true that we saw growth in many existing and several new markets over that period, none was so strong as that from China.

When did you start first realise that there might be an opportunity to attract Chinese students to independent schools and summer schools in the UK?

Since the early 2000s, we have had a good number of Hong Kong students every year but in spite of the best efforts of those Hng Kong-based agents to penetrate the mainland Chinese market, we didn’t welcome our first Chinese students until 2014.

How did you approach the market?

In the first instance, we were approached by the Bristol-China Partnership (now known as the Bristol & West of England China Bureau) to host a small group of friends and relatives of one of their Chinese staff members who was also a Post Graduate student at the University of Bristol. This turned out to be a very positive experience for all concerned and was repeated the following summer with a much larger group. At that point I realised the growth potential for student recruitment from China.

How did you find someone to work with in China?

We received another local contact from the Bristol-China Partnership, a Chinese lady with a background in Finance but with great entrepreneurial spirit and skills who had recently moved to Bristol to accompany her son, who had taken up a place in Clifton College Prep School. We immediately agreed to work together on the recruitment of Chinese students for our summer schools and state school integration programmes and I’m delighted to say that we are still working together and had great success up until Covid-19 struck.

At around the same time in 2015, we were talking to a student marketing company about how best to access the Chinese market from an in-country perspective and they recommended that we engage a full-time bilingual Sales Representative who we trained in the UK and then deployed in China to contact and pre-select educational travel agents on our behalf.

You visited China for 30 days/year for several years to build contacts; how did you plan your visits and decide who to meet?

Yes, that’s correct…so from 2016 – 2019 I visited China two or three times per year in order to meet and consolidate existing relationships and to forge new ones with agents who had been pre-selected by our local representative (ie vetted to meet certain criteria that qualified them as having good potential to deliver students to our portfolio of programmes). Our local rep was responsible for the itinerary for each trip including accommodation, ground transportation and flights but in some cases these costs were borne by the agents that we were meeting since I would be required to visit schools and universities together with the agent and often give a presentation to Senior Management Teams, English teachers, students, parents etc.

What are your general experiences of working in China? What were your biggest challenges?

I must say that despite the extensive travel involved and the somewhat repetitive nature of visiting schools and giving presentations, I have really enjoyed all my trips to China and I have been made to feel extremely welcome wherever I have been. And I have eaten some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had anywhere. On the few occasions that I have travelled alone in China, I found the language barrier the biggest challenge…especially with taxi drivers!

Can you tell us about guanxi and how it has affected how you work with the Chinese?

Guanxi is a Chinese term meaning “networks” or “connections” that open doors for new business and facilitate deals. Understanding this concept and how to implement it within the context of student recruitment has been fundamental to our success in developing China as a market. Having a basic understanding of Chinese culture and demonstrating this understanding and your respect for the ways in which things are done through the way you behave yourself in everyday situations, and in the way you do business, is key to creating the guanxi from which successful and long-lasting business relationships and partnerships develop.

What are the most important factors in attracting Chinese students in the age of Covid-19?

The most important factors are showing empathy and understanding for the concerns that students, parents and agents have surrounding safety and security issues, and then being able to address those concerns with tangible solutions. Students want to study abroad and many would be prepared to take the small risk involved currently but parents are the ultimate decision makers since they are financing it and they won’t take any risks where their children are concerned. Consequently, we have to satisfy the parents that not only will we provide an excellent educational experience for their children but that we can also guarantee their safety and well-being. We need the external factors such as transportation and visa processing to be available too.

How to do business in China: the importance of guanxi

If you’ve ever made a business trip to China, you’ll have heard about guanxi. If you’re new to China and considering doing business there, you need to know about guanxi. So what is this key element of building relationships with Chinese business partners? What is the importance of guanxi?

Who you know is more important than what you know

It isn’t easy to directly translate guanxi into English but its approximate meaning is ‘social connections’ or ‘personal relationships’. Essentially it refers to the interpersonal networks of people we each build to help us succeed in our careers. And guanxi is key to being successful in business in China.

For much of Chinese history, guanxi has been the glue that has held society together. Traditional Chinese society was mostly rural and built around family and social connections, which are also emphasised in Confucianism. Essentially, it’s natural to do business with people you know. We might even characterise guanxi as ‘Who you know is more important than what you know’.

