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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Chinese KOL standing with a chef

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

Bob and Johnny on LNER train

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

KOL Bob visiting the UK

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

Royal Museum Greenwich Cutty Sark

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

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*Images from Bob and Jonny’s Weibo account


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

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

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

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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Photo by ben o’bro on Unsplash

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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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!

Two Chinese KOLs travel the UK with London North Eastern Railway

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

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Join our Chinese Media Hospitality List

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

Parks and gardens? Really? Surely it’s all about landmarks and outlet malls? Well, no. As it turns out, a mulberry tree can be just as appealing as a Mulberry handbag.

Venturing outdoors to the countryside, to see elegant botanical gardens and unrivalled displays of natural beauty, is becoming a very popular Chinese travel trend. It provides a change of scenery from world-famous landmarks that lure droves of tourists annually, while still allowing visitors to experience a country’s unique culture and natural environment.

This article aims to uncover the rising appeal of outdoor, rural, and natural spaces among Chinese travellers, exploring why it has become a trend, and highlighting the need for tour operators to introduce outdoor-themed itineraries.

Why is this a trend?

China’s air pollution is a growing concern

Many of China’s cities are notorious for being the most polluted spaces on our planet. Beijing is infamous for its air pollution – the thick smog poses long term health risks to its citizens, and data claimed breathing its air for a day was more harmful than smoking forty cigarettes a day.

When we ask our office in Beijing about the weather, the response often includes the ‘red light’ on the air quality monitors in everyone’s apartments. And it’s not just Beijing. Shanghai and Guangzhou, China’s trade and manufacturing hubs, have recently recorded higher levels of air pollution than the capital. This has prompted the Cordis Hongqiao, a newly opened luxury hotel in Shanghai, to boast its superior ‘air filtration’ system as a luxury feature. This is an attractive offering to its Chinese guests; each room is fitted with pollution monitors and sealed double-glazed windows to contain the fresh air indoors.

Rural tourism is on the rise

Perhaps this constant exposure to polluted air encourages citizens of Chinese cities to escape to the countryside when given the opportunity. Indeed, rural tourism has witnessed sharp growth in the past few years; around 2.1 billion trips were made to the Chinese countryside in 2016, creating jobs for 6.72 million rural people.

In 2017, China’s government invested $550 billion yuan into the development of rural tourism, as they expect it will help alleviate poverty and boost economic growth. This investment will provide better tourist services for travellers, but it will also consolidate rural tourism as a key preference for overseas travel.

Furthermore, China’s forest tourism industry has witnessed staggering growth in recent years. In 2017, around 1.39 billion trips were made to China’s forests and wetland parks, comprising of 28% of trips made in China that year. The industry, worth 61.8 billion in 2012, saw a rise in revenue to 140 billion in 2017. Clearly, more Chinese travellers are seeing the value in visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Garden and flower tourism is b(l)ooming

One incentive for countryside escape is to see beautiful flowers. There are many ‘flower tours’ held throughout China every year, especially in the Yunnan, Guangdong, and Sichuan provinces. The idyllic countryside village of Huangling recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its Flower Town program. This floral-themed experience, which provides visitors with scenic views of rapeseed flowers and peach blossoms, alongside flower tours and other cultural events, attracted 200,000 people globally in April and May 2017, an increase of 67% from the previous year. Evidently, escaping to the countryside is a popular travel trend.

The passion for the great outdoors among Chinese travellers extends beyond their own country, with many tourists travelling abroad to witness world-famous displays of natural beauty. Jing Travel recently interviewed Cai Wanza, a popular Chinese garden traveller who organises “world garden tours” and promotes “the garden lifestyle” in books and on social media. In 2018, Ms. Cai added routes covering California, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the Maldives to her garden tour themed itineraries.

Indeed, Ms. Cai’s garden tours give Chinese travellers the opportunity to see more of a destination they initially didn’t take seriously. While many Chinese travellers would stop off in Belgium for only a day or so before transferring, on Ms. Cai’s garden tour, the group spend fourteen days there since it has 200-plus private gardens.

