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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Five tips for establishing your museum in the Chinese tourism market

The Chinese love museums. Art galleries and historical exhibitions continue to grow in popularity for Chinese tourists seeking a more cultural and educational experience in their overseas travels. As a result, many international museums have established themselves on the itineraries of organised tour groups and FIT travellers. The Chinese market is one of the fastest growing tourism industries in the world, and asserting your museum’s brand in the orbit of Chinese tourists is fundamental for success in this valuable market.

So how do you go about increasing your museum’s presence in China?

Here are China Travel Outbound’s top five tips for promoting your museum to the Chinese traveller.

Find out what they’re saying about you

Any attraction worth its salt keeps a firm eye on its TripAdvisor review, however, that’s not going to mean too much in the Chinese market. Although there is a Chinese TripAdvisor, China has its own ecosystem of social media platforms and travel sites which you need to explore to find out what people are saying about your museum.

China’s review sites are extremely influential. C-TripMafengwo and Qyer are among the top three options with a collective unique monthly visitor rate of over 300,000,000! Mafengwo, in particular, is extremely influential with the FITs, and you need your museum to a) be listed as a Place of Interest and b) to be receiving some positive reviews on Mafengwo and its ilk. This is such a vital factor for Chinese promotion which many museums are missing out on; either with no profile on these sites or profiles with incorrect names, opening times, location information or very poor images. PR companies are able to audit these sites for you and make recommendations for improving your profiles and generating more reviews. At China Travel Outbound, we have good relationships with the platforms and are able to ask them to take down misleading imagery or incorrect information and replace it. It is not in the interest of the sites to be inaccurate, so they are happy to work with us, although there are certain verifications we have to go through. 

Once you’ve got your listing looking great, you can get to work on building those positive reviews.

Find the influencers

Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are exceptionally important in a country where people have a collective culture and like to follow trends and advice from those they trust.

A visit from the right KOL, even to the smallest museum, can change its fortunes.

If your museum piques the interest of one of these influencers, you may end up with coverage and recommendations for your museum to their fan base which can sometimes reach into the millions! 

KOL coverage comes in various forms. The more common is a blog about the KOL’s personal trip experiences. However, Chinese influencers don’t run their own websites. They post their blogs on third party platforms (such as Mafengwo, CTrip and Qyer) and the blogs run to several thousand words and contain many professionally shot images. What is also important is that the website itself will be offering the reader the opportunity to book tickets for the trip alongside the blog. So your coverage is supported by a direct distribution channel.

KOLs also post about their experiences on personal Chinese social media, for example, on Weibo and WeChat. These posts tend to be more immediate, although it is not unusual for a KOL to spend some time manipulating the images to make sure the posts are beautifully constructed to show your museum in its best light.

Livestreams – Occasionally, influencers will livestream their visit to your museum with viewership levels that can hold hundreds of thousands of users. Livestreams allow audiences to experience your museum as close to first-hand as possible when living on the other side of the world. Influencers can interact directly with their audience, discuss and outline the various attractions of your museum and offer their immediate impressions and recommendations while still onsite. The authenticity of livestreaming appeals greatly to a population subjected to so many copies and fake products.

Get social

Museums with a commitment to the Chinese market should definitely consider investing in their own social media platform. Weibo and WeChat are the most popular choices. A recent survey found that Weibo had the strongest influence in the trip planning of FIT millennial travellers. WeChat is another of the largest social platforms in China and one which already sees many international museums’ profiles well established on the site. Check out JingTravel’s museum index to gain an insight into which museums have most effectively capitalised on the exposure provided by a WeChat profile. 

For more information about WeChat and Weibo, please read our article.

Remember the Chinese Travel Trade

The lion’s share of Chinese bookings comes via the Travel Trade. If your museum is large and well established in the market, you may want to consider working directly with the Chinese travel trade and signing contracts directly with operators. Alternatively, you may wish to work via Destination Management Companies (DMCs) based in your own country. Either way, you are going to need to promote your museum to the Chinese travel trade to encourage them to accept its inclusion within itineraries, or to push it themselves to their customers. 

You can approach this in a number of ways. Going out to China on a sales mission to meet operators is effective for finding a few key contacts to build on. Attending trade shows can also work but you’ll need to go frequently and build relationships as it is quite hard to get stand out, unless your brand is already a very famous one. However, whatever you do, you need to carefully consider your long term strategy, as building relationships in China takes a long time and a lot of effort. A more effective and sustainable approach is to work with a representative based in China to help you deliver your messages, train agents about your museum, and follow up on all meetings to ensure points have been actioned. 