So how should you approach doing business in China, taking guanxi into account?  And can you create your own guanxi?

Creating your own guanxi

Is it possible for a non-Chinese person to create their own guanxi? Tony Evans did. Tony is Co-Founder of Bristol International College and Experio Life Ltd, a consultancy business specialising in educational travel for the youth market. With more than 30 years’ experience in education and a continent-spanning career, Tony is used to cross-border working and international collaboration. So he wasn’t phased by getting involved with the Chinese market. We spoke to Tony to hear more about his experiences.

In 2015 Tony identified untapped Chinese demand for international education. Working with a Chinese business partner in the UK, Tony selected and appointed a bilingual in-country representative. The local rep identified suitable schools and agents, arranged local introductions, and planned itineraries and every aspect of travel. Tony visited China two or three times every year, spending about 30 days annually travelling vast distances and holding many meetings in China to build relationships and establish that all-important guanxi.

The result? In 2019, 50% of Tony’s summer school students were from China – an increase from just 10% in 2016.

How to do business in China

So it is possible to create your own connections, or guanxi. But it’s a lot of work and commitment, and you need inside help.

  1. Have a trusted local partner

Work with a local partner to identify the right people to meet. The right person in China knows your market and industry, and will have the necessary connections to match you with promising business contacts.

  • Get introductions

Make sure you’re not approaching potential business partners ‘cold’. A written introduction from a trusted Chinese contact is the minimum; an inperson introduction is better.

  • Work with a local translator who is not just bilingual but bicultural

Use a translator who understands your industry jargon and can interpret cultural differences for you. Understanding cultural and linguistic nuance is vital to achieving results.

Many cross-cultural challenges in business

And tackling guanxi is just one cross-cultural challenge among many. Don’t forget:

  • Seniority is important. It’s vital that senior associates make contacts and nurture relationships. Don’t ever send someone who the Chinese might perceive as junior to a meeting
  • The Chinese don’t like to say no. Apparent agreement is often not what it seems
  • Meeting etiquette is important. What Westerners perceive as ‘small talk’ is crucial relationship-building

We can help you establish great working relationships with business partners in China. We are experts in promoting tourism brands in the Chinese market and have long-term relationships with the important Chinese media, Key Opinion Leaders (influencers) and travel trade. The travel specialists in our Beijing office have existing guanxi with many of your potential business partners – and can visit them in person to promote your product ready for when China’s 100 million plus outbound tourists start booking overseas travel again.

Contact us now for a no obligation chat about the possibilities of the Chinese outbound travel market and how we can help guanxi work for you.

Senior digital agency specialist joins China Travel Outbound

Travel PR and marketing agency, China Travel Outbound (CTO), has recruited senior digital specialist, Ed Lamb, to head up its client services division.

Lamb has nearly two decades’ experience on agency management teams and joins CTO from the award-winning Brighton digital agency, Propellernet, where he worked for 9 years, leading pitch wins with new blue-chip clients such as Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and McArthurGlen.   Prior to that Lamb played a key role within TMW’s management team, developing their digital offering as TMW (now TMW Unlimited) successfully evolved from an offline DM model to an online focused approach, with digital revenues quadrupling in his 3 years there.

Lamb’s appointment comes at an exciting time for the Chinese specialist as they enter their sixth year of trading, now working with over 20 clients in the tourism industry within the UK and Europe, and experiencing double digit annual growth. 

CTO has recently added Visit Copenhagen to its list of clients, and Lamb will play a key role in further international expansion and in developing new products to serve the needs of the agency’s customers.

Helena Beard, Founder and Managing Director of China Travel Outbound, said,

“I am thrilled to be working with Ed. He comes to us with a great track record in building successful agencies and his digital experience will be invaluable in our future plans.”

Ed Lamb said, “It’s a fantastic time to get involved with China Travel Outbound given the excellent base that has been put in place.   I can’t wait to work with Helena and the rest of the team to build on that and deliver the next phase of growth, increasing Chinese tourism revenues for all our clients.” 

For more information about China Travel Outbound, please visit www.chinatraveloutbound.com

Editors’ Notes: 

China Travel Outbound is a specialist travel PR and Marketing agency with offices in Brighton and Beijing. The agency’s clients include VisitBrighton, Royal Museums Greenwich, English Heritage, LNER and City Cruises. For more information, please contact Helena Beard at [email protected]

Video interview: ‘Chinese PR tips with Vivienne Song’

Effective PR is essential in order to be successful in the outbound Chinese tourism market. 

