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.

Are Chinese tourists becoming more responsible travellers?

Throughout 2019, the outbound Chinese tourism industry continued to prosper and expand, with an increasing number of worldwide travel destinations breaking into this incredibly lucrative market, offering many more reasons to fly. According to data from the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, in 2008 there were 43.8 million overseas trips made by Chinese tourists, just ten years later in 2018 this number had skyrocketed to 149.7 million and, it is estimated that the Chinese outbound tourist market will be worth $270 billion by 2025. In addition to this, President Xi has expressed great ambitions to open the skies and promote more flights to and from China. In September 2019 he announced the much-anticipated opening of Beijing’s Daxing International Airport. This new airport will be the key to enabling international inbound and outbound travel, acting as a pivotal air traffic hub. Already, it operates over 100 routes and connects to around 112 destinations worldwide. However, in the wake of the climate movement, this ever-growing outflux of Chinese tourism has caused some concern. Not only because of the flight emissions, but also because of some assumptions that the Chinese are less concerned than some other nations about their impact on the environment. 

China has struggled with pollution in the past, but arguably the extent of this pollution has been exaggerated by the media in other parts of the world. For example, images of a heavily polluted Beijing that were shared extensively via the media throughout the earlier part of last decade. Famously, in 2014 The Daily Mail published an article claiming that the pollution in Beijing was so bad that people were having to watch the sunrise on a giant LED screen in the middle of Tiananmen Square. This article was accompanied with a grainy image of a dystopian, smog-soaked Beijing where a handful of people were watching the virtual sunrise emerge. The article went viral, and a number of other prominent news outlets including Time, CBS News, and the Huffington Post published the same story. A week later technology news website, Tech in Asia, furiously disproved this story, explaining that the sunrise was actually part of an advert for tourism in China’s Shandong Province, and had nothing to do with pollution.  

Similarly, when some media outlets have written about Chinese tourists, their environmental impact has also been a point of focus and concern, with Chinese tourists sometimes being portrayed as irresponsible. For example, there have been tales of excessive waste, with viral stories of tourist groups overfilling plates at all -you- can-eat buffets and then leaving piles of uneaten food. Other articles have complained that Chinese tourists act in an uncivilized manner and disrespect the environments that they visit. For example, there was the famous incident in 2013 of Chinese teenager, Ding Jinhao, defacing an ancient Egyptian temple, sparking outrage and a backlash against Chinese tourists for their misbehaviour abroad. Despite the fact that isolated incidents such as this do not reflect Chinese tourists as a whole, if you Google ‘Chinese tourists’ you will be met with numerous articles and videos which name Chinese tourists as ‘rude’ or ‘unruly’.

It seems the singling out of Chinese tourists by some media outlets has, at times, created an unflattering and negative stereotype of the Chinese traveller, and this includes their impact on and regard for the environment. 

In a recent Oliver Wyman survey entitled, ‘The Changing Face of the Chinese Traveller’ the author lists four common beliefs about Chinese tourists which include ‘They spend indiscriminately’ and ‘They are always in groups’. These beliefs have ignited concerns around over tourism and over-consumption. However, there is evidence to disprove these images of the Chinese traveller. In recent years the Chinese have expressed their desire to improve sustainability and reduce their impact on the planet both at home and overseas, and action is being taken in order to make these desires a reality.  

Increasing demand for sustainable tourism 

In November 2019, Gillian Tans, the chairwoman of Booking.com reported to CNBC that the demand for sustainable tourism and responsible travel alternatives was drastically increasing amongst Chinese tourists. A study conducted by Booking.com found that 79% of Chinese customers would be happy to change their selected holiday destination if they were offered an alternative that was better for the environment. Furthermore, Tans expressed how Chinese tourists are beginning to opt for alternative and more sustainable accommodation choices such as home sharing, which now accounts for 20% of Booking.com’s overall revenues. This kind of accommodation is more flexible as well as environmentally friendly, Chinese travellers can cook their own food, which will subsequently produce less waste. It also allows them share in large groups for a cheaper price, an arrangement which suits large multi generation family travel groups. These kinds of choices made by cost aware and progressively savvy Chinese travellers are setting new trends for future Chinese tourists. Furthermore, these statistics show that a growing number of tourists are veering towards making sustainable decisions when travelling. 

Shopping locally and travelling small

For a long time, the Chinese have been known for their love of shopping, with discounted fashion destinations such as Bicester Village considered to be a prime UK destination spot. In 2018 alone, the global spend by Chinese tourists came to $277.3bn, the highest in the world. However, over the past couple of years there has been a shift in terms of what Chinese tourists want to spend their money on.  Gillian Tans highlighted the growing trend amongst Chinese tourists for shopping locally and eating locally produced foods when abroad, she explained that these decisions are made as a way of knowing what kind of impact they are having on the destinations that they travel to.

