China travel market update 21 September ’20

China’s domestic travel market is recovering strongly so far. Travel data analysts Forward Keys report that domestic arrivals reached 86% of 2019’s level in the second week of August, while domestic flight bookings hit 98%, with most bookings for travel in the same month.

Over 90% of China’s hotels and attractions are open. The Greater China hotel market is picking up at speed with destinations including Shanghai and Sanya, on popular tropical holiday island Hainan, showing a significant rebound in occupancy levels. And in further Chinese holiday island news, Macao has launched a promotional campaign to attract more mainland Chinese visitors to spur the recovery of the local economy.

China’s theme parks are booming [paywall] as the global restrictions on travel encourage the population to look for holiday experiences closer to home. China has around 160 large-scale theme parks ranging from international brands like Shanghai Disneyland to home-grown offerings such as Wuhan’s Happy Valley and Kunming’s Colourful Yunnan Paradise, with many more in development.

Hainan Airlines is operating charter flights from Chongqing to Manchester to bring new and returning Chinese students to the UK for the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.

Meanwhile China’s August retail sales recorded an increase of +5% year-on-year, the first growth since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And China’s luxury market is thriving, partly driven by displacement of sales which would have taken place on overseas trips. Tiffany & Co reports retail sales up by +90% year-on-year in China in April and May. And new food experiences remain popular. New York’s lively burger bar brand Shake Shack opened its first outlet in Beijing in August and was met by queues around the block, despite pouring rain.

Quarantine rules remain in force for international arrivals, although it is expected that travel corridors are being negotiated with other Asian countries in preparation for Golden Week.

Just arrived in the UK: 120,000 wealthy Chinese tourists

As schoolchildren across the UK settle into classroom teaching for the first time since spring, and undergraduates ready themselves for a return to campus, there’s a large group of prospective tourists flying into the UK to start at or return to their universities at the end of September. Chinese students in higher education outside China are rich and influential and they’re looking for places to visit – and there’s over 100,000 of them in the UK.

So let’s look a closer look at Chinese students in higher education in the UK; who are they, and why should you be promoting your product to them?

How many Chinese students are there in the UK?

In 2018-9 a record number of Chinese students studied in the UK, with the Higher Education Statistics Agency recording that the number of Chinese students rose above 120,000 for the first time. And there’s been a steady and significant increase in their numbers over recent years; in the 5 years to 2018-9 the number of Chinese students in the UK increased by 34%.

But will Chinese students come to the UK for their studies during the time of Covid-19?

Any worries that Chinese students may not return to the UK for the start of the 2020-1 academic year seem unfounded. While the US is suffering from its current political tensions with China as well as a negative perception of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK continues to be regarded favourably, not least thanks to its handling of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) challenge earlier this year. The cancellation of the IELTS tests put in doubt access by Chinese students to under- and post-graduate study in English-speaking countries including the UK, USA and Australia. But UK universities reacted quickly and showed great flexibility in recognising the results of other English language tests in order to maintain the access of Chinese students to higher education here.

The British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, released a survey in June showing that only 3 percent of students currently enrolled at UK universities had cancelled their study plans. And major universities are telling us that the level of cancellations at this stage is no higher than would be seen in a ‘normal’ year.

Plus, UK universities are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that hygiene and safety measures are in place on campus, and that travel to the UK is seen to be safe. Queen’s University Belfast, which has around 1,200 Chinese students, has even been planning a to charter a jet to fly its new and returning students to Northern Ireland from China.

Why promote your tourism product to Chinese students in the UK?

So there are over 120,00 Chinese studying in the UK (2018-9 figures), but why should you promote your tourism product to them?

Chinese students have lots of money to spend

Wealthy Chinese students studying abroad have annual allowances in the tens of thousands of pounds, making them a massive target for brands. Stories of Chinese students chartering private ‘planes to travel to and from university abound, and some calculations put Chinese students’ average disposable income at around £28,000.

At a time when high-end retail is suffering, Chinese students continue to provide a rich source of shoppers for luxury outlets and gift shops at visitor attractions.

And they’re not just in London

Three out of the top ten universities by share of Chinese students are in the North, with the University of Liverpool alone hosting nearly 5,000 Chinese students in total. Nearby the University of Manchester hosts a similar number while the University of Sheffield welcomes around 3,700. Meanwhile Cardiff University is home to 3,500 Chinese students. With a national spread, all but the most remote of tourism providers can benefit in investing in activities to attract this cohort.