Forming great working relationships with the Chinese media and Chinese KOLs is a complete game changer in terms of promoting a destination to the outbound Chinese tourist market. Both the Chinese media and KOLs have the power to connect with a wider Chinese audience in order to market a destination so that the appeal of that destination will grow significantly. 

But how do you really work with the Chinese media? And who are the main media outlets in China for travel?

In this video Vivienne Song, the Manager of our Beijing office, sits down to discuss some top tips on Chinese PR and working effectively with the Chinese travel media.  

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Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Dinner 2019

The third annual Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Dinner, held on the eve of World Travel Market London 2019, was a huge success. Hosted by China Travel Outbound and Capela China, the event marks the beginning of the international travel event and brings together all the movers and shakers of the British tourism industry who are making a difference to growing the inbound market of Chinese visitors to the UK.

We were extremely proud to welcome our clients, London North Eastern Railway (LNER), as our sponsor for the event this year. Laetitia Beneteau, the Leisure Sales and Distribution Manager at LNER, provided our guests with a fascinating insight into how LNER has been working closely with the China Travel Outbound team to bring high profile Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to experience the wonderful train journey up the East Coast from London to Scotland over the past 18 months. 

We were also joined by senior representatives from the travel companies, attractions and destinations who are leading the way in promoting Britain to the Chinese. Some of these very special guests included VisitScotland, Visit York, City Cruises, Gatwick Airport, Royal Museums Greenwich and English Heritage. We were absolutely thrilled that everyone could come together and celebrate the future of Chinese tourism in the UK. Of course, we celebrated in the most appropriate fashion – over a delicious Chinese feast at a restaurant in London’s Chinatown, London. Everyone had a wonderful evening, and we cannot wait to host this event again next year. 

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Why are the Chinese going Nordic?

Norway, china, tourism, nordic, PR

Why the Nordic region?

From the fresh air, fjords and fish platters to the endless summer days and early winter nights; this intriguing northern culture continues to entice Chinese travellers from all over the country to satiate their curiosities and embrace the welcome culture shock that awaits them in the land of the Vikings.

Although Scandinavia may not currently sit at pole position on their general holiday wish list, the number of Chinese tourists flocking to the wintery north is on the rise. According to Ctrip, China’s number 1 travel booking agency, the number of Chinese tourists who booked trips to Nordic countries through its website soared by 82 pct in 2018. Naturally, due to its colder climate, Northern Europe will experience its high season between May and September when the weather is warmer. However, this is not to say that winter is an unpopular season, as many Chinese tourists visit at this time to experience the snow, the skiing and of course, the breath-taking Aurora Borealis (Northern lights).

This escalation of Chinese attention hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Nordic lands as the Scandinavian peninsula recognises the prosperity that the Chinese market would bring. Recently, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden jointly kicked off a tourism campaign to offer more distinctive travel experiences to Chinese visitors. They’ve collectively invested time and resources into discovering how to cater to the Chinese tourist and develop and formulate more appetizing and accessible travel experiences to this prosperous market. This is a tactic that is evidently paying off.

In this blog series, we will investigate each of the five Nordic countries, some of their most popular tourist destinations and consider what makes them so desirable to the Chinese tourist.

Velkommen til Norge!

Image of a small Nordic village backed by a mountain range

As one of the three member countries collectively referred to as ‘Scandinavia’, Norway charmingly merges elegant, urban modernity with its rustic, rural culture. The country boasts a sparkling winter wonder with its diverse, emphatic landscape whose lengthy terrain reaches far into the Arctic circle.

As more of Europe is opening up for China, Norway is now more accessible for Chinese tourists than it has ever been before. Not only does China have an efficient transit to the country through Helsinki, but now Hainan airlines has made available a direct flight route between Beijing and Oslo, the first direct route between the two countries.

The Chinese marvel at how the awe-inspiring scenery fits synonymously with a local culture that is filled to the brim with history and tradition; a culture which owes much to the landscape it originates from. Norway is certainly not lacking on reasons for its touristic appeal; whether it’s to bear witness to a natural environment which seems almost fictional with its beauty, to experiencing the modernised food, shopping and efficiency that Scandinavians are so proud of, or even to visit the sites of the many films that were shot or based there, such as Disney’s Frozenthe highest grossing animated film of all time and one which brought in just under $50,000,000 in its first year in China. 

