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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Chinese student in the U.K

The UK is one of the most popular places in the world for Chinese students seeking education abroad; in fact, it is estimated that there are around 130,000 Chinese undergraduates and postgraduates studying in the UK, with numbers growing every year.

So what draws Chinese students to the UK? What do they like to do here and what places to they like to visit?

We sat down with University of Sussex student, Joanna, to discuss what it is that brings Chinese Students to the U.K, how they like to travel and what student life is like in a foreign country.

If you’d like to find out more about how the Chinese travel and decide on where to visit, be sure to check out some of our other related articles:

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

Music Credits:

‘Dawn’ – Sappheiros

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

Chinese KOL visiting Brighton Pavilion

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese review sites – Mafengwo, Qyer, and Ctrip

Mafengwo logo

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

Qyer logo

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

Ctrip logo

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

TripAdvisor – for local recommendations

tripadviosor logo

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

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

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

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

Little Red Book – Easy content sharing

red book logo

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

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

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

Dianping – The Chinese Yelp

dinning logo

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

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

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

The world in your pocket

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

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

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

Chinese travellers taking selfie

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

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

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

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

There’s WeChat, but also its Mini Programs

WeChat app logo

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

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

WeChat mini programs

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

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

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

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

WeChat Pay and Alipay – The rise of the digital wallet

WeChat pay

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

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

Alipay logo

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

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

Baidu Maps – Alternative to Google Maps

Baidu map

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Tri Hua from Pexels

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.

Two Chinese KOLs travel the UK with London North Eastern Railway

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

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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A Day in the Life of Vivienne Song

Vivienne Song is China Travel Outbound’s Beijing Director. Her team of diligent, skilled, and young businesspeople collaborate closely with the Brighton team to ensure our clients receive the best possible promotion in China. Exceptionally hardworking, Vivienne is an essential member of our China Travel Outbound team.  

But what is her life in China like? Vivienne, her husband, and her two adorable cats live in Beijing, China’s capital city. Living and working in Beijing has its difficulties, but it also provides many modern conveniences un-afforded by other global cities. In this article, the Marketing Executive for our Brighton office Tom Luckin interviews Vivienne to reveal what an average day is like for a businesswoman living in this relentless city.

TL: What is it like being a working woman in China?

VS: For many years, the image of women in China was to look after the family and support the husband while he’s at work. Men are meant to be ‘out to hunt’ to support the whole family. Nowadays, women are standing out in business, and are starting to take the lead. We now do the same jobs as men, and sometimes make more money than they do, all the while looking after the family. It’s a tough role – but it shapes us to become stronger people.

From my circle of friends, I am seeing more and more women who are younger than me and are already very independent financially and emotionally.

TL: How do you travel to work every morning?

VS: Whenever the weather is lovely, I cycle to work. Beijing’s brilliant shared bike service means you can simply pick up and ride any shared bike on the street for as little as 1 RMB [about 11 pence] per hour. Travelling to work by bus is also handy, since they run fairly frequently and let you to sit back and relax.

The best contribution I have made to Beijing’s notorious traffic is by not driving myself. The traffic is bad enough as it is – we don’t need one more terrible driver to make it worse!

TL: What do you do on a typical working day?

VS: Monday and Tuesday will usually be office days for me and my team to schedule meetings for clients and review the work we did last week. As Beijing is extremely large, and has overwhelming traffic, travelling around efficiently really depends on luck. This is why we tend to organise one meeting in the morning, and two meetings in the afternoon.

Face-to-face meetings are very important. We always visit a tour operators’ office so that we can introduce our client in person and provide assistance to help develop and promote the tour products. Professional partnerships are very important to us, but so are our friendships with tour operators.

TL: Please can you talk about the people who make up your Beijing team?

VS: Sarah Cao is our PR & Media Manager. She studied in the US and majored in Tourism Management and Hospitality. After returning to China, she worked for a PR company in the media industry for two years.

I have known Ian King for ten years as he used to be my colleague in the MICE department of China Travel International, who I worked for shortly after moving to Beijing. He has experience in both the travel trade industry and brand marketing. He also used to look after high-profile clients such as P&G and Unilever. He also has very good connections in the entertainment industry.

TL: Sounds like a busy life you live! What do you do to relax?

VS: I really enjoy going to the gym to sweat away all the pressure. It’s the best way to stay fit, helping myself stay energetic and ready for work. Watching old movies is one of my other favourite things to do to relax at the weekend. Al Pacino is my all-time favourite actor.