Chinese students like to travel 

China Travel Outbound’s research with Wonderful Copenhagen carried out in early 2020 found that more than a third of surveyed Chinese students in the UK had already been on a city break while studying here. And 25% planned to take another international city break during their time here. In fact, the average number of overseas city breaks already taken was three, with an average length of stay of 6.2 nights. 

And they will actively be looking for places to visit over Christmas and Easter

Limited flight capacity between the UK and China, and the possible requirement of quarantine on return to their home country, will encourage Chinese students to remain in Europe over the university holidays. So they’ll actively be looking for places to visit.

Chinese students are great advocates for your product

Studies show that Chinese students overseas continue to use Chinese social media such as Weibo, WeChat and Little Red Book rather than migrating to Instagram and Twitter. Our research with Wonderful Copenhagen found that fewer than 1 in 5 students used Instagram and fewer than 1 in 20 used Facebook. And the nature of the Chinese digital landscape and online connectedness of Chinese students and Gen Z means that those visiting are great advocates for your product, with influence far beyond these shores to their fellow netizens at home.

Chinese students can help you maintain a presence in Chinese digital channels when Chinese outbound tourists, including China’s Key Opinion Leaders, are in short supply, and help influence destination choice when outbound travel from China fully starts up again.

Chinese students often stay in the UK after graduating

Since the UK brought back the two-year post-study work visa in 2019, graduating overseas students have been allowed to stay in the UK for to work, or look for work, in any career or position of their choice for two years after completing their studies. With the chance to work overseas a big draw in studying in the UK, your chances of repeat visits, especially with visiting friends and family, make Chinese students an even more profitable prospect.

And the UK is now the number one choice for Chinese students who would like to study overseas

A July ’20 study by New Oriental Education, one of China’s largest educational firms, found that 47% of Chinese students would choose the UK to study abroad, with 37% choosing the US. This is the first time that the UK has overtaken the US as the top destination for Chinese students in this survey.

With China the single largest country of origin for international students worldwide, with over 600,00 Chinese studying overseas in 2018, the prospects for UK tourism to benefit from the patronage of Chinese students has never been brighter.

Contact us now for a no obligation chat about how we can help you attract Chinese students to your destination, visitor attraction or retail outlet today.

Self-drive tours gain in popularity in China

The recovery of the domestic tourism industry is accelerating in China. According to The Beijing News, more than 22 provinces and cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have now resumed local tourism operations with travel agencies starting to organize trips to neighboring cities as the novel coronavirus outbreak subsides.

This year, China’s May Day holiday has been extended to five consecutive days over a long weekend, and is expected to deliver the next big spike in tourism in China. China’s biggest online travel agent, CTrip, has reported that the number of trips booked for the May holiday has increased by 353% since April, and some 3,8600 scenic sites have now opened ticket reservations on CTrip. This number is expected to exceed 4000 for the May holiday. These are outdoor attractions such as mountain walks, national parks and, of course, the Great Wall. Indoor attractions and museums such as the Forbidden City, will remain closed.

Image: CGTN

Although it is widely reported that the coronavirus outbreak has been largely brought under control in China, it is clear that tourists are still concerned about transmission and further outbreaks. This is affecting their transport decisions, and they are taking to the roads, intending to drive to their chosen attractions. CTrip reports that, so far, the number of car rental bookings has reached 70 percent of the same period last year which is a strong performance given the tourism downturn. 

Image: Ctrip

During the Qingming holiday in April this year, the travel review platform, Mafengwo, shared data showing that the first bookings leading the recovery of the domestic market were in short-distance self drive and day trips. In the week before the Qingming holiday, searches for the keywords “nearby self-drive tour” in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou increased by 85.7%, 51.2% and 132.8% respectively. The China Tourism Academy reported that, during the Qingming holiday, tourists to scenic spots mainly came from within the same province, that urban one-day tours and suburban tours are recovering, and the proportion of self-drive tours increased, with most tourists travelling together as a family.

China Tourism Academy data: 41% of tourists will choose self-drive as mode of transport when COVID-19 ends. (Image: CGTN)

Self Drive was increasing even before Coronavirus

According to the China Tourism Academy, the Chinese made 580 million self-drive trips across domestic destinations in 2018, which represented a year-on-year increase of 35.6%. Around 70% of domestic road trips in 2018 were two to three day excursions with a driving distance of no more than 200 kilometres. However, the number of long-distance and outbound self-drive trips also grew in 2018.