Whatever the reason for visiting, inbound tourism is unquestionably on the rise for the Norwegians and in recent times, the Chinese have found themselves on the growing list of countries exporting thousands of travellers there each year. According to Bente Bratland Holm, travel director for ‘Innovation Norge’, “The Asian market is growing the most… Norway now has the most overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Scandinavia.”

Norway clearly has a wide variety of cities and sites that draw in a large number of visitors each year, so let’s have a look at five of Chinese tourists’ favourite Norwegian locations and reflect on what each one offers that makes them such must-see destinations.

Five of Norway’s top tourist destinations

5. Lofoten

Icy mountains over a frozen lake

Whenever you see an aesthetic poster or wallpaper of the magical, endless Norwegian fjords and mountains, wondering whether such a mysterious and ethereal environment could possibly exist … there’s a very strong likelihood that that photograph was taken somewhere on the Lofoten islands. 

Lofoten may not necessarily be the biggest hub for tourism in Norway, it is certainly accessible and the Chinese travellers who do make the northern trip to the islands will be incontestably glad that they did. Most tourists will opt for the aerial route due to its speed and convenience; flights will typically connect through Oslo to either Bodø or Svolvær airports and will need a subsequent, short transfer over to the islands. Many other Chinese tourists may prefer a longer and more scenic route and the marathon train journey between Oslo and Bodø rewards the traveller with a window view of all the sights and sounds that the Norwegian terrain has to offer. Despite its more remote location, tourists of the world are still willing to spend the extra time and money to pay this wonderland a visit and the Chinese are no exception to this. 

So how can the Lofoten islands cater to the Chinese tourist industry? Contrast to its relatively small population, Lofoten provides a hugely diverse range of activities and experiences that interlace wonderfully with its environment. The islands are filled with local fishing villages that allow tourists the opportunity to venture out onto their own fishing expeditions as well as producing some of the freshest seafood dishes in the country. Those looking for a more educational visit will appreciate the historic background of the islands and will surely visit the Lofotr Viking Museum and other Viking exhibitions; the Chinese love museums so this will be a key tourist hub for Lofoten. For the more adventurous traveller, the Chinese tourist will seek the many tours on offer, ranging from kayaking or horseback riding down the fjords or hiking trips through the mountains to bathe in the summer’s midnight sun or be awestruck by winter’s northern lights.

The Chinese tourist market is vast and expansive, naturally this results in many different travellers with many different tastes. Lofoten has made sure it will always have exciting adventures available for whoever visits its islands.

4. Geirangerfjord

River down a steep valley

With its long, winding river path sandwiched between the imposing, vertical cliff faces that may have been carved out by the Aesir themselves; The Geirangerfjord sees countless Chinese adventurers sailing down its banks each year. Featuring tours, caves, hikes, hill tribes and a commitment to cultural and environmental preservation; Geirangerfjord has truly earned its place as a UNESCO world heritage site.

There are two primary means in which Chinese tourists come to visit this world-famous fjord. Frequent flights operate to Ålesund airport followed by a transfer to Geiranger, along with trains departing from both Oslo and Trondheim bound for Åndalsnes and connections to either Ålesund or Geiranger. The most popular option of travel, however, is by sea. Many cruise operators take tourists up to and into the fjords in the summer months, transforming the transportation element into the destination itself.

The Chinese love cruises, in fact, China is facing the potential to become the largest cruise market in the world. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that cruise liners are the most favourable method of exploring this Asgardian landscape. Cruises allow tourists to leisurely drift down the stream of the fjord, entirely immersed in the natural marvel that surrounds them on all sides. Additionally, cruises make numerous stops at various key sites and villages, encouraging tourists to step out and discover the local crafts, trade and cuisine. With such a keen love of photography and foreign culture, the Chinese will feel particularly enriched by this element of the fjords

Outside of cruising, the area of Geiranger provides travellers with an abundance of methods of experiencing the fjord’s beauty. From hikes, bike rides, picnics, kayaking and camping; Geirangerfjord maintains its capacity to cater to all shapes and forms of Chinese tourism and its diverse demands, now it just needs the right promotion in China to continue to do this.