With itineraries tailored to families, students, business large groups and many more; positioning your museum strongly within the Travel Trade could be the most effective way to boost inbound Chinese tourism in the direction of your business.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK has never been higher so now is the time to work on ensuring your museum is featured on itineraries. Don’t be dismayed, however, if you are just one of the options listed for, say, a free afternoon in London. That in itself can deliver profile. And once your museum starts to be listed by one Chinese operator, the others will start to take you seriously. Remember, copying is a fundamental aspect of Chinese business! 

Open your museum shop on Tmall

Once you have followed the previous three steps and are more established in the Chinese market, another way to increase exposure and generate profit is to offer some of your products online. The Chinese have a lot of interest in these kinds of high quality museum-branded products and making these items available yields great potential for success; as the British Museum had discovered when doing exactly that and continues to do so to this day.

Sites such as Tmall and Taobao would be recommended to offer this service and it provides yet another means of cementing your position in the Chinese tourism market, as it increases brand awareness and draws more traffic to your travel and social platforms.

China Travel Outbound is experienced in working with European museums and we can help promote your museum to the Chinese. If you would like to find out more about how Chinese representation, marketing and PR can help you promote your museum brand to the Chinese market, please get in touch with us for a chat.

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London North Eastern Railway wins CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Award

LNER CTW Award

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

Tourist Welcome Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Integrated Chinese trade and media campaign for London North Eastern Railway

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

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

The Trip

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

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

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

Results

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

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

The Brochure

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

Travel Trade and Media Workshop

The brochure was also given to attendees of an LNER workshop 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

Join our Chinese Media Hospitality List

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selecting Travel KOLs: How do we choose our bloggers?

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

Match product with skills, audience and interests

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

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

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

Be practical and flexible

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

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

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

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

The platforms are always in charge

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

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

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

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

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

Pick the best of the bunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a follower on Weibo?

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

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

Don’t underestimate ‘engagements’…

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

Huan Liu Weibo post

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

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

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

Weibo post view example

When is a view not a view?

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

What about WeChat?

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

Who’s looking?

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

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

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

Mafengwo KOL's content

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

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

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Chinese travel KOL visits the UK

In May 2018, we were delighted to welcome the influential Chinese blogger, Liu Huan, to the UK on a media trip. Huan is an illustrator and photographer who graduated from the China Academy of Art.

We worked with nine partners on Huan’s itinerary to make the trip as fulfilling as possible, including VisitBrighton, London & Partners, Historic Royal Palaces, The View from the Shard, City Cruises, Royal Museums Greenwich, Household Cavalry Museum, English Heritage, and RHS Wisley Gardens.

The seven-day itinerary covered many of the UK’s most essential attractions. Huan immersed herself in the fun and frolics of the Brighton Festival, visited the main attractions of the city and took to the countryside at the Seven Sisters Country Park. In London, she discovered the lived history of Tower of London, made friends with the Queen’s Horses at the Household Cavalry Museum, took a City Cruise down the Thames, saw the breathtaking View from the Shard, enjoyed the Royal Wedding in Kensington Palace’s gardens, explored the exotic delights of London’s Chinatown, and had thrilling day trips out to Stonehenge and RHS Wisley Gardens.

Results

We were thrilled with the results of this project and the huge success of Huan’s unique approach to blogging. Throughout the trip, Huan shared her experiences via posts on her WeChat for her friends and family to see, and Weibo for her 49,000+ followers. She published 17 posts on both her WeChat and Weibo, each including a selection of stunning on-location photographs. Huan adds a personal touch to many of these photographs by illustrating her cartoon self into them; cartoon Huan can be seen frolicking through RHS Wisley’s beautiful Gardens and gazing out at London’s picturesque night sky from The Shard’s Open Air Skydeck.

Huan wrote and published an extensive article about the trip on Mafengwo, one of China’s most popular review sites, as well as Ctrip Mobile, Qyer, and Autohome. In the month after publishing her blog, she amassed an additional 10,000 Weibo followers; clearly, Chinese internet users enjoyed her coverage.

On 20th July, Huan’s blog reached the home page of Ctrip Mobile. Five days later on 25th July, the blog made it to the front page of Qyer BBS, a place reserved for the best Chinese travel blogs. Qyer BBS also wrote about Huan’s incredible illustrations in a Weibo post which was shared to their 2.86 million followers to enjoy.

As of August 2018, the blog’s total views have reached over 37,000 across the four platforms, and it has over 750 likes. More than 350 users have saved the blog for future reference , to help inspire them for their next trip abroad.

If you are interested in Chinese KOL trips, please contact us for a chat.

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