A Guide to Chinese students studying abroad in Europe

Over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the number of Chinese students living and studying abroad, and this is expected to increase in the next five years.

Yu Minhong, founder and CEO of the New Oriental Education and Technology Group, estimates that the number of Chinese students studying abroad is approximately 800,000 per annum. One of the most popular destinations for Chinese students to study is Europe and the UK –  the latter being the second most popular host country for international students from the Asia-Pacific region, after the U.S. In this article, we look at some of the reasons why Chinese families choose to send their children to Europe to study.

Career Prospects

Any international student that plans on moving to Europe to study is taking a step in the right direction. While studying in Europe, students will gain transferrable skills and knowledge that are valuable to future employers, receive world-class education from the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, and experience attractive and exciting student cities.

Top Cities and Universities

For Chinese students, moving abroad to study is a very exciting time in their lives and, of course, they want to make the most of their time. While you may think London is the top destination for Chinese students, North West England is actually the leader in recruiting Chinese students to their universities, with the top universities in that area being Manchester and Liverpool with approximately 7,000 Chinese students.

Between China Daily’s list of top ten UK Universities, US news’s list of the best Global European universities, and the UK’s Council for International Students’ top universities for recruiting international students, we can say that the top three universities and cities for Chinese students are:

1. University of Manchester (Manchester)

2. Pierre and Marie Curie University (France)

3. University College London (London)

Chinese Student Societies

China has the largest number of international students in Europe compared with any other country. Most universities in Europe have societies – groups of like-minded people who share common interests, whether it be religion, country of origin, art and culture, science, etc. Societies allow students to meet new people, learn new skills, and most importantly have fun.

Most universities have a Chinese or Asian society that students can join at the beginning of their first year. Here, they meet new friends and travel around Europe together. Chinese students are usually comfortable with other Chinese students, therefore you would usually see them travelling together in groups. Once or twice a year, we plan a student VIP trip where we contact the Presidents of Chinese Societies from different universities, asking them if they’d like to embark on a trip highlighting different attractions, hotels, and restaurants in Europe. This is a great marketing initiative, since Chinese Student Societies have their own social media groups and platforms where information is seen and shared.

Minor Challenges

Like any other international destination, there are some hurdles. Some of these are:

1. Visa requirements – Chinese students are required to apply for a student visa/ temporary residency in Europe in order to be registered as a student.

2. English language requirement – In order to be granted a student visa, it is required of the student to pass an English test.

3. Cultural difference – this can be both a positive and negative aspect of your studying experience, but for some, adapting to a new culture and its people, food, and lifestyle, can be rewarding and eye-opening.

Though it might be challenging to be away from family and friends for so long, Chinese students should really immerse themselves in the experience of being away from home. Taking advantage of the networking opportunities that are offered is key. Universities often promote many different networking opportunities, such as work placements, volunteer work, and even roles in clubs and societies.

For instance, Sara, our Travel Trade Manager, was on a work placement with us – a requirement from her university at the time. Sara did an exceptional job in her role, and kept in contact with us. Upon the completion of her studies, we just so happened to need a Travel Trade Manager at our Beijing office, and Sara was the perfect person for the role, especially since she was already familiar with the company and the work required.

Employability Rate

There is still an element of uncertainty with whether studying abroad will benefit one’s career, and if the experience of studying abroad will boost their employability rate. However, we would say the experience is overwhelmingly positive. Research was conducted on the link between employability and international students, showing that almost 60% of students find full-time jobs after studying abroad. Similarly, recent research was done by Ka Ho Mok and Han Xio on Chinese students’ experience in Europe and their chances of employability after studying. The study showed that Chinese students’ employability rate is good, with nearly 59% being able to find a job within three months, and 32% had secured jobs within 6 months of their studies.

Other Tourism Opportunities

Chinese students bring many tourism and business opportunities to Europe. Some opportunities to keep in mind are:

1. The Chinese student market is quite large. More Chinese students study abroad than any other country, and Europe is one of the top destinations for these students.

2. Chinese students are already in Europe – this is much easier than attracting Chinese students from China. Take advantage of the fact that they are already here and ready to travel and spend.

3. Chinese students are loaded! Over the past few years, Chinese students have had the reputation of being luxurious spenders. Our intern Claudio, who works at a fancy restaurant, says they enjoy fine dining – “nothing but oysters and lobsters.”

4. If they are already spending a lot, imagine when their parents come to visit! Parents and grandparents usually visit their children while they are studying abroad, and they won’t be able to resist not having the best of times while they are there.

5. They are ready to travel Europe for new experiences. Europe is relatively small compared to China, and it is far from home, so they plan on making the best of their time here.

6. Chinese students are social media friendly, regularly sharing their experiences with others. Their main social media platforms are WeChat and Weibo (check out our previous blog on these).

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

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What will the EU-China Tourism Year bring?

Are Chinese tourists the new adventurers?

Virgin Trains East Coast appoints China Travel Outbound to deliver China campaign

Following a competitive pitch, specialist travel PR agency, China Travel Outbound, has been appointed by Virgin Trains East Coast to develop a PR and marketing campaign aimed at growing its Chinese customer base.

The campaign, which will be delivered both in the UK and in China, will maximise the opportunity offered by the huge growth in Chinese travellers to the UK, and the large number of Chinese people living and studying in the cities served by Virgin Trains East Coast.

Activity will include working with Chinese travel bloggers and student influencers, the launch of a Weibo social media account, PR campaigns in conjunction with destination partners, content creation and placement on key Chinese channels, and travel trade representation through China Travel Outbound’s office in Beijing.