3. Tromsø

Icy city in a valley

Welcome to the Arctic circle. Tromsø is one of only a few large cities that sit within this polar region and notwithstanding its typically icy temperatures, it still manages to draw in a considerable level of inbound Chinese tourism each year. Tromsø doesn’t suffer from its arctic location; actually, it owes a lot of its touristic success to it, with many travellers looking to experience more sights and sounds that are off the beaten path in such a polar environment mixed with having access to the facilities and amenities one would expect from a modern and well-developed city.

Along with the arctic circle, Tromsø also falls within the cultural region of Sápmi, a territory that encompasses northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sápmi is home to the Sámis; a traditional, remote people specialising in coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding and most significantly, reindeer herding. The Sámis offer a deep insight and education into a whole new, foreign way of life and are a considerable factor in bringing culture-hungry tourists to Tromsø.

As one of Norway’s biggest cities, tourists will have no difficulty in making the journey up to Tromsø. There are many domestic flights to Tromsø airport each day, though flying internationally from China, travellers will typically have a transfer at Oslo before heading up. Several popular Scandinavian cruise tours will make stops at Tromsø, again giving Chinese holidaymakers a (somewhat brief) opportunity to meander through this snowy metropolis and contribute keenly to the city’s tourist income.

There is an abundance of options for new arrivals to Tromsø to pick from when it comes to tours, shopping and entertainment; though the number one activity on most people’s bucket list is to chase the Aurora Borealis. Tromsø is one of the best locations to see the Northern lights in the country and the locals know this; offering a plethora of different tours and guided routes to tourists and recognising the prosperity and profits that the Chinese market could bring them with the right targeted promotion.

Snowshoeing, dog sledding, fishing, whale watching and arctic buggy riding will also be on the peripherals of the adventurous traveller, while others may prefer the slower pace of the arctic museums, a warm drink at a kaffebutikk (coffee shop) or a visit to the extra-terrestrial looking Arctic Cathedral standing proud to the east of the city. 

The tourist infrastructure is definitely in place in Tromsø, therefore bringing in a further flux of Chinese tourism will continue to benefit the city long into the future.  

2. Bergen

Bayside village

Known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’, Norway’s second largest city is one of the most culturally diverse in the country. As a UNESCO world heritage city, Bergen acts as the meeting point of the new ways and the old and while it is large in scope, Chinese visitors will still find themselves succumbing to the small-town atmosphere and charm that the city emits. Tourists appreciate the blending of Oslo’s modernity with the historic value that one would expect from more rural locations, ensuring that all who step foot within the city of the seven mountains, young or old, active or laid-back, will find themselves at home in Bergen.

Having already referred to China’s love for cruises and tours, Bergen’s nickname does well to open itself to the Chinese market. A bounty of tours and voyages will set sail from the port and float down one of the many branching fjords nearby. Travellers also opt for the local-based tours that allow the pulsating colours of Bergen’s architecture to be taken in from the seas. Tours are not limited to the water and Ctrip (or Trip.com) offers a variety of walking tours to get up close and personal with some of Bergen’s top sites. 

China experiences a vast amount of inbound tourism searching for culinary exploration and foreign tastes, something which is mirrored by its outbound tourism too. Chinese ‘foodies’ will fail to miss the warm allure of the fresh Norwegian pastries lining the shelves of the local bakeries or the pungent musk of the stockfish, the traditional unsalted cod hanging from wooden racks and drying in the cold, Nordic air. Tourists love to book themselves onto food tours in which sightseeing, and food sampling are conveniently rolled into one.

The Chinese also love a photo opportunity and the mountains that encase the city provides a golden opportunity to do this. The cable cars running up the mountainside take tourists to a wonderous aerial location which perfectly frames all of Bergen’s best features into one image; an image that will likely find its way onto a Weibo post to induce envy onto all who see it.

1. Oslo

Oslo opera house

A nation’s capital should always be one of its most prized possessions. Oslo connects Norway to the rest of the world and connects the rest of the world to Norway. Wherever the final destination maybe be, there is a near certainty that a Chinese tourist visiting Norway will end up in Oslo at some point of their trip, subsequently meaning that the capital receives the most inbound tourism from China in the country each year.