TL: Who doesn’t love Al Pacino!? …Why did you decide to begin a career in the travel industry?

VS: There was a TV show on about 20 years ago called ‘The Wonderful World’, which was one of the first travel shows broadcast in China. It influenced a lot of people of my generation to think about beginning a career in the travel industry, but at the time, we did not know much about outbound travel. The show taught us a lot about other cultures around the world.

The female host of ‘The Wonderful World’, or ‘Guide’ as we called her, had one of the most admired jobs in China for quite some time. Since then, I decided to work in the travel industry as I naively thought the job was all about travelling for fun!

TL: What were the early days of your career like? Any highlights?

VS: I started my career with Star Cruises, which is an international cruise company based in Singapore. I was lucky to snatch a role in their Tourism Department where you not only travel to many different countries and enjoy all the tours as part of the job, but also work with people from different cultural backgrounds.

I’ve worked in many different positions in the tourism industry, from tour product sales for Star Cruises and account management for China Travel International’s MICE department, to wholesale product management and PR & media management for the Destination Tourism office. My last position before I joined CTO was at Mafengwo as BD Manager, which I enjoyed very much. Not only did the role improve my knowledge of online travel marketing, but I also made lots of friends there who are hardworking, fun people.

TL: Speaking of friends, can you talk a bit about your family?

VS: While my husband and I live in Beijing with our two cats, my parents and parents-in-law live in other Chinese cities. Unfortunately, we don’t visit our parents that often due to my very busy schedule, but I make it a routine to frequently phone my mum to catch up. Every year, I try to make a week free to go travelling with them. Last year, I took them to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and for the upcoming Chinese New Year in February, we are going to Chengdu to see the pandas.

TL: What is your apartment like in Beijing? Do you enjoy living there?

VS: Our apartment has two bedrooms and one large living room, perfect for hosting friends and family. Both my husband and I love to cook. We often invite our friends round for house parties to try our new dishes.

Everything happens so quickly in China. Many of us believe the country is still in a fast-growing phase, and we are lucky to be involved with such rapid changes. Beijing teaches you to quickly adapt to your environment and learn fast in order to catch up with the changing times. Life here is never short of challenges. I love the feeling of becoming a better version of myself with each passing day.

It’s very convenient living in China since everything is slowly but surely getting digitised – like payment systems. I have tried to avoid carrying cash when I go on business trips to other Chinese cities, since everything can be paid for through WeChat Pay or Alipay – from shops and restaurants, to hotels and taxis, and even some street vendors.

Buying items online for delivery is a service available throughout China, but unfortunately it is not free. You can order something at 11pm, and it will be with you by 7am the next day. Online supermarkets deliver within a maximum of 2 hours, and because my place is near the station, I always receive my order within 30 minutes. Sometimes it works out cheaper to get things delivered than to go to the supermarket.

The shared bike service is one of my favourite sharing economies. I love to cycle, but I couldn’t buy a bike, as I have nowhere to park it and it could get easily stolen, not to mention having to carry it up and down from the apartment! The shared bike service makes travelling to work so much easier and fun. The spring and autumn months in Beijing are gorgeous times to ride a bike – I often cycle through the old Hutong alleys during these months to see more scenic views of the city.

TL: To bring it back to social media, why are platforms like WeChat and Alipay so important to Chinese consumers?

VS: WeChat and Alipay are very important as they are with you throughout your everyday life. The conveniences they provide certainly make life easier overall, but at the same time, the command these two apps have over your life is quite frightening.

TL: Your role requires you to travel abroad occasionally for business meetings. What do you enjoy about the UK when you visit there?

VS: The UK has so many world-class museums that I can easily spend days exploring. The museum stores are perfect for souvenir shopping – you can always find perfect gifts for friends and colleagues there.

The other thing that impressed me on my last trip to the UK in November was the food. China’s impression of British food is basically just fish and chips. On a popular Chinese talk show I once watched, the host joked about how ‘Great Britain is one of the greatest and most powerful countries in the world, yet they don’t know how to cook’.

During my trip to the UK, I went to some restaurants which left no doubt in my mind about the slogan VisitBritain launched last year – the ‘Food is GREAT’! The ingredients are so fresh, and the dishes taste incredibly good.

-End of interview-

Many thanks to Vivienne for agreeing to the interview and providing most of the photos used in this article.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors to your destination or attraction, 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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