Laetitia Beneteau, Business Development Manager, Virgin Trains East coast said,

‘Today, China is becoming a focus for VTEC and it was very important for us to find a partner who understood not only the Chinese market, but also the ambitions and values of our brand. The team at China Travel Outbound presented us with an exciting plan which meets our needs, and their connections with many of our tourism partners made them the perfect choice.’

Helena Beard, Managing Director, China Travel Outbound, said,

‘Chinese UK tourist and student numbers continue to boom, with the fastest growth coming from the independent travel segment. By promoting Virgin Trains East Coast as the best choice for visiting popular cities like London, Edinburgh, York and Newcastle, we hope to encourage our Chinese visitors to explore more of the UK by rail.’

What will the EU-China Tourism Year bring?

An exciting opportunity for European tour operators is on our doorstep. How should we prepare for Europe’s improved collaboration with the Chinese travel market?

It’s finally here, and it’s about time

There has been an Australia-China year of tourism, as well as a US-China year, but finally it is the turn of Europe. Are they just gimmicks, or do they make a real difference?

In what has been an eventful year for Chinese tourism, upcoming international partnerships, such as the EU-China Tourism Year, will help to further promote growth in Chinese outbound tourist numbers.

The EU-China Tourism Year is an official declaration given to the promotion of bilateral cooperation between European countries and China, which will occur throughout 2018. It presents an exciting opportunity for European tourism businesses and operators looking to expand their operations in the Chinese outbound travel market to promote their brand on a global scale and seek new partnerships. The first series of business-to-business talks brought about by the ECTY will take place at Beijing’s China Outbound Travel & Tourism Market in April 2018.

Reported figures vary, but the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) found that Chinese outbound tourism grew by 7% in the first half of 2017, from 64 million in 2016 to 69 million. This shows that Chinese tourists are travelling further afield. Indeed, while tourism to the Greater China region only grew by 1%, the rest of the world saw 14% more Chinese outbound travellers visiting their shores in the first half of 2017.

The potential benefits that the ECTY could bring to European travel and tourism companies complements the exciting predictions about the Chinese outbound travel market in 2018. COTRI estimates that the number of Chinese tourists travelling to destinations outside of Greater China will rise by 10% next year to 86 million. If correct, Chinese travel to destinations outside of Greater China will then hold the majority in the market, representing 56% of overall trips made.

As such, the ECTY seems to be happening at the right time. The Chinese outbound tourism market is increasingly becoming dominated by free and independent travellers (FITs), who are willing to forge their own adventures to discover authentic experiences, unlike their organised group travel equivalents. This has opened-up new opportunities in the market to appeal to this rising subsection of outbound travellers. Furthermore, relaxed visa restrictions, more direct flight connections, and the opening of visa application centres shows European countries are becoming flexible to deal with the expanding Chinese travel market.

Make the effort

Europe should grasp the opportunity to welcome more Chinese tourists with open arms. Driven by the rise of middle-class households, China has become the largest source of tourism expenditure, which is expected to grow by 10.9% from 2017 to 2022. A lot of their money is spent in duty-free shops. Recent figures show that 41% of Chinese travellers buy skincare-related products in duty-free and travel-retail, compared with 25% for the average global buyer.

Increased cooperation with China has already helped improve visitor rates at British attractions. In June, Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) announced they received a 74% increase year-on-year in Chinese visitors. Following the efforts made in marketing their museums in China and improving their “China welcome”, RMG’s dedication to attracting the Chinese market was recognised at ITB China in Shanghai, where they were awarded a Chinese Tourist Welcome Award for Service Quality.

Be more like Switzerland

The ECTY won’t mark the first time Europe and China has formed an alliance to promote tourism. The ECTY will succeed 2017’s China-Switzerland Year of Tourism, which demonstrated an increased effort by both parties to further encourage overseas travel. Both countries encouraged bilateral communication and cooperation through exchange activities that enhanced mutual understanding of each country’s culture, economy, and trade.

In 2015, China became the fourth largest outbound tourist market for Switzerland, behind Germany, the US, and the UK. Switzerland’s Deputy Head of Mission Alain Gaschen suggests improved China outbound travel was due to relaxed visa restrictions, which encouraged the widespread issuing of long-term and multi-entry visas. Switzerland has also made it convenient for Chinese tourists to obtain visas, with a quick-visa approval process that takes only two days.

The China-Switzerland Year of Tourism recently held its closing ceremony in Lausanne, which is due to host the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. Since China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, bilateral cooperation in the winter sports market was beneficial. As a result, the Swiss have been developing their ski resorts to become more accommodating of Chinese tourists by providing one-off experience days catered to beginners and lessons in Chinese.

This collaboration has delivered benefits for future EU-China cooperation. Reportedly, a Chinese tourism official claimed 2017 saw 1.2 million two-way visits between China and Switzerland, an increase of 12% from 2016. Air China recently launched a new service from Beijing to Zurich, which marks Air China’s first flight to the Swiss city since the service was initially discontinued in 1999. Likewise, the number of flights connecting China and Switzerland has increased to forty per week.

Early ECTY-related collaborations have begun between China and Italy, where the ECTY will hold its opening ceremony, in Venice, on the 19th of January. Italy’s Undersecretary of MiBACT Dorina Bianchi hopes this relationship will help promote not only Italy’s “cities of art”, but also the “historical heritage” of its villages. Italy is one of many European countries seeking more potential from the Chinese market, as in the first half of 2017, it evidenced a 15% increase in the number of Chinese visitors compared to 2016.