Ease of access isn’t the only factor attributed to Oslo’s popularity; the city embodies everything one associates with Scandinavian elegance, design and progressiveness. Modern Norwegian and Nordic architecture is an area of fascination for the Chinese, in fact, they love it so much that they’ve recruited the Norwegian group, Snøhetta, the company behind the Oslo Opera House, to blueprint the designs for the Shanghai Grand opera house in China. Every element of the city centre has been intricately crafted and outlined to cater to visitors and locals alike. Oslo regards itself as a walking city, something which is favourable among Chinese tourists, though a frequent and convenient transportation network is also available for those in a rush and willing to spend a bit extra.

There aren’t many cities in Europe where you can thrive within a metropolitan hamper of museums, international food markets and high-class shopping brands in the morning and take a short train ride to the mountains for skiing and hiking in the afternoon. Oslo will never be short on options with regards to tourism and the city is the epicentre of Norway’s modern culture, something which the patriotic locals are always willing to demonstrate to visitors. Many of China’s favourite holiday pastimes can all be found in Oslo, meaning the capital could potentially stand to gain the most from establishing itself on popular Chinese travel sites.

Oslo benefits from being an all year destination; that is to say that the capital’s appeal is just as prominent in the winter as it is in summer. Its ‘low-season’ is far from being considered a low season. Such a consistent level of inbound tourism combined with the right promotion to the surging Chinese market will only continue to propel Oslo’s rapid development even further in the years to come.

Find out more:

Norway is certainly a hotbed for touristic attraction and has one of the highest potentials for expansion into the China market in Europe. If you would like to see how PR and promotion on Chinese platforms can boost tourism for your brand, please find our contact details here: https://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/contact/

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to look out for the next blog in the series: Why are the Chinese going Nordic? – Part 2: Finland (Coming soon)

Why not check out some of our other articles related to Chinese tourism?

Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sailhttps://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/chinese-tourists-are-setting-sail/

How do Chinese tourists choose their hotels?https://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/how-do-chinese-tourists-choose-their-hotels/

Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 2: Discoveryhttps://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/top-7-apps-chinese-outbound-tourists-use-overseas-part-2/

Martinhal collaborates with Tribe Organic for ‘Children’s day’ event

Children’s Day’ is an annual holiday in China, as well as many other countries, celebrated on June 1st. While there are no specific traditions to be followed regarding the holiday, it is typically accepted as being a day for parents to spend time with their children and reflect on the impact they have on their lives; it is a day for ‘family time’. Many companies will award their staff a full or half day off in order to allow this unofficial custom to be followed, promoting positive mindfulness of loving, family relationships.

Commercial businesses also have the opportunity for involvement in the holiday, with numerous public services and tourist attractions allowing free admission to families and other companies holding specific ‘children’ themed events.

This was a perfect chance for Martinhal, a hotel chain based in Portugal who excel in ‘family-friendly’ holiday experiences, to express itself further in the Chinese market through its involvement in the holiday. With the help of China Travel Outbound’s Beijing office, Martinhal was able to collaborate with Tribe Organic, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant chain in Beijing and Shanghai, to establish a ‘Children’s day’ event to benefit all who were involved.

On the day of the celebration, Tribe held a child-friendly promotion at one of their restaurants which attracted a large quantity of families through the doors to enjoy a variety of games and activities. This allowed CTO to distribute information and summer offers from the Martinhal brand as a more efficient means of targeted marketing. The main attraction of the day was the raffle held in which certain families could win vouchers for a stay at one of Martinhal’s hotels in Portugal.

The event overall was an excellent demonstration of Martinhal’s good will and helped put the name of the brand in more mouths of potential Chinese tourists.


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London North Eastern Railway wins CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Award

LNER CTW Award

We are delighted that our clients and friends over at London North Eastern Railway (LNER) won a CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Award at ITB China in Shanghai this week for their hard work in the China market.

Tourist Welcome Award

LNER was awarded the Bronze Welcome Award in the Marketing category. The award was presented by COTRI and the Ctrip Institute for Tourism Studies, and handed to LNER’s representative, our PR and Media Manager Angel Deng, by Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt.

LNER has undertaken many activities in the past year to boost their presence in the China market. Since setting up its official Weibo account in early 2018, the account has built a following of 40,000 genuine Chinese followers enthusiastic about UK travel and the train company’s high-quality service for its passengers. This was all achieved through organically generated content and joint promotions with partners.