This desire to ensure that they are making a positive impact on tourism in the local market reflects how travelling and shopping habits amongst some Chinese tourists are changing and becoming more environmentally motivated.

In addition to this, many young affluent Chinese travellers are now favouring other activities besides retail. There are more Free Independent Travellers (FITS) than ever before, and this category of traveller favours cultural experiences and private personalised tours that they can share across their personal social media platforms i.e. WeChat and Weibo. As a result of this, the traditional tour style of travelling in large groups on a hop on hop off tour bus trip complete with extensive shopping excursions are declining in market share. Instead, many Chinese travellers prefer tours at cultural hotpots in smaller, more intimate groups. This is highly beneficial for popular wildlife destinations such as Scotland, which is known and favourited by the Chinese for its natural beauty, as it will prevent these areas becoming too overwhelmed by large groups of tourists. Furthermore, the decrease of interest in material goods is positive in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of Chinese tourists. 

Awareness and protection of wildlife

The Chinese are quickly becoming more concerned about protecting animals and wildlife, both at home and overseas.  In 2015, Northwest China’s Qinghai Province was given approval to build the Sanjiangyuan National Park, it was one of the first provinces in China to trial the national park system. In August 2019, the first forum on national parks was held in Xining and 450 representatives from regulatory agencies, experts and scholars from China and overseas attended. They discussed topics such as construction and management of nature reserves, biodiversity protection, and the future of natural heritage sites. The aim of this is to attract people from all over the world to come and see China’s national parks in order to learn about its wildlife and experience its natural beauty in a way that will still protect biodiversity. 

There are also cultural shifts occurring in light of the actions taken by conservationists to protect wildlife. Shark fin soup, once one of the most famous Chinese delicacies, is now becoming frowned upon by many due to its wastefulness and impact on shark species. For some time, sales of shark fin soup have been decreasing, back in 2014 the Guardian had already reported a 70% drop in sales. The dish, which was often consumed during special occasions such as weddings and high-class events, was banned by the government from being served at state events in 2012 as part of an austerity campaign. Since then, a number of other factors have contributed to the reduction of this once highly successful business. For example, the awareness created by conservationists that 100 million sharks were being killed each year, leading to the decline in some shark populations by as much as 98%. Additionally, high profile celebrities have spoken out against the shark fin business, most notably former basketball star Yao Ming, whose awareness campaign on the impact of the shark fin industry has greatly influenced the decrease in consumption of this dish. Celebrity influence is China is strong, and it is very positive that high profile Chinese celebrities like Ming are using their status to influence the minds of the Chinese people, who frequently respect the celebrity opinion above others.

Overseas, a portion of Chinese tourists are beginning to take their impact on nature into consideration when making holiday decisions. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 13 percent and 26 percent reduction in elephant rides taken and shows watched by Chinese tourists across destinations in Thailand, respectively. This was discovered by a survey conducted by the World Animal Protection (WAP) in August 2019. The survey also revealed that 77% of Chinese tourists interviewed from 15 main tourist counties in Thailand said they would rather see animals in the wild, and 84% said wild animals should live in the wild rather than in captivity. This data reflects how wildlife friendly tours are steadily becoming more favoured by Chinese tourists which is an environmentally positive development in Chinese outbound tourism. According to China Daily, WAP released survey results in May 2019 showing that more than 90% of Chinese travellers participating in overseas wildlife tours said they would reject activities that could be harmful to wildlife. Again, celebrity influence and the media are highly accountable for driving these decisions forward. The 2017 documentary, Black Elephant, by Shanghai director Zhang Chaodao has now been viewed millions of times, the film exposes the brutal cruelty and mistreatment of elephants in Thailand for the sake of tourist entertainment, and has played a role in the decline of this activity. 

The newfound interest in Antarctic vacations amongst affluent Chinese tourists in 2019 was also accompanied with awareness around the impacts of tourism on even the most remote of environments. An article published by Lifestyle Inquirer in November 2019 followed the experience of a Chinese traveller, Yu Tong, on her trip to Antarctica for her 30th birthday. Throughout the trip, the tour guides made everyone aware of the wildlife and all visitors had to disinfect their shoes and stay at least five metres away from any animals. Yu Tong came away from this adventure with more awareness and understanding of environmental protection, and consequently applied this to her day to day life. For example, she began taking public transport more often and buying less luxurious products. This kind of media angle is becoming more frequent in terms of encouraging more awareness amongst Chinese tourists regarding sustainable travel.