Put yourself out there

The UK should make the most of the ECTY by capitalising on its opportunities as soon as possible. This is especially considering recent developments which have made the UK more accessible for Chinese tourists.

The recent announcement of an open skies agreements between China and the UK aims to increase connecting flights by 50% to 150 flights per week. In addition, Britain’s north witnessed a 15% rise in Chinese arrival numbers than anticipated this year, with 90,000 passengers travelling from Beijing to Manchester. Chinese visitors are also spending more than ever, specifically an increase of 54% in 2017, largely due to the post-Brexit depreciation of the pound. These are promising developments for the UK inbound tourism market that demonstrate the appeal of attracting more Chinese visitors.

Why would Chinese tourists want to visit the UK?

Football crazy, football mad

The UK remains an appealing destination for Chinese travellers for a plethora of reasons, and sport is certainly a key factor. Alongside China’s desire to convert 300 million Chinese people to winter sports in anticipation of the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, it is also pushing to become a world football superpower by 2050. It hopes to have 50 million football players by 2020, as well as 6,000 stadiums or pitches and 50,000 football schools within the next 10 years.

British football is internationally renowned for its world-class teams, and football is already hugely popular in China. More than 350 million Chinese fans watch Premier League games on dedicated football television channels. Indeed, football is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s favourite sport – in 2012, he demonstrated his skills during a state visit to Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, and he visited Manchester City during his last state visit to the UK in 2015. As the home of international football, Britain is an attractive destination for Chinese football enthusiasts.

Glued to the screen

Certain British television shows are hugely popular in China. Research into the influence of foreign entertainment on Chinese youth, conducted by Singapore Management University, found the majority of Chinese television viewers were in favour of a more authentic TV approach, compared to the “predictable plotlines” and “unambiguous characters” found in China’s TV shows.

As such, the hit BBC drama Sherlock was a phenomenon; in 2014, 5 million Chinese viewers watched the Season Three premiere within hours of being uploaded to video platform Youku, the Chinese alternative to YouTube. Furthermore, in 2016, Sherlock’s ‘Abominable Bride’ TV special was screened internationally across China, attracting 1.7 million cinemagoers to its premiere.

As Sherlock builds upon a “Chinese fondness for a storybook version of Britain”, it’s not a stretch to claim many enthusiastic Chinese fans may visit London to see famous landmarks featured on the show, such as the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s provides Chinese visitors with multimedia guides in Mandarin, making this attraction highly accessible. There is also a Sherlock Holmes Museum in London’s Baker Street, which will be the main draw for many enthusiastic Chinese fans.

While an American production, many scenes in Game of Thrones are filmed in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is expecting over 2.3 million visitors next year due to the emerging Chinese market. The Giant’s Causeway welcomed 56,000 Chinese tourists in 2017, 22% more than previous years.

There are other cases where China’s appreciation of England’s cultural heritage shines through. Castle Howard, occasionally used as a setting for historical dramas, such as ITV’s Victoria, saw 250,000 visitors in 2016, and a 256% year-on-year increase of international visitors. Furthermore, the marriage between Taiwanese megastar Jay Chou and Australian model Hannah Quinlivan at Selby Abbey attracted “no fewer than 500 Asian visitors” in the ten days following the event.

Dover Castle has also appeared in a variety of high-profile Hollywood and television productions, from Disney’s fantasy musical Into the Woods, to the BBC’s historical drama Wolf Hall. According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), Dover Castle welcomed 333,289 visitors in 2016 – an increase over the previous year. It seems heritage sites featured in popular movies and TV shows remain motivators for Chinese travel to the UK.

The Royal Family is England’s crown jewel

Obviously, we can’t ignore that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Royal Wedding next May will bring an influx of international tourists to Windsor Castle, and the UK in particular. The UK witnessed a ‘tourism boom’ in 2011, welcoming 30.6 million overseas visitors, primarily thanks to the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Reportedly, “almost half of the increase was accounted for by people from Asia, South America and Africa”, and visits from Chinese tourists to the UK rose by a third in 2011 compared to the previous year. As a result, Westminster Abbey saw a 36% increase in its visitor numbers in 2011 compared with 2010, with 1.9 million visits, which for the first time placed the Abbey in ALVA’s top 10 list of the most visited British attractions.

We could certainly expect a similar level of attention for Windsor Castle in the lead up to 2018’s Royal Wedding. Given Markle’s status as a famous American actress, having starred in the popular legal drama Suits, the international appeal of this Royal Wedding is staggering. In addition, like St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle provides Chinese visitors with a Mandarin multimedia guide, making a visit to the royal palace comfortable and convenient.

Shopping is still an incentive

While ‘authentic travel experiences’ are a huge incentive for Chinese outbound travel, shopping still remains a popular reason to travel abroad. Although the Chinese don’t choose to travel to the UK primarily for shops, they certainly do a lot of shopping while they are here.

Bicester Village, an outlet village based in Oxfordshire, attracts hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists each year to its luxury brand stores. Reportedly, it rivals Buckingham Place as one of the UK’s most popular attractions, with eight out of ten Chinese tourists visiting the village during their trip. It’s only becoming more popular, as Chinese visitor numbers increased by 34% in 2016 compared to the year before. Chinese tourists visiting Bicester Village are guided by Mandarin signs installed at London’s Marylebone station, and many travel there by tour bus. The village itself targets Chinese consumers with Mandarin speakers, who make up the majority of the sales assistants.