LNER launched promotional campaigns with Beijing Capital Airlines and Hainan Group to find the perfect Chinese KOL to travel up the East Coast of the UK with LNER, as well as Visit Scotland to encourage Chinese tourists to travel up to Scotland with LNER to celebrate Burns Night.

In December 2018, LNER collaborated with influential KOL, Liu Huan (Queenio), on a blogger trip highlighting the many fascinating UK cities along the East Coast to Scotland – including Lincoln, Leeds, York, Harrogate, Durham, Edinburgh and Inverness. The trip received widespread coverage in Queenio’s in-depth travelogue posted to China’s premier review site platforms.

LNER held their successful “Taste of the Train Tour” media workshop in Beijing in March 2019, attended by 40 representatives from Chinese travel agents, operators and travel media.

Considered the most prestigious prize in the Chinese outbound tourism market, COTRI has held the CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Awards annually since 2004. In that time, it has awarded over 100 tourism service providers for their dedication to the China market. Award winners gain widespread exposure each year in international printed and digital publications, and are also published on COTRI’s website and across their digital channels. 

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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 to celebrate the launch of the new Azuma trains. This was 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. Laetitia maximised her time in Beijing undertaking 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 55,000 followers.

How do Chinese tourists choose their hotels?

145 million Chinese tourists travelled overseas last year, but how did they make their hotel or accommodation choices?

The Chinese are quite cautious when selecting accommodation for their next overseas trip. Security is a top priority, and they also want to feel comfortable and welcomed in the accommodation they choose. Services like Mandarin staff, Chinese-language hotel information booklets and restaurant menus, and accepting Chinese payment apps go a long way to helping achieve this.

However, the Chinese hotel experience has evolved in the past few years, with increasingly more Chinese tourists choosing to stay in apartments or homestays rather than high-end hotels. Many high-end or luxury hotels are fighting back this trend by improving their hotel’s ‘China Welcome’ and image of offering of ‘a home away from home’ for Chinese tourists.

This article seeks to identify how hotels are adapting to the changing needs of Chinese overseas tourists, why different kinds of accommodation are popular among different demographics, and the importance of websites and applications Chinese tourists use to book their accommodation in informing their decisions.

Homestays provide a more authentic travel experience

The rising popularity of room and apartment rental booking platforms such as Airbnb and Xiaozhu in China have transformed the landscape of online accommodation booking. According to Nielsen’s 2017 Outbound Chinese Tourism and Consumption Trends Report, 53% of China’s post-90s generation tourists favour homestays, inns, and guesthouses over hotels due to their eagerness to throw themselves into unique and authentic experiences. For some destinations, these accomodation types have become their preferred choice — this is the case with Japan where 64% of Chinese tourists choose to stay in homestays.

Similar findings were exposed in Hotels.com’s recent Chinese International Travel Monitor, which published the results of interviews with over 3,000 Chinese residents, aged between 18 and 58, who travelled abroad between May 2017 and May 2018. The report found that throughout this period, 55% of travellers stayed at independent hotels compared to 49% who opted for international hotel chains, and 33% chose boutique hotels. Furthermore, 56% of travellers cited “living in atypical accommodation” as a great travel experience, which demonstrates that not only is their accommodation choice a significant part of their travel itinerary, but they see independent hotels as providing a gateway into what makes the destination unique and exciting to visit.

Chinese tourists value the security of staying with a recognisable hotel brand

This isn’t to say Chinese tourists disregard hotels entirely; in fact, many choose to stay at international hotel chains due to their universal standards and reliability. International hotel chains uphold a quality of service that is (usually) replicated by all of their hotels worldwide, so Chinese tourists not only know exactly what they’re paying for, but see their services as specifically catering to overseas travellers.

Hyatt, in particular, has caught a whiff of this as it plans to double-down on its presence in China by introducing 60 hotels and 22,000 more rooms in the next four years. This is presumably in the hopes that the Hyatt brand will become more familiar in the Chinese market and thus tourists will choose to stay with them over a lesser-known hotel.

Furthermore, some hotels brands have partnered with influential Chinese travel platforms to help with their brand promotion. Radisson Hotel Group and Ctrip announced a strategic partnership in October that aims to expand the hotel group’s properties to more destinations and to help develop China as the group’s key source market.