The positive lifestyle changes taken by Yu Tong after her trip reflect how with the right kind of education and approach from the media, Chinese tourists can share this knowledge and inspire others to make environmentally conscious decisions. 

Conclusion 

These outcomes show how progress is being made and actions are being taken amongst the Chinese to improve sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint. We know that the initiative and willingness to make a difference is already there but there are certainly improvements to be made, so how can we also help to influence further change? For certain, China is a collective society and following the lead of influencers is a huge part of Chinese consumer behaviour. Celebrities and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can make a difference to trends, opinions and ultimately, action. A prime example of this is Chinese superstar, model and actress, Angelababy, who has been speaking out against the excessive trafficking and killing of Pangolins across Vietnam and China. For a long time, Pangolin meat was considered a delicacy in China and their scales were used as a medicine for chronic conditions such as cancer. Around 100,000 Pangolins are poached each year. Since 2016, Angelababy has been an ambassador for WildAid and has used her celebrity influence to put a stop to this cruel trade and raise awareness of its consequences. With a Weibo account of over 60 million followers, she is China’s equivalent to the Kardashians in terms of her status. This means that her ability to influence is extremely powerful. Since 2017, all Pangolins have been fully protected from cross-border commercial trade under international law. This would not have been achieved without the influence of Angelababy and shows how involving a high-profile celebrity in animal and environmental protection campaigns can cause a great impact and bring about drastic changes in attitude. Whilst government initiatives will always be the best way to enforce change, involving celebrity faces in future campaigns to promote sustainability will result in further positive changes in consumer attitudes and actions.

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

Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 2: Discovery

Chinese KOL visiting Brighton Pavilion

Chinese tourists don’t just use their smartphone apps to plan and book trips overseas, they also rely on these applications when they arrive at their destination. 85% of Chinese millennials use their mobile phone while travelling overseas to further research the destination’s best tourism hotspots, help make their travel experience in an unfamiliar destination more comfortable and convenient, and keep in touch with family and friends back home.

If you’re familiar with the China market, you may know that Facebook, Twitter, and even Google Maps are banned in China. China have their own alternative apps that functionally serve similar purposes, but have interesting and different features to their Western counterparts that help facilitate ease of travel for Chinese tourists in overseas destinations.

So, what are the top mobile apps Chinese tourists use when travelling overseas that we should be paying close attention to? And, most importantly, how do they help Chinese travellers? With the recent four-day Labour Day holiday expected to produce over 160 million Chinese travellers, we thought this to be the ideal time to explore this trend to highlight the importance of mobile apps in shaping the Chinese outbound travel experience.

In the second part of this series of articles, we explore the key apps Chinese tourists use to share travel recommendations with one another, both prior to a trip and once they have arrived, and the different kinds of recommendations they receive from Chinese and Western platforms.

If you haven’t done so already, read the first part here about the apps Chinese tourists use overseas to interact with and navigate around their destination of choice.

Chinese review sites – Mafengwo, Qyer, and Ctrip

Mafengwo logo

Before travelling overseas, Chinese tourists will research destinations, attractions restaurants, hotels and shops using China’s premier review site platforms – Mafengwo, Qyer and Ctrip. Similar to TripAdvisor, international destinations have pages on these sites that list in-depth travel information, rankings of popular sights and recommended itineraries for short and long stays.

Qyer logo

The three platforms mentioned above also showcase travelogues posted by influential Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs/bloggers). The majority of these blogs are focused on a specific destination and a specific theme, such as travelling from London to Scotland by rail, and they provide a personal and honest account of the KOLs’ travel experience. KOLs’ opinions are highly valued by Chinese tourists researching their next trip abroad – when a KOL validates their experiences, this shows they are equally suitable for any Chinese traveller.

Ctrip logo

Chinese travellers can also use these platforms casually to post updates about their overseas trip for their followers to see, and write reviews of points of interest they’ve visited. These platforms provide the Chinese perspective of overseas destinations and travel experiences, but they may want to find out what the locals think…

TripAdvisor – for local recommendations

tripadviosor logo

TripAdvisor is not blocked in China, and is a useful resource for Chinese travellers to get an idea of the local opinion of restaurants, hotels, shops and attractions they plan on visiting. Interestingly, TripAdvisor has a Chinese website which is near identical to the English version. On both versions, user reviews can be filtered by language to read comments left by travellers across the globe. By default, only reviews written in the website’s native language will appear, meaning if users wants a ‘global perspective’ of where they’re visiting, they’ll need to manually filter the reviews to show ‘All languages’.