In addition, a £185 million designer outlet village is being constructed in a complete circle around London’s O2 arena. The outlet village, expected to be around 204,000 square feet, will likely encompass over 100 shops and various restaurants. The impact of this new development is likely to be felt by the whole of London’s East and Southeast, and areas such as Greenwich and the Queen Elizabeth Park at Stratford are eagerly awaiting its launch.

Final thoughts

For our end-of-year article last year, our Managing Director, Helena Beard, had this to say about the state of Chinese tourism:

“China operates on a system of relationships and networks, collaboration and cooperation, loyalty to friends and partnerships with colleagues. The easier it is for the Chinese to visit and make these affiliations with the UK, the better our export prospects, the more students will come here to study, and the greater the economic benefits to our tourism industry.

Evidently, the UK and its European neighbours could only benefit from the improved collaboration and cooperation encouraged by the ECTY. This cross-cultural relationship will help develop Europe’s understanding of the Chinese outbound travel market, and the ways in which they could further adapt to accommodate their unique travel needs. This could only be fruitful going forward, and we at China Travel Outbound look forward to tracing the results of this relationship throughout the coming year.

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

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A Guide to Chinese National Holidays in 2018

Are you wondering what are the key times of year to expect an influx of Chinese tourists? Here is our helpful guide to Chinese National Holiday dates in 2018:

 

Saturday 30th December to Monday 1st January – New Year Holiday

Thursday 15th February to Wednesday 21st February – Chinese New Year Holiday/ Spring Festival 

Thursday 8th March – International Women’s Day

Thursday 5th April to 7th Saturday April – Ching Ming Festival

Sunday 29th April to Tuesday 1st May – Labour Day Holiday

Friday 4th May – Youth Day

Friday 1st June – Children’s Day

Saturday 16th June to Monday 18th June – Dragon Boat Festival

Wednesday 1st August – Army Day

Saturday 22nd September to Monday 24th September – Mid-Autumn Festival

Monday 1st October to Sunday 7th October – National Day Holiday (Golden Week) 

Wednesday 17th October – Chung Yeung Festival

 

Read other articles about the Chinese travel market:

Are Chinese tourists the new adventurers?

Harnessing the power of Chinese celebrity for the city of Bristol

Quality has become more important than quantity to Chinese tourists visiting the UK

Marketing your restaurant to Chinese tourists

In 2015, Chinese travellers spent a whopping £586 million in the UK with an average spend of £2,174 per person – that’s 3.5 times the average of the average tourist. And, according to Hotels.com, 59% of their budget goes on food and drink.

Food and drink is an important consideration when selecting a holiday destination; the a top three consideration in fact. Furthermore, dining out in restaurants tops the list of main activities for Chinese tourists with 56%. Still not convinced? Tourism Australia found that 46% of international Chinese travellers placed ‘good food, wine, local cuisine and produce as one of the most important factors when choosing a destination.

With food and drink experiences so highly prized by Chinese tourists, what can you do to attract this growing market of gastro-fans to your restaurant? Where a previous blog discussed food preferences, here are our top 6 sales and marketing tips.

1. Mandarin menus are a must-have

Your menu is your primary sales material for the passing hungry tourist. Although more and more Chinese are learning other languages, many still have limited foreign language skills. The Chinese are also very conscious of embarrassment and are fearful of ordering the wrong thing. So avoid confusion over food choices, and make your guests feel welcome with a Mandarin menu. And what would be even better? Include a section or a set menu recommending the dishes most popular with other Chinese guests.

Brighton’s highly popular,seafood restaurant, The Regency has gone one step further. Due to the restaurant’s vast number of Chinese guests, they have a Mandarin menu complete with comments about all the dishes other guests enjoy. It was translated by a Chinese student and is full of ‘in’ jokes, making the menu even more fun to read and shareable on social media.

2. ‘Ni Hao’: say hello to your Chinese guests

Not only will Mandarin menus go a long way in attracting Chinese travellers to your restaurant, but speaking Mandarin will too. If you have any Mandarin-speaking staff, that’s great – be sure to utilise them front of house. If not, why not start by learning a few simple key phrases yourself, then teach them to your team. It will show you’re actively making an effort to make your Chinese guests feel welcome and comfortable in your restaurant, and put you one step ahead of other businesses. It might help you garner positive online reviews too, a surefire way to put your restaurant on the map. It is widely known that Chinese tourists plan and research their trips months in advance and good reviews will do wonders for attracting more Chinese travellers to your restaurant. All it takes is a simple ‘ni hao’.

3. Accept Chinese payment methods

The Chinese do not like to carry money around with them, especially not large sums. In fact, in 2015, the combination of card and online payments accounted for nearly 60% of all retail transactions in China.You are far more likely to see people pulling their phone out to pay for their lunch in China, than their wallet. If you want to attract Chinese travellers to your restaurant, cater to their payment needs.

China UnionPay is found in more than 140 countries worldwide. Many companies have already recognised the power of UnionPay and rightly so – there are more issued UnionPay cards in China than there are Mastercards or Visas worldwide. One such example of this comes from Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG). When the Royal Observatory Greenwich received its highest ever number of Chinese visitors on record in Q1 2017, the shop also began accepting UnionPay. This is just one of the many reasons RMG won the CTW Chinese Tourism Welcome Award 2017.

If that doesn’t convince you to start accepting Chinese payment methods, maybe this will? The combination of payments from popular online methods, Alipay and WeChat Wallet, has flourished from less than $81 billion in 2012 to $2.9 trillion in 2016. Clearly the introduction of these payment methods can work wonders, so why not introduce them to your restaurant now?