In 2019, Chelun and Tuniu launched a report about self-drive travel, which showed that, in the first half of 2019, 82.6% of car owners enjoyed a self-drive trip, with nearly 80% of them choosing a short road trip and nearly 60% opting for a long-distance road trip. Industry experts believe that with the strong support of national policies and the increasing view that self drive is more environmentally friendly than air travel, self-drive will be more and more popular.

Are self-drive tourists valuable?

This year, due to the effect of the coronavirus, naturally more people will choose self-drive to avoid gathering on planes, trains and coaches. Self drive offers easier access to the kinds of attractions which are likely to be the most popular, such as national parks, natural scenic spots and campsites, allowing people to get close to nature and away from crowds. As people will not be travelling in guided groups, there will be a demand for more public tourism services, such as visitor information, signs, guidance and advice. Self-drive tourists are also considered to have a very strong purchasing power which can be highly beneficial to local economies and artisan industries, having a more leisurely approach to shopping for goods and souvenirs and prioritizing local shops and craft souvenir stores over shopping malls. 

What does this mean for international travel?

As with all travel trends which start domestically in China, the passion of self-drive in domestic tourism has also extended to outbound tourism.

According to a 2018 report by Zuzuche, China’s outbound self-drive tourists reached 9.14 million, a 65-fold increase over six years from 2013 to 2018. The report also showed that over the past three years, 63% of self-drive tourists were 28 – 38 years old, but the number of tourists aged 40 to 49, and over 50 years old also displayed growth, showing that self-drive was also growing in popularity across varied age ranges.  

What is the attraction of self drive for the outbound Chinese tourist?

As with many areas of travel and tourism, the popularity of self-drive comes down to cost and convenience. Public transport in some foreign countries is relatively expensive and complicated to book. Private car bookings are popular, but, compared to taxis and chauffeured vehicles, the cost of self-drive car rental is clearly more economical. For the top 10 self-drive destinations for Chinese tourists in 2019, the average car rental cost was worked out to be only about RMB 100 per person per day (Zuzuche, 2019). This low cost reflects the fact that Chinese tourists tend to travel in small groups, with four or five people in the car, making this a very cheap alternative to public transport.

As the Chinese market matures, the desire for more experiential holidays and to travel beyond the beaten track grows. Self-drive offers a convenient way to explore a country, visiting its more remote, non-urban sites and the national parks, scenic and coastal regions with the fresh air and natural beauty yearned for by the Chinese. Self-drive requires a certain level of confidence which was perhaps less prevalent in previous generations of Chinese tourists. Now China’s millennials are so used to travel, they are well educated (often abroad), and speak second languages. Hiring and driving a car is less of a challenge than it would have been for their parents. 

How should the car rental industry prepare for Chinese tourists?

Comfort, safety and reliability will also be important in this market. Chinese tourists are reluctant to ask a lot of questions and are generally risk-averse when it comes to booking travel, preferring to book via the travel trade and well-known brands. International car hire brands, such as Hertz and Avis, have an opportunity to do very well in this market, but there are also great opportunities for car rental brokers or smaller specialist brands (such as self-drive minivans serving more remote places like the Scottish Highlands, or all weather vehicles in ski or mountain regions) to promote their products in China to the FIT market. This can be done via social media, PR or, very effectively, through the existing distribution structure of the Chinese travel trade and China-specialist DMCs.

It will be very important that the booking and collection processes are simplified and clear, and that there is no hint of overselling of unnecessary extras, and the service delivery is exemplary. Chinese tourists will spend freely on a great experience, but in return may have high expectations and will be quick to turn to social media if they feel they have been poorly served, ripped off, or disrespected. Transparent pricing, high quality service, and good directions and assistance will all be valued highly in this market.

The popularity of countries such as USA and Australia over the past decade also feeds into the growth in the self-drive sector. Many Chinese tourists will have enjoyed flydrive holidays in Florida, California, or throughout the Australian states. These countries lead the self-drive market globally, with open roads, long distances, plenty of parking and easy navigation. Europe is still catching up and VisitBritain figures, for example, show that public transport still far outweighs self-drive. However, in the 2019 figures from Zuzuche, the UK came in as the 10th biggest self-drive destination for Chinese tourists behind USA, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France. It seems likely that once we start living in a post-coronavirus world, European car rental companies, destinations and the hospitality and travel industries should prepare for an upsurge in demand from China for self-drive holidays, and should prepare themselves within their recovery plans with a clear sales and marketing strategy for China, and a product development plan which includes consideration for the Chinese driver.

Are Chinese tourists becoming more responsible travellers?

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing demand for sustainable tourism 

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

Shopping locally and travelling small

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

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

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

Awareness and protection of wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

Will Greece be the new European hotspot for Chinese tourists?