User reviews of Brighton Pavilion on TripAdvisor.cn.com (left) and TripAdvisor.co.uk (right)

The different tastes and opinions of Chinese travellers to Western travellers are evident when review site platforms like TripAdvisor and China’s Mafengwo are compared. On TripAdvisor, Elephant House café in Edinburgh, where J.K. Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book, is ranked around 1,400 of the 2,200 best places to eat in the city. However, as a result of the feverish popularity of Harry Potter in China, the café is the top rated restaurant in the city on Mafengwo, and the second top rated attraction.

Since Mafengwo, Qyer and Ctrip present a Chinese perspective of restaurants, shops and hotels, Chinese outbound travellers may use TripAdvisor to discover places unfamiliar to Chinese tourists, recommended by locals and other global tourists.

Little Red Book – Easy content sharing

red book logo

Xiaohongshu, or ‘Little Red Book’ in English, is an up-and-coming social media and content sharing platform encouraging users to share travel articles and reviews of popular products, and post short videos and photos of their travel experiences. Little Red Book has over 200 million registered users as of January 2019, and around 90% of its users are female.

Similar to Weibo, users can follower influencers whose recommendations they trust, and like Mafengwo and Qyer, content can be saved for future reference. Rather than letting users post anonymous reviews, the platform encourages users to post in-depth reviews including a combination of written content, videos and photos, which are known as ‘Notes’. Other users can comment on ‘Notes’ to exchange information and share their own tips. Chinese travellers may be inspired to visit places overseas based on content a Little Red Book influencer has posted, and being able to save posts means travellers can refer back to them once they’ve arrived.

In terms of providing travel recommendations, the platform is not yet as influential as Mafengwo, Weibo or WeChat as its content primarily focuses on luxury brands and shopping. However, it is rapidly growing in popularity and has the potential to become a influential source of travel tips for Chinese outbound travellers.

Dianping – The Chinese Yelp

dinning logo

If you’re wondering what the Chinese equivalent of Yelp is, that would be Dianping. This travel advice platform lists of shops, restaurants, pubs and bars, cinemas and other venues located in destinations both in China and abroad. Over 4.4 million merchants across nearly 200 countries are listed on Dianping, making it a useful travel resource similar to TripAdvisor. However, Chinese travellers will mainly use Dianping to narrow down popular dining choices. Dianping users can not only leave reviews, but they can filter restaurants by cuisine and popular food items, find out the average price per head, and view a score breakdown of restaurants’ ‘Taste’, ‘Environment’ and ‘Service’. Many commenters also post pictures of their bill to advise other users how much they should expect to spend.

Like TripAdvisor, the more reviews a user posts, the more they are valued by the community and begin to build an influence on the platform. A positive review of your restaurant by a highly regarded reviewer can be very valuable promotion in helping to attract more Chinese guests. 

While functionally similar to TripAdvisor, Dianping provides a more in-depth breakdown of a restaurant’s quality, and is another platform Chinese travellers can consult if they seek a different perspective of the restaurants, hotels and shops in their destination of choice.  

The world in your pocket

Whether Chinese travellers use mobile phone apps to research their destination before or during their trip, mobile apps have had a considerable influence in shaping the travel experience for Chinese outbound tourists. The destinations, attractions, shops and restaurants Chinese travellers visit, and hotels they stay at, are increasingly being dictated by their popularity on these platforms and positive reviews left by influential users. When a fellow Chinese traveller posts a positive comment about their trip overseas, this shows other Chinese tourists that they can also enjoy this experience and feel comfortable doing so.

If you are a destination, attraction, hotel, or restaurant looking to reach the China market, you will be invisible to the Chinese traveller unless you establish a presence on any of these platforms. We provide an online reputation management service to audit and improve your business’s online profiles in China, to ensure Chinese tourists are receiving the most accurate and up-to-date information about you. If you are interested in finding out more about this service, please feel free to contact us for a chat.

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

Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 1: Getting Around

Explaining Chinese Payment Systems – What’s the fuss about?

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How do Chinese tourists choose their hotels?

Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 1: Getting Around

Chinese travellers taking selfie

Chinese tourists don’t just use their smartphone apps to plan and book trips overseas, they also rely on these applications when they arrive at their destination. 85% of Chinese millennials use their mobile phone while travelling overseas to further research the destination’s best tourism hotspots, help make their travel experience in an unfamiliar destination more comfortable and convenient, and keep in touch with family and friends back home.

If you’re familiar with the China market, you may know that Facebook, Twitter, and even Google Maps are banned in China. China have their own alternative apps that functionally serve similar purposes, but have interesting and different features to their Western counterparts that help facilitate ease of travel for Chinese tourists in overseas destinations.

So, what are the top mobile apps Chinese tourists use when travelling overseas that we should be paying close attention to? And, most importantly, how do they help Chinese travellers? With the recent four-day Labour Day holiday expected to produce over 160 million Chinese travellers, we thought this to be the ideal time to explore this trend to highlight the importance of mobile apps in shaping the Chinese outbound travel experience.