4. Get online

With 721.4 million internet users, having an online presence in Chinese is fundamental. Chinese travellers like to plan in advance, reading information about where they’re going and planning each element, including their meals. They also look at photographs of the products you have to offer. Perhaps start by building a presence on WeChat. With 938 million active WeChat users, a presence on WeChat will help you reach high numbers of potential diners. Post relevant information, such as your address and opening times, your Mandarin menu, photographs of the foods and drinks on offer and anything else you think may be of interest to Chinese travellers. This will make it easier for users to find you online after reading about the experiences from their friends and family. Also high on their radar are online reviews. Positive reviews can go a long way in attracting Chinese visitors to your restaurant. After a rave review by a popular Chinese blogger, The Regency Restaurant, witnessed a very noticeable increase in the amount of Chinese visitors they received, and the Chinese now make up almost half of their clientele year-round.

If you want to attract Chinese diners and generate big business fast, get the help of a Key Opinion Leader. If you have the resources, utilising a KOL is a great way to gain publicity for your restaurant. Here at China Travel Outbound, we invited famous Chinese rock band, Miserable Faith, to lunch at Hard Rock’s original London Cafe. They enjoyed a meal, were given a VIP tour, had their pictures taken and given personalised gifts. The subsequent posts on Weibo reached nearly 3 million followers, giving Hard Rock Cafe great exposure to the Chinese market.

5. Photograph your food

Whilst a picture of your food is considered a sure sign of a downmarket joint in the UK, restaurants in China almost always publish pictures of their food. A picture takes away a lot of the stress of knowing what to order where language is a challenge. Again, it is vital to make your guests feel comfortable.

Food presentation is also important. With the rise of social media, making your dishes ‘WeChat-worthy’ will also help your online reputation. Appealing, well-presented food is great for your business when Chinese guests share their experiences on social media and review sites. Lots of small sharing dishes, presented on pretty crockery or with decorative garnishes, will encourage social shares.

6. Get friendly with your local tourist board

Let your local tourist board, or VisitBritain, know you are keen to host Chinese trade fams and media trips. All visitors need to be fed and this is a great way to start to make inroads to the influencers in the market. Or offer discounts and jobs to students at the local university, and open yourself up to the Chinese millennial market. They are brilliant at spreading the word as we found out during a recent VIP Student Fam Trip to Brighton.

With these six simple steps, attracting Chinese diners has never been easier. Contact us to find out more and put your restaurant on the map.

 

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5 ways to market your hotel to the Chinese

Now that your hotel is Chinese-friendly, what are the key steps to promote yourself to the Chinese? We look at the top 5 ways to market your hotel.

Unlock the power of China’s travel trade

The Chinese travel industry landscape is complicated. More than 27,000 bricks & mortar travel agents hold the key to many of the bookings by first-time overseas holidaymakers, while the two largest Chinese travel websites, CTrip and Qunar, have millions of customers that European websites can only dream of. CTrip’s users alone number more than 250 million. The Chinese spent over US$87 billion online on travel in 2016.

Not only does China have a complex travel industry, but business is based on Guanxi, a Confucian concept of trust, hierarchy, giving and receiving. Guanxi is built over time and the only fast way into successful working relationships with the Chinese travel trade is via an established partner.

Don’t get lost in the Middle Kingdom

2/3 of Chinese planning travel carry out research online, so make sure you can be found. Much has been written about China’s singular digital environment; to get noticed by Chinese holidaymakers you need to have a presence on Weibo and WeChat so that prospective Chinese visitors can find out about your offering. A fantastic presence on Facebook will work in many of your markets, but China isn’t one of them.

Make sure you share compelling content and promotions on social media too. Upgrades and late check-ins are just some of the special offers promoted via WeChat which have been encouraging Chinese travellers to book direct with Mandarin Oriental.

Offer quick and easy online booking in yuan

More than 1 in 5 Chinese travellers say they plan all aspects of trips themselves, so having a bookable website is vital. Design your Chinese website with the audience in mind, using the right tone and focusing on the aspects of your hotel and destination which appeal most to Chinese travellers. Optimise your site for Chinese search terms, and remember that Chinese travel agents will use your site for information too.

Of course, you site needs to be in Mandarin, and Cantonese is a plus. Show prices in yuan and accept China UnionPay. The growing tide of Chinese independent travellers will thank you for it. 

Make it easy to be reviewed

Thanks to China’s collective culture, the Chinese are much more influenced by peer reviews and recommendations than Western travellers. Encourage your Chinese guests to review your hotel on Ctrip and Qunar as well as on travel guide sites such as Qyer and Mafengwo; experiment with signs at the front desk and by asking your Chinese guests for reviews via WeChat. Numbers of reviews help rankings, as do Chinese-friendly facilities such as free Wifi.

Partner with the most influential Key Opinion Leaders

Chinese actress Yao Chen’s wedding in Queenstown, New Zealand was reported more than 2.4 million times on Chinese social media – and that was in 2012. The subsequent tripling of Chinese tourists to the country certainly helped Tourism New Zealand share the actress’ happy day. Partnering with the right KOL, especially when coupled with genuine social media moments via livestreaming, remains a great way to raise awareness of your offering. Destinations from New York to Indonesia are investing in the power of KOLs.