When our clients ask us how to influence Chinese tourists’ destination choice, we often recommend working with KOLs or Key Opinion Leaders. If they have bigger budgets, we suggest that they work with a celebrity ambassador. And sometimes we joke that, if they really want to put their destination on the map, perhaps they can persuade President Xi to come on a state visit.

This year, Greece did exactly that as the Chinese President touched down in Athens to discuss trade and investment with Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. 

Historically, destinations boom following a successful state visit. After President Xi drank a pint of beer with David Cameron in a British pub and had a selfie taken with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City in 2015, Chinese tourism to the UK really took off. We have seen state visits as a catalyst for tourism arrivals to many other countries too, such as Fiji and New Zealand in 2014. We can assume that the positive PR surrounding this visit to Greece, and the huge support for China-Greece relations expressed by Mitsotakis, will be well received in China, catapulting Greece into the consideration set for a summer holiday.

Once the keywords start being tapped into Mafengwo and Qyer, it won’t be long before aspirational Chinese FIT travellers realise that Greece has got it all.

From the ancient history of Athens, Olympia, and Delphi, to the stunning scenery of Meteora and the Mani to the crystal waters and sundrenched, whitewashed villages of the Greek islands, you have the perfect ingredients for a Chinese tourist’s dream; a multi-centre, experiential holiday, with history, beauty, and some very shareable back drops. Not to mention some of the most famous mythological stories and delicious dishes in Europe to feast upon.

But apart from the ensuing publicity generated by a state visit, improved air transport links are also a common result of such visits, and this one seems to be no different. 

The most important factor here is the opportunity presented by codesharing.  Greece has a unique geographical make up with a huge number of delightful islands, secondary towns and cities, and other areas of natural beauty and historical significance. In order to bring tourists and citizens to all corners of Greece, the country has a very large network of internal flights operated by Aegean Airlines. Once these domestic flights start to link up with international flights coming direct to Athens from Beijing (and potentially other airports in China), suddenly the whole of Greece becomes accessible to the Chinese tourist.  And that is what the two leaders’ Memorandum of Understanding will provide for. If all goes to plan, a codeshare agreement could be adopted between Air China and Aegean Airlines, meaning passengers from Beijing will be able to reach major Greek tourism destinations such as Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, Corfu, and Halkidiki much more easily. 

The MOU will also allow for an increase in the number of flights between Greece and China. At present, there are only three direct flights per week from China into Athens, flying from Beijing on Air China, although up to 14 are permitted. Once the new agreement is implemented, airlines will be allowed to operate up to 35 flights per week. And, with the codeshares in place, there could be enough demand to justify the increases.

In the first nine months of 2018, Chinese arrivals to Greece grew by 22%, making China the fastest growing market for tourism to Greece. It is expected that similar growth will be seen once the summer figures emerge for 2019. Whilst reported numbers are still relatively small at around 200,000 per year, it is widely agreed that these figures are understated due to the large number of people entering Greece on a visa to another EU country as part of a multi-centre tour. 

The most famous island is the picturesque, romantic Santorini, widely photographed and admired by honeymooners and bloggers alike, but other islands such as nearby Mykonos and Greece’s largest island, Crete, are also popular and gaining traction on the major travel platforms and within itineraries. Of course, Athens and the wonderous Acropolis, will also feature on the itinerary. 

We expect to see a huge upturn in interest for Greece from China next year. Its popularity with honeymooners also provides an additional opportunity for Greece’s luxury resorts, as Chinese honeymooners are allowed to take a longer holiday, giving plenty of time to explore and stay. And the Chinese national holiday, Golden Week, in October also presents a great opportunity to extend the summer season, especially for those islands like Crete and Kos which remain sunny and warm well into mid-October. 

If you are interested in finding out how China Travel Outbound can help you promote your Greek region, resort, attraction or hotel to the Chinese, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. 

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

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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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Why are the Chinese going Nordic?

Norway, china, tourism, nordic, PR

Why the Nordic region?

From the fresh air, fjords and fish platters to the endless summer days and early winter nights; this intriguing northern culture continues to entice Chinese travellers from all over the country to satiate their curiosities and embrace the welcome culture shock that awaits them in the land of the Vikings.

Although Scandinavia may not currently sit at pole position on their general holiday wish list, the number of Chinese tourists flocking to the wintery north is on the rise. According to Ctrip, China’s number 1 travel booking agency, the number of Chinese tourists who booked trips to Nordic countries through its website soared by 82 pct in 2018. Naturally, due to its colder climate, Northern Europe will experience its high season between May and September when the weather is warmer. However, this is not to say that winter is an unpopular season, as many Chinese tourists visit at this time to experience the snow, the skiing and of course, the breath-taking Aurora Borealis (Northern lights).