In the first part of this article, we explore the most popular apps that help Chinese tourists navigate around and interact with the destinations they’re visiting.

There’s WeChat, but also its Mini Programs

WeChat app logo

You may know that Tencent’s messaging platform, WeChat, is China’s most popular social media app, having achieved an unprecedented 1 billion daily active users at the end of 2018. While primarily used to communicate with friends, family and colleagues, it’s so much more than a messenger app. From scheduling doctors’ appointments, playing games and booking taxis, WeChat has in many ways become a fundamental part of the lives of Chinese citizens.

Before travelling, Chinese tourists use WeChat to seek inspiration for their travels, sharing ideas with friends in group messages and researching official accounts of hotels, retailers and attractions to weigh up their options on where to stay and visit. When WeChat users follow a travel brand’s official account, they receive push notifications when an update is posted to the account. This allows travel brands to communicate directly with and demonstrate their China Welcome to potential Chinese travellers through marketing material – a powerful tool to show Chinese tourists why you’re worth their time.

WeChat mini programs

Further developing its ecosystem, in 2017 WeChat introduced its ‘Mini Programs’, applications that can be accessed through WeChat without the need to install them separately. Every day, 230 million of the platform’s daily active users use one of WeChat’s 2.3 million Mini Programs. Many popular Chinese travel apps such as Mafengwo and Qyer (more on them in part 2) have Mini Programs, but in recent years, travel brands have observed an opportunity to improve the visitor experience of their destination or attraction for Chinese tourists by developing their own Mini Program.

Recently, the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, launched their own Mini Program, allowing WeChat users to book tickets to the building’s observation decks and access audio content in Mandarin explaining key information about the sight. The building also launched its own WeChat mini game, the first attraction to do so outside China, all to enhance the experience for its Chinese guests.

Destinations throughout the world are catching on to the benefit of Mini Programs. Sweden, whose popularity among Chinese tourists has been lagging behind many of its Scandinavian neighbours, hopes to remedy this with the launch of their Mini Program “Explore Stockholm”. The program is an in-depth Mandarin guide of the city, providing information on its top hotels and shopping destinations and recommending 24-hour and 48-hour itineraries for short-stay travellers. Furthermore, VisitScotland’s Mini Program aims to show Chinese travellers that there’s so much more to see than just Edinburgh. The program makes it easier for Chinese travellers to discover Scotland’s unique culture and immersive outdoor experiences, and includes an interactive map highlighting the breadth of key points of interest across the county.

Creating your own Mini Program not only goes a long way to improving your China Welcome, but it’s also of great benefit to potential Chinese visitors. For Chinese travellers, being able to access detailed travel information about destinations and attractions through only a single application, content also created solely with a Chinese audience in mind, means WeChat’s Mini Programs are extremely valuable tools in helping Chinese travellers discover a destination’s unique sights.

WeChat Pay and Alipay – The rise of the digital wallet

WeChat pay

It’s no secret that Chinese tourists love to spend their hard-earned cash overseas, and they prefer to do so through mobile payments. WeChat Pay and Alipay, the two major payment platforms vying for market dominance, allow users to pay for goods and services using their digital wallet. In the eyes of many Chinese travellers, mobile payment apps are safer and more convenient to use overseas as they don’t need to worry about carrying foreign currency on-hand or fiddling around in their wallets to find a credit card. In 2018, Chinese outbound tourists paid for 32% of their transactions using mobile payments, surpassing cash payments, and 60% of Chinese visitors to Europe identify mobile payments as their preferred payment method.

Efforts to rollout acceptance of Chinese mobile payments on a global scale are being undertaken. According to WeChat Pay itself, the payment method is now accepted in 49 markets outside of mainland China and supports transactions in 16 currencies. And in 2018, the number of merchants accepting WeChat Pay increased 700% year-on-year, which demonstrates a global interest in taking the extra steps necessary to accommodate the China market. 

Alipay logo

Furthermore, 500 restaurants across Australia recently partnered with a new Alipay platform which will allow Chinese customers to scan in-restaurant QR codes, order from digital menus translated into Mandarin, and pay for meals using their phone. This is a dedicated effort that understands the value of convenience for the Chinese traveller. In addition, Chinese tourists may also be enticed to spend more with a merchant if their favourite payment method is accepted – the average budget for Chinese outbound tourists increased to 6,026 USD per person in 2018.

China’s enthusiasm for the digital wallet is transforming the way tourists are expecting to pay for goods and services overseas. When merchants accept WeChat Pay and Alipay payments, they are also demonstrating a willingness to welcome Chinese customers. Speak to us about how your business can start to accept WeChat Pay and Alipay.