 

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A short guide to Chinese KOLs

The rise of the Chinese KOL has been widely documented, but in order to understand how you might use them as part of your marketing tool kit, you should first understand who they are, what they do, how they work, and their potential and pitfalls. We’ve put together a short guide to help and ask whether they are still worth considering or have had their day.

What is a Chinese KOL?

KOLs (standing for Key Opinion Leaders) are influencers; the people who are deemed experts in a specialised field and who can make high profits from it. Due to China’s thriving internet population of 721.4 million users, KOLs are a popular and powerful social media force – they possess strong communications networks due to a large and dedicated online following, the charisma to engage with their fans and in-depth knowledge about their fields. Followers are likely to listen to and emulate their favourite KOLs due to their position as specialists. They are respected and thus have loyal fans. It comes as no surprise then that KOLs are often utilised by brands to market their products, giving the brand easier and endorsed access to a niche audience. They’re often seen promoting and endorsing a brand’s products allowing a communication channel to be opened between a company and a KOL’s legion of loyal followers.

Who are they?

Originating from some of China’s most popular social media platforms, online KOLs are also known as micro-influencers. China’s social media community is vast, especially when 91% of them are also frequent users; from the January 2016 to January 2017 period alone, there was a 20% increase in the number of active Chinese social media users. It’s worth considering then two of China’s biggest social media networks which KOLs most commonly use: Weibo and WeChat. 2016 saw the number of active WeChat users reach 846 million whilst Weibo’s monthly active users reached 261 million. Despite Weibo’s much lower number of active users, a 76% year-on-year increase in user’s interactivity has been noted by the network, meaning Weibo is still a great medium to consider in order to connect with the online community.

KOLs have managed to navigate their way impressively and establish themselves within this community and, thus, are perfect conduits for brands to target specific audiences. They are persuasive and influential individuals who possess the ability to reach masses of people, whether it’s through endorsing a brand through photographs, blogs or videos. And, what’s more, it’s been proven that 50+% of Chinese consumers are loyal to brands that partner with celebrities; for social influencers, such as bloggers, the figure is 46%.

This is not just a Chinese phenomenon of course. British fashion and beauty blogger, Zoella, started her blog in 2009 before launching her now popular YouTube channel which currently has 11.6 million subscribers. She’s now asked to endorse and comment on many brands and products within her specialised area and is able to reach out to many people; she’s even been featured in multiple ‘social media influencer’ lists.

How are brands able to utilise Chinese KOLs?

Brands can utilise Chinese KOLs in many way, including social media exposure, advertising campaigns, and employing them for public appearances. Prices vary and depend on the popularity of the KOL and the type of promotion used but it is fair to say that the sums are not for the fainthearted. Another challenge lies in finding the most appropriate person for your brand. Websites such as the Chinese ParkLU, a ‘KOL broker’, help brands with this problem. The site lists different KOLs, their special areas of expertise and the number of social media followers they have. Brands are able to pay to be linked up with the most appropriate person wherein their products are then endorsed on their social media accounts.

Live-streaming is becoming more popular and KOLs play their part. Chinese video messaging network, Meipai, hosted a Cannes Film Festival live-stream which was sponsored by cosmetics company, L’Oreal Paris. 3.1 million people tuned in and 164 million likes were given. Chinese pop star and actress, Li Yuchun, promoted a L’Oreal lip balm during the stream which sold out only a few hours later, only emphasising the power of a KOL.

The KOL name can also extend to celebrities.  On behalf of our client, Hard Rock Cafe, we invited popular Chinese Rock band, Miserable Faith, to the London restaurant. The band and crew all enjoyed a meal, were given a VIP tour, were given personalised gifts and had many pictures taken. The band posted about their visit to their 369,000 fans, effectively endorsing the Hard Rock Cafe brand.

Keeping it real

The rise of the KOL in China has become so well known that it has brought with it a certain degree of scepticism. In a country where everything can be copied and fake products abound, authenticity is lacking in many aspects of Chinese culture and is thus, highly prized. Fake reviews, or endorsements which are clearly funded masquerades will lack authenticity and will be rejected by an increasingly savvy audience. Whilst celebrity endorsement continues to be hugely powerful, the days of splashing lots of cash at top tier KOLs may be numbered. Better to look for the second tier of bloggers and influencers who may have fewer followers, but are still seen to be keeping it real.

 

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China’s ageing population: a new market for tourism?

1.373 billion. China’s current population – one that is now deemed as ageing. A country that used to have a 43 year average life expectancy now has a 74.7 year average. China clearly must be doing something right, especially with about 30% of the population being over the age of 50. This figure speaks volumes about China’s continuing improvement in a number of areas. First of all, healthcare has improved vastly and that includes people understanding more about the importance of a balanced diet and regular exercise, but also huge improvements in living standards and the quality of life, with more time being put aside for leisure. Considering all these factors, the population of Chinese citizens aged 65+ is predicted to reach 219 million in 2030 which begs the question, how did China get here?

Much of the cause of China’s ageing population lies with the famous one-child policy. Although highly controversial, the policy achieved what it set out to do. But while the growth of the population slowed, China’s gender imbalance worsened. For instance, 2016’s estimate stands at 40 million more males than females – a staggering number. A lot of these extra men could be potential fathers, but how can they be fathers when they can’t find a mate? The solution has been to get rid of the policy but, even now, couples are placing less importance on a big family and are actively choosing to have only one child or none at all. A decreasing number of young people paired with an increasing number of elderly citizens equals the reason for China’s ageing population, which leads to the question:

So what does China’s ageing population mean for outbound tourism?