Following suit is NUO, a home-grown Chinese hotel brand that hopes to expand its locally recognisable hotels globally into cities including Rome, New York and London. NUO’s Director of Marketing Communications, Cindy Zhu, claims the company’s goal is to expand into “each major city around the world” to comfortably accommodate Chinese national leaders on overseas visits.

These points show the importance of making your hotel brand more recognisable in China, to demonstrate your commitment to providing a good ‘China Welcome’ and willingness to accommodate Chinese guests.

Acknowledge the differences in how Chinese guests interact with hotels

While many of us may just search for the best and most affordable places to stay in our chosen destination, there’s a lot more that Chinese tourists take into account when selecting their accommodation.

In speaking about how hotels can improve their communication with potential Chinese customers, Yearth Alliance founder and CEO, Joseph Xia, said due to Chinese guests’ reliance on technology and information easily accessible from their mobile device, the “digitisation of hotel’s content, promotions, [and] payment method would help guests save their time” when booking accommodation. This digisation is important to consider as, if given the option, over 90% of Chinese outbound tourists would use mobile payments overseas. By introducing mobile payments alone, your hotel will put it on the map to the large section of Chinese tourists who base their travel decisions on whether their destination of choice accepts these payment methods.

Marriott International is a huge player who seems to have acknowledged the benefits of digitising their content as, this June, they readied 1,500 of their hotels worldwide to begin accepting Alipay mobile payments. This coincided the brand’s redesigned storefront on the Chinese travel platform Fliggy (owned by Alibaba, same as Alipay) to showcase to Chinese travellers their 6,000 hotels across 30 global brands in a user-friendly and accessible manner. The global hotel brand also employs Mandarin-speaking staff and offers a range of tailored services to Chinese tourists as part of its “Li Yu” initiative to welcome them in open arms.

KOLs are key

Marketing your accommodation brand through Chinese travel KOLs is a fantastic way to increase your exposure on China’s premier travel review platforms. China’s most popular KOLs have built fanbases of millions of followers through their credibility in providing top-quality and trustworthy travel recommendations. Demonstrating that your hotel comfortably accommodates the savviest of Chinese travellers can result in extremely valuable promotion in the China market.

We have worked with a number of accommodation providers on Chinese KOL and media trips who recognise their value and have facilitated their stay with complimentary rooms, in return for exposure in travelogues published on platforms such as Mafengwo, Qyer and Ctrip. Native Places, who offer long and short stay serviced apartments in London and other UK cities, have worked with us on a number of trips, and the KOLs and media have detailed how personal and homely their spaces feel. Likewise, The Grand in York, the city’s most luxurious hotel, has successfully hosted a number of high-profile KOLs and media FAM trips over the years, showing their commitment to providing a positive ‘China Welcome’.

Independent hotels have a big opportunity

So, what about luxury independent hotels? Do they have a chance in this market? The answer is certainly yes.

If you combine the Chinese tourists’ quest for luxury with their quest for authenticity, the opportunities for success are huge. This is particularly true where hotels cater well for affluent, multi-generational Chinese families, travelling independently and seeking comfort for grandparents and new experiences for treasured children.

Admittedly, independent hotels are unlikely to have access to the marketing funds of a Marriott or Hilton, but a strong presence on China’s major review sites, press coverage, hosting KOLs and media, a WeChat or Weibo account, and engaging with the Chinese travel trade will all go a long way in attracting Chinese guests.

Where does this leave us?

Your Chinese guests have vastly different expectations and needs to your Western guests, so your accommodation brand will need to make the extra effort to show that you’re ‘China Ready’. The importance of introducing mobile payments, Mandarin-language services and hosting KOLs cannot be understated, but also making sure the Chinese market recognises your efforts in accommodating Chinese guests is paramount. As such, digitising your content especially for Chinese tourists, and ensuring you have active presence on China’s review site platforms, will help keep you in the minds of Chinese tourists when they plan their next trip abroad.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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

Watch and Go – How do TV and film influence Chinese travellers?

2019 Guide to Chinese National Holidays and Trade Shows

Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

Two Chinese KOLs travel the UK with London North Eastern Railway

This will be our last article for 2018, so from all of us at China Travel Outbound’s Brighton and Beijing offices, thank you very much for reading and we hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!