Other Chinese social media influencers and KOLs have made their name through their enthusiasm for gardens and flowers. DACAI (@大菜微博), a popular food and floral travel blogger, has over 700,000 followers on Weibo, and according to Jing Travel, the second-most popular question posted on Mafengwo’s forum in 2017 was “What places in China can you recommend for roaming through a sea of flowers?”.

Chinese tourists are becoming more interested in travelling around Europe to see gardens and flowers. An article on the UK’s “most popular lavender fields” was recently published on Red Scarf (Honglingjin), a lifestyle website targeting young Chinese people living in the UK, and has over 180,000 views (as of June 2018). The article features lavender farms in Yorkshire, Somerset, and the Cotswolds – places renowned for their stunning natural beauty.

Isparta in western Turkey, known as the ‘Land of Roses’, welcomes thousands of tourists to its annual harvests. According to the Culture and Tourism Provincial Director, Osman Çot, the rose gardens have become an “attraction center” for tourists, with most of them coming from the Far East.

While flower and garden travel may not yet be as popular as sightseeing, it does support the narrative of Chinese travellers seeking unique experiences offered only by outbound destinations. Thus, tour operators should begin to have a more open mind and monitor developments in this trend to determine if it’s worthwhile introducing more garden product. As Ms. Cai said herself, “if tourism officials assume Chinese are not interested in their gardens, they miss a big opportunity”.

Outdoor attractions rank highly on Chinese review sites

Attractions in the great outdoors or in the countryside appear to rank highly on China’s influential review sites. Two of the top five attractions in the Netherlands, according to Mafengwo, are the historic neighbourhood of Zaanse Schans, known for its traditionally Dutch houses and windmills, and Keukenhof botanical gardens, among the world’s largest flower gardens. They respectively have 355 and 245 reviews on the platform.

Mafengwo’s listings for the most popular attractions in Germany also shed light on this trend. Ranked first is Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th century palace overlooking vast areas of greenery and quaint Bavarian villages from its hilltop, which currently has 746 reviews. The runner-up is Königsee, an alpine lake in the heart of the countryside, with 288 reviews. Obviously, these destinations have had a huge impact on Chinese travellers, with many commenters describing the attraction for unassuming travellers, sharing advice on the best times to visit, and recommending other places to explore nearby.

Chinese travellers visit destinations purely for the countryside

Many destinations attracting Chinese tourists can attribute their success to the great outdoors. One such example is New Zealand – known for its vast landscapes of greenery, it has been attracting Chinese tourists for years to its outdoor adventure activities. The Antipodean Explorer, dubbed the “world’s best moving hotel”, is a new venture aiming to attract luxury-oriented Chinese travellers. It transports them between Auckland and Queenstown, past New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes.

Some destination marketing organisations are beginning to realise the potential of promoting the ‘escape to the countryside’ theme to Chinese tourists. Recently, a China Readiness workshop was hosted by I Love NY state tourism and the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association (SCVA) to improve understanding of Chinese traveller’s needs to 50 representatives of local businesses. SCVA represents the Catskills Mountains, a scenic country getaway located 90 minutes from New York City. In delivering overviews of the difference between the domestic and Chinese tourism markets, and how to effectively use WeChat to market destinations to Chinese travellers, this workshop encouraged local businesses to embrace change and begin to “think globally”.

Speaking of ‘thinking globally’, we’ve done a fair amount of work to promote UK botanical gardens in the Chinese travel market. Back in March, we took Kew Gardens on a sales mission to Beijing, arranging meetings with key tour operators, including Ctrip and Caissa Touristic, to sell the Kew Gardens product. In May, we also arranged a visit to the beautiful RHS Wisley Garden for the influential Chinese travel blogger, Liu Huan (Queenio欢儿欢), who took stunning photographs of the gardens and displays for her followers to enjoy.

Listen up

It seems as if there is a subsection of Chinese tourists who travel both domestically and abroad to see the countryside, picturesque gardens, and rural towns. There is evident demand here, and since many tour operators assume Chinese tourists only want to see a country’s must-see attractions, the forward-thinking have an opportunity to step in and make some hay whilst the sun is shining.

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

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