If people live longer, they have more time for travelling after they’ve retired. If people have fewer children and grandchildren to spend their money on, they have more disposable income to spend on travel. But would older citizens necessarily spend money on travelling?

First off, travelling educates people through new experiences. According to Chinese travel agent, Zhang Nanbeichao, older, well-educated travellers are usually eager and curious to learn new things. In today’s age, senior citizens also have good retirement pensions which they don’t save for the future generations of their family. This may be due to the combination of their children acquiring well-paid jobs and Chinese families getting smaller, resulting in older citizens having more disposable income which may be spent on travelling. And if these figures are anything to go by, they do spend their money on travelling as the willingness to learn new things paired with a higher disposable income has seen the “grey-hair travel” market grow by 50%.

How many people are we talking about? Over 5 million elderly Chinese citizens travel each year. And 47% of them even go long-distance. In a series of interviews conducted with ‘grey-hair travellers’ by Shanghai Daily, it seemed as if the norm for elderly Chinese citizens were two trips during the year – one being long-distance to Europe or America, and the other short-distance to other parts of Asia. The vast number of journeys being made by ‘grey-hair travellers’ brings in tourism revenue of over 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) yearly. China’s ageing population do like to spend their money on travelling.

What can travel brands do to market themselves to China’s ageing population?

We need to understand what older clients want. Beautiful and famous places? Of course. Tour package deals? Definitely. Cruises? Yes. Luxury shopping? Yes, but not as much as the millennials. But then, there are also the practicalities. Does cost matter? According to the same series of interviews, cost was actually one of the least important factors when considering when and where to travel. If tourism is seen as an important way for over-60s to improve and enrich their retirement, then really it comes down to whether the destination is suitable for senior citizens; and if not, then services should be adapted in order to cater for them. Especially if seniors are predicted to become the tourism market’s main force, with the president of Ctrip, Fan Min, expecting the number to have grown to 300 million within 10 years.

For Western travel brands, there is huge potential in assessing what an ageing Chinese population needs when travelling so they can tailor their products and services to fit these needs. However, many international tourist destinations have yet to realise this market’s potential. The problem? Many tour packages are unable to proficiently care for elderly travellers, which brings us back to the previous question:

What can destinations, hotels and attractions do to market themselves to China’s ageing population?

The clearest solution… introduce more age-appropriate, tailored services for seniors. But what does that entail? Ctrip places emphasis on shorter journeys and high-rated, senior tour guides who are also qualified to provide emergency assistance. In addition to this, the China Association of Travel Services is also currently working on guidelines that they can issue to tour operators. The rules will include uncluttered schedules, early bedtimes and healthy meals. With the introduction of these guidelines, it should be easier for travel brands to market themselves to China’s ageing population.

Take Iberostar Resorts for example; they offer all-inclusive, adults-only holiday destinations, spacious rooms, gentle recreational activities such as golf, excellent dining and, perhaps most importantly, 24-hour service. Having realised the potential for the ageing market, their resorts are world-class. Granted, these changes aren’t specifically targeted at Chinese senior travellers but with the right targeted promotions there is nothing to stop Iberostar attracting Chinese seniors too. After all, they’re already halfway there. Or perhaps take a leaf from China Odyssey Tours’ book; they’ve been providing tours of China to the elderly since 2005, including a private car and guide, a flexible and relaxing itinerary and a one-on-one travel consultant all at an affordable price. If that’s not good enough, travellers can actually tailor-make their own tours. The result? They are an award-winning tour operator boasting more than 10,000 customers each year.

The ‘grey-hair’ market is clearly growing into a powerful force, so it makes sense to strategise sooner rather than later. 219 million elderly Chinese tourists at your door? Yes please!

 

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How to reach Chinese millennials? Get online.

In last week’s blog, we looked at the habits and demographics of 300 million Chinese millennials. Here, we look more closely at what travel and tourism brands can do to reach them.

It has been said that Chinese millennials “don’t go online, they live online”. Unsurprisingly, this tech-savvy cohort researches travel online, and likes reams of information about destinations, including experiences and where to eat/drink/shop. They like to decide exactly what they want to see and do before they depart, making it vital for destinations, hotels and visitor attractions to promote their offering in China in order to secure a space on millennials’ travel itineraries.

This segment has a research and booking window of 4-6 weeks before departure. WeChat is key: almost half of Chinese millennials get travel information through WeChat moments and 35% from WeChat shares by travel advisors. Weibo is also important. Supported by native advertising, the digital space is extremely well-placed to reach Chinese millennials planning travel. Melia hotels encourage online interaction through beautiful visuals and engaged nearly 1m Chinese travellers via WeChat and Weibo in 2015.

Key Opinion Leaders and public relations

Key Opinion Leaders and tastemakers are extremely influential for this group. From major celebrity partnerships to controversial blogger Papi Jiang for Jaeger LeCoultre and L’Oreal, and China Travel Outbound’s own work to bring Chinese rock group Miserable Faith to the original Hard Rock Cafe in London, gaining the right celebrity endorsement is a chance to bring your product to just the right millennial fan base. The Regency Restaurant in Brighton has benefitted from the endorsement of a Chinese food blogger while The Plough at Cadsden, host to David Cameron and President Xi Jinping in October 2015, has been visited by so many Chinese that it’s now been bought by Chinese investors.

Edinburgh brought 6 influential travel bloggers to Hogmanay in 2015. The resulting content has been viewed over 20 million times in China.