Baidu Maps – Alternative to Google Maps

Baidu map

Since Google Maps is blocked in China, Baidu Maps is the app Chinese residents rely on throughout their daily lives for directions and up-to-date travel information. Baidu Maps has a few features Google Maps lacks, such 3D maps search, which lets you easily find the location of venues above ground level. You can also use Baidu Maps to book tickets to see a film showing at a cinema located near you.

In recent years, Baidu Maps has been rolling out its service across 150 countries and hopes that, by 2020, 50% of its users will be located outside of China. As a result, many businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of establishing a solid presence on the app. Yext, a brand management platform, recently integrated Baidu Maps to enable its partner businesses to provide Chinese outbound travellers with accurate and up-to-date information when using the app overseas. In addition, Sydney Airport became the first organisation outside of China to introduce indoor Baidu Maps when it did so in 2017, allowing users to see gates, check-in counters and retailers through the app.

Having accurate and up-to-date information about attractions, hotels, shops and restaurants on Baidu Maps will help encourage Chinese travellers discover more of what your destination has to offer. 

Next week, the second part of this series of articles will explore the key apps Chinese tourists use to plan and research their destination, both prior to travel and once they’ve arrived, and how they use these apps to discover different perspectives on the best places to shop, eat, stay and visit.

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Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sail

7 million Chinese tourists are estimated to be travelling abroad during the upcoming Chinese New Year, but who’s to say they will be travelling by plane? With the rapid growth of China’s FITs who seek fulfilling and authentic travel experiences, cruise trips are gradually becoming a popular way for Chinese tourists to see the big blue world. With China’s biggest holiday on the horizon, we thought this to be a great opportunity to analyse this trend, identifying the key cruise operators providing cruise trips for Chinese travellers, where Chinese tourists take cruises, and how to accommodate them on-board.

The market has potential

It’s an exciting time for China’s cruise industry – the country’s cruise liners are beginning to realise they need to go further afield to satisfy their customers. As the industry continues to develop, it is expected to become “the largest cruise market in the world.” This will depend on whether the industry can harness the huge potential of the Chinese travel market, who made an estimated 140 million overseas trips in 2018.

It is estimated that the capacity of China’s cruise lines will decline 4.4% in 2019. The two major reasons for this are the knock-on effect of 2017’s Chinese travel ban to South Korea, and the absence of routes with diverse destinations – the majority of cruises setting sail from China’s coasts stop off in South Korea and Japan, missing out exciting Southeast Asian destinations such as the Philippines and Vietnam. This is to say, despite the demand, cruises from China simply lack the variety of destinations enjoyed by cruise trips around Europe and North America.

In response, many companies are making considerable efforts to bring Chinese holidaymakers overseas to embark on their first cruise experience. Royal Caribbean Cruises was the top ranked brand in a ‘Best Experiences’ customer satisfaction survey, conducted by brand experience agency Jack Morton, where Chinese consumers were among the 6,000 surveyed. Furthermore, the brand is among the most popular in China’s cruise industry, and in 2019, they will launch their Spectrum of the Seas cruise line that aims to provide high-quality experiences “specifically tailored to Chinese guests.” The cruise line, which will sail from Barcelona to Shanghai across a 51-night voyage, will entertain over 4,200 guests with virtual reality experiences, luxury dining offering both Chinese and Western cuisines, and the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex ever to set sail. This level of commitment to the China market by such a major brand is testament to the huge potential of the China cruise market.

Costa Group Asia, a major cruise operator in Europe and Asia, will launch its first ship designed specifically for the Chinese market in 2019. The Costa Venezia aims to provide an immersive Italian experience for Chinese travellers and its 5,100 passengers with boutique shops selling goods from luxury Italian brands, a theatre evocative of Venice’s iconic Teatro La Fenice and an atrium inspired by St. Mark’s Square. The cruise will set sail on a 53-day voyage in March 2019 covering the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Furthermore, Costa Cruises are evidently committed to improving their ‘China Welcome’. In 2018, the company partnered with football club Juventus to provide unique “football at sea” experiences especially for Chinese guests boarding its Costa Serena cruise liner. The experiences include the Juventus Museum decorated with trophies and club memorabilia, and a mini football academy for children to hone their skills. In addition, in 2017, Costa Serena was the first Costa Cruise to allow Chinese guests to pay using Alipay mobile payments.

Likewise, Princess Cruises, owned by the same corporation as the Costa Cruises Group, announced in December 2018 that it will introduce Alipay and WeChat Pay mobile payment systems on its North American cruises, being the first cruise liner to do this. Thus, if cruise companies want to welcome more Chinese travellers on-board, they need to show that they are making an effort to accommodate them. This is evidently paving way for competition between the major cruise companies who are acknowledging the potential of the China market and are targeting Chinese tourists with unique experiences offered only by their cruises.

Indeed, exciting, one-of-a-kind experiences like these are exactly what travel and culture hungry Chinese tourists are looking for, and could go a long way to bringing Chinese tourists away from airport terminals and back to the docks. Approximately 2.5 million Chinese outbound global travellers took cruise trips in 2017, but this is expected to rise to 8-10 million by 2025.

Venturing to the End of the Earth

Over the past few months, you may have seen a plethora of articles about a growing number of Chinese travellers embarking on cruises to Antarctica. Today, China is Antarctica’s second-largest tourism market, having welcomed 8,273 Chinese visitors in the 2017-18 season, and approximately 90% of Chinese tourists visiting Antarctica choose to travel there via cruise (only 1%  directly fly to the South Pole). Perhaps the credit lies with Ctrip who provide nearly 200 Antarctic products on their platform and over 20 ships to choose from.

However, this adventure isn’t cheap, and appeals largely to group travellers who can afford to take extended time out of work. Figures from 2018 indicate Chinese tourists spent an average of 23 days on Antarctic tours, spending between $7,000 and $16,000 USD. Nevertheless, it seems money is no object for Chinese tourists looking for unusual yet fulfilling experiences that deliver ‘face’ status – on Ctrip, most Antarctic cruises for January and February have sold out, and the agency has increased its Antarctic products by 30% this year to meet the demand. This reinforces that unique travel experiences like these are becoming increasingly more important to Chinese travellers.

River cruises are making huge waves in accommodating Chinese guests

Idyllically cruising down one of the world’s most famous rivers and taking in its beautiful scenery is a popular travel experience, and certain river cruise companies are recognising the huge potential of attracting Chinese tourists to these experiences. In 2016, Viking Cruises announced its first step in the China market by dedicating two of its Europe river ships for Chinese travellers. The ships, which both set sail in 2017 along the Rhine and Danube rivers respectively, were fully staffed with Mandarin-speakers who made up all their hotel crew, included Mandarin signage, and a cuisine designed by a ‘Master Chef China’ judge. Furthermore, each ship assigned eight Mandarin guides to groups for their ground programs.

Viking were this committed to their ‘China Welcome’ to ensure their Chinese guests’ concerns about the language barrier, transportation and food and services were eliminated, and it seems to have paid off. Both cruises are still running, with Viking dedicating 100 tours for them in 2018, and the company now expects its cruises targeting Chinese travellers to account for half of their European river cruises in the future. Chinese guests on Viking’s Mandarin-language cruises can now also join a dedicated WeChat group to receive updates and share photos taken during the trip with each other.

This shows that, if their travel needs are accommodated for, there is an innate desire among Chinese travellers to experience a variety of destinations in the luxury and comfort of cruise tours, and there is definitely huge potential for them to become one of the authentic travel experiences they crave.

Chinese tourist spending – opportunity for land and sea

Chinese tourists have a strong spending power for duty-free shops; 40% of Chinese travellers purchase duty-free goods with an average receipt of $232, higher than the $146 global average. China’s cruise industry seems to have acknowledged this, and is redeveloping its cruise terminals to match the quality of services the best airport terminals provide. Shanghai’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal is undergoing redevelopment to transform into a “potential tourist attraction” itself, replacing its once solitary duty-free store with a duty-free shopping complex stocking high-end goods. Furthermore, the city plans to introduce linkages between cruises, airlines, trains and buses, to not only improve convenience of travel but to encourage Chinese tourists to visit the cruise terminal for their shopping needs alone. Perhaps overseas destinations should acknowledge this redevelopment and capitalise on Chinese tourists’ spending power by looking to provide more, and better, shopping facilities at their cruise ship ports (and if they accept Chinese mobile payments, even better!).

Reeling it in

As cruise companies are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities arising from China’s outbound tourism market, competition has ensued to ensure their ‘extra steps’ to accommodate Chinese travellers are being recognised inside-and-outside the industry. Perhaps this is why Viking Cruises’ Chinese traveller focused river cruises are the most publicised and prominent in their field – it will be interesting to monitor whether competing river cruise operators will follow suit and introduce more Mandarin-language services. Cruise companies can use all the PR they can get when it comes to the China market.

One way to promote your Chinese tourist friendly cruise trip would be through hosting an influential Chinese Key Opinion Leader, who could not only blog about the wide variety of destinations visited throughout the journey, but most importantly, describe in detail the facilities and services on the cruise that accommodate Chinese guests and where these can be improved. If an influential KOL tells their audience “this particular cruise line makes the extra effort with its Chinese guests” in a blog that reaches the home pages of China’s key travel platforms, this would no doubt put them on the radar for adventurous Chinese travellers.