WiFi, websites and live streaming

39% of Chinese millennial travellers say they can’t go 5 minutes without looking at their mobile ‘phone, so mobile-friendly, responsive websites are essential for this demographic. And Chinese websites are not just a matter of translation; they must be structured, designed and written to meet Chinese needs. They also need to be hosted in China and to load speedily.

Live-streaming provides an opportunity for travel products to showcase their highlights. The right live streaming event with an influential Key Opinion Leader (KOL) could provide great cut-through for destinations willing to invest in this market to gain a lead on their rivals.

In destination marketing

Even if you haven’t managed to reach the travelling millennials until they’ve arrived in destination, all is not lost. Geographic targeting via WeChat can put your product in front of tourists adding the final hotels and restaurants to their itineraries. Shopping destinations and luxury brands can promote themselves using QR codes instore too.

130,000 students are already here

And finally, don’t forget the huge opportunity presented by the vast and growing Chinese student population here in the UK. With an estimated 130,000 Chinese students, the UK is one of the most popular choices for overseas study. And these affluent and educated young people want to explore, not just the UK, but the rest of Europe whilst they have this opportunity. Connect to them through WeChat or Weibo, or speak to China Travel Outbound about our connections to the influential Chinese Societies.

To find out more about how to market your destination, visitor attraction or hotel to the Chinese, contact us and we’ll talk you through some options.

 

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The Chinese want to eat Chinese, right?

Dim sum, fish and chips or something entirely different – what would a Chinese traveller choose? That might sound like a silly question, but promoting a business efficiently to the rising Chinese outbound travel market requires consideration of Chinese tourists’ preferences and the barriers to sale. Many businesses have already caught on to this, with places like Bicester Village introducing Mandarin guides and signs to take away language barriers that may dishearten travellers. Hilton has introduced the Huanying Program to many of their hotels, which provides Chinese customers with a more personalised stay by including a larger range of traditionally Chinese breakfast options, adding jasmine tea to the guest rooms, and more.

While shopping evidently has a large appeal to Chinese tourists, food and quality meals are also important considerations. When it comes to hospitality, tea and coffee-making facilities rank the highest in importance of what they want in their hotel rooms. A Chinese traveller spends 59% of his/her budget (excluding accommodation) on food. Clearly, food is big business.  To help you market to this, we had a look at some food preferences amongst Chinese tourists.

So, which is it? Dim sum or fish and chips?

Actually, it’s oysters. At least that’s what the Chinese tour operators we hosted recently in Brighton seemed to favour when we took them to The Regency Restaurant. Besides plates and plates of oysters, other popular dishes included lobster, crab salad and mussels. Not only does this imply that seafood has great appeal for a nation with distant coastlines, it also shows a desire to indulge in foods beyond Chinese tradition.

Travellers want to experience the local cuisine for at least one of their daily meals.

Young Chinese tourists do indeed like to try the local cuisines of their chosen travel destination, just as our guests enjoyed seafood in Brighton. In fact, 34% of Chinese travellers prefer “independent hotels with local flavours,” again revealing a desire to try new food. In fact, “travellers want to experience the local cuisine for at least one of their daily meals.” What’s more, trying local cuisine has become proof of a traveller’s unique experiences abroad, as it is deemed “fashionable and desirable” for tourists to indulge in food that differs from that which they are accustomed to in China. Since President Xi Jinping shared a fish and chip supper with David Cameron at the British PM’s local pub, the popularity of this traditional seaside plate has grown exponentially with Chinese visitors to the UK.

Whilst there is a growing interest in trying new foods, there are a few rules which do still ring true for the majority. Hot drinks are more popular, especially in the winter. Our Chinese interns choose a cup of hot rather than cold water for the office drinks round, and hot breakfasts are always chosen by our team when they come to London from Beijing. Dairy products are not widely consumed; when serving tea or coffee, do not add the milk, but offer it on the side. Lamb is another favourite, and spicy flavours go down well, but these don’t have to be Chinese. Indian, Thai and Indonesian food are all popular.

While the desire to try local food is certainly prominent amongst younger Chinese travellers, the duration of a visitor’s stay, and their age, may change this. Those who stay abroad longer often miss the familiarity of Chinese food, and may resort back to it. Although tasting local foods is a praised experience, the comfort of home will often come beckoning. Similarly, travellers over the age of 35 will often prefer familiarity over new experiences, and are more likely to stick to traditional Chinese dishes.

Variety, variety, variety! (And a Mandarin menu might help too).

So what does all this mean? It means variety, and providing Chinese tourists with both local dishes and with a range of Asian-style foods for when they simply want a “taste of home.” If you cater more commonly to youth, then a selection of local dishes will do, but if you have older guests, then remember to include some recognisable dishes.

Another important, practical consideration is accessibility. Looking at a long menu written in English with a huge selection of different dishes (sometimes with ‘clever’ names), can be completely overwhelming. Having a Mandarin menu available is definitely favourable and it may be sensible to select a few dishes to present in Chinese as the ‘dishes most popular with our Chinese guests’. This allows the guest to choose something they know they will enjoy, whilst also saving any risk of losing ‘face’ by ordering a bizarre combination by mistake. It is also important to accept China Union Pay, because Chinese tourists “increasingly wish to use the same payment methods overseas as they do at home.” Essentially, both variety and accessibility are key watch words for marketing your hotel or restaurant to Chinese tourists.

To find out more about how you can appeal to Chinese tourists and their food preferences, contact us now for a no obligation chat. For more news and views on the Chinese tourism scene, please read our other articles or sign up to receive our newsletters.

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