If you are interested in finding out more about marketing your cruises to the Chinese, including the benefits of hosting a Chinese KOL, please feel free to contact us for a chat.

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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.

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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!

Key Findings from the Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Dinner 2018

During this year’s World Travel Market, we hosted our annual Chinese Tourism Leader’s Dinner in collaboration with Capela China, welcoming an audience of senior travel and tourism professionals representing UK attractions and tourist boards to discuss recent market trends and share success stories about their marketing in China. Guests included representatives from Gatwick Airport, Lake District China Forum, Marketing Manchester, London North Eastern Railway, English Heritage and Experience Oxfordshire.

Once again, we were delighted to welcome Professor Dr Wolfgang Arlt, Director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), who delivered an insightful presentation on key trends to follow and traps to avoid in the Chinese tourism market. Marketing Manager for Royal Museums Greenwich, Amy O’Rourke, presented to guests about the four museums’ journey with the Chinese market and announced 15% of their visitors to the Royal Observatory are now Chinese FIT tourists, up from a figure of 4% when the brand started working with China Travel Outbound.

This article will identify key findings from the dinner that shed light on the emerging opportunities in the Chinese tourism market, and how businesses can take advantage of the market’s growth to attract more Chinese tourists to their destination or attraction.

Chinese border crossings are on the rise

COTRI found that from January-June 2018, 80 million border crossings have been made by Chinese tourists with more than 40 million tourists travelling beyond Greater China – this marks a year-on-year increase of 16%.

Chinese global arrivals will continue to increase rapidly

It is estimated that 160 million Chinese arrivals will be welcomed globally in 2018, with 85 million of these trips made to destinations outside Greater China.

COTRI forecasts by 2030, Chinese travellers will make 390 million outbound trips from Mainland China. This means, in the next decade, half of all additional outbound travellers will be Chinese.

The majority of Chinese people have yet to travel abroad

Since fewer than 10% of Chinese people have passports, the majority of China’s 1.4 billion population have yet to experience an outbound trip outside of China. For those that have travelled, 75% see it as vital to improving their overall happiness and quality of life.

Destinations should value quantity over quality

FIT travellers are becoming increasingly more important to destinations than package tour groups, even if they don’t realise it. While tour groups visit on mass, bringing many people to a destination and thus helping to increase overall visitor numbers, they receive merely a taster of the destination compared to FITs who want to stay longer and spend more to fully experience its authentic sights.

It’s easier than it’s ever been for Chinese tourists to travel abroad

Visa restrictions for Chinese tourists have relaxed in recent years, with most destinations catching on to recent market growth and welcoming them with open arms. Now, 27 destinations allow visa-free entry for Chinese citizens while 39 offer visas on arrival.

Don’t assume the needs of the Chinese tourism market are the same as other markets

It’s important to recognise how different Chinese tourists to other global travellers. Destinations or attractions shouldn’t assume that what works for their visitors coming from Europe, America or Africa, will work for their Chinese visitors. Florida, known for its world-class theme parks and family attractions, only welcomes 3% of the US’s Chinese arrivals.

Recognise the value of your destination

Chinese tourists love the bragging rights that come with visiting luxury destinations. However, these destinations are under pressure from Chinese tour operators who want to make them more accessible by lowering their prices, which can compromise what makes these destinations so attractive for Chinese tourists in the first place. This happened with the Maldives which welcomed 305,000 Chinese arrivals in 2017, down from 365,000 in 2015.

Advice for attractions – stick with the market and improve your ‘China Welcome’

With our guidance, Royal Museums Greenwich pursued a number of on-site activities to welcome more Chinese tourists to their attractions. These include the inclusion of the Mandarin audio guides at the Royal Observatory, which eliminates language barriers to allow Chinese visitors to enjoy one of the world’s top astronomy museums.

In 2016, RMG introduced UnionPay to its Royal Observatory shop to accept payments from Chinese visitors. UnionPay has now been overtaken by WeChat Pay and Alipay which the museum is in the process of adopting this year. Allowing Chinese visitors to pay using their own card, or via mobile payment apps, goes a long way in making an attraction more accessible.

Promoting yourself through a representative in China is vital, as is being patient with the market. Use social media and the power of influential KOLs to promote to the growing FIT consumer, and make sure your brand is properly represented online. Ms O’Rourke told the audience that the Chinese outbound tourism market is a slow one, but one that eventually pays off through dedication and a willingness to adapt your brand to its unique needs.

Thank you to all who attended the dinner and shared their insights on the market.

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

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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.

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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.

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