This escalation of Chinese attention hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Nordic lands as the Scandinavian peninsula recognises the prosperity that the Chinese market would bring. Recently, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden jointly kicked off a tourism campaign to offer more distinctive travel experiences to Chinese visitors. They’ve collectively invested time and resources into discovering how to cater to the Chinese tourist and develop and formulate more appetizing and accessible travel experiences to this prosperous market. This is a tactic that is evidently paying off.

In this blog series, we will investigate each of the five Nordic countries, some of their most popular tourist destinations and consider what makes them so desirable to the Chinese tourist.

Velkommen til Norge!

Image of a small Nordic village backed by a mountain range

As one of the three member countries collectively referred to as ‘Scandinavia’, Norway charmingly merges elegant, urban modernity with its rustic, rural culture. The country boasts a sparkling winter wonder with its diverse, emphatic landscape whose lengthy terrain reaches far into the Arctic circle.

As more of Europe is opening up for China, Norway is now more accessible for Chinese tourists than it has ever been before. Not only does China have an efficient transit to the country through Helsinki, but now Hainan airlines has made available a direct flight route between Beijing and Oslo, the first direct route between the two countries.

The Chinese marvel at how the awe-inspiring scenery fits synonymously with a local culture that is filled to the brim with history and tradition; a culture which owes much to the landscape it originates from. Norway is certainly not lacking on reasons for its touristic appeal; whether it’s to bear witness to a natural environment which seems almost fictional with its beauty, to experiencing the modernised food, shopping and efficiency that Scandinavians are so proud of, or even to visit the sites of the many films that were shot or based there, such as Disney’s Frozenthe highest grossing animated film of all time and one which brought in just under $50,000,000 in its first year in China. 

Whatever the reason for visiting, inbound tourism is unquestionably on the rise for the Norwegians and in recent times, the Chinese have found themselves on the growing list of countries exporting thousands of travellers there each year. According to Bente Bratland Holm, travel director for ‘Innovation Norge’, “The Asian market is growing the most… Norway now has the most overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Scandinavia.”

Norway clearly has a wide variety of cities and sites that draw in a large number of visitors each year, so let’s have a look at five of Chinese tourists’ favourite Norwegian locations and reflect on what each one offers that makes them such must-see destinations.

Five of Norway’s top tourist destinations

5. Lofoten

Icy mountains over a frozen lake

Whenever you see an aesthetic poster or wallpaper of the magical, endless Norwegian fjords and mountains, wondering whether such a mysterious and ethereal environment could possibly exist … there’s a very strong likelihood that that photograph was taken somewhere on the Lofoten islands. 

Lofoten may not necessarily be the biggest hub for tourism in Norway, it is certainly accessible and the Chinese travellers who do make the northern trip to the islands will be incontestably glad that they did. Most tourists will opt for the aerial route due to its speed and convenience; flights will typically connect through Oslo to either Bodø or Svolvær airports and will need a subsequent, short transfer over to the islands. Many other Chinese tourists may prefer a longer and more scenic route and the marathon train journey between Oslo and Bodø rewards the traveller with a window view of all the sights and sounds that the Norwegian terrain has to offer. Despite its more remote location, tourists of the world are still willing to spend the extra time and money to pay this wonderland a visit and the Chinese are no exception to this. 

So how can the Lofoten islands cater to the Chinese tourist industry? Contrast to its relatively small population, Lofoten provides a hugely diverse range of activities and experiences that interlace wonderfully with its environment. The islands are filled with local fishing villages that allow tourists the opportunity to venture out onto their own fishing expeditions as well as producing some of the freshest seafood dishes in the country. Those looking for a more educational visit will appreciate the historic background of the islands and will surely visit the Lofotr Viking Museum and other Viking exhibitions; the Chinese love museums so this will be a key tourist hub for Lofoten. For the more adventurous traveller, the Chinese tourist will seek the many tours on offer, ranging from kayaking or horseback riding down the fjords or hiking trips through the mountains to bathe in the summer’s midnight sun or be awestruck by winter’s northern lights.

The Chinese tourist market is vast and expansive, naturally this results in many different travellers with many different tastes. Lofoten has made sure it will always have exciting adventures available for whoever visits its islands.

4. Geirangerfjord

River down a steep valley

With its long, winding river path sandwiched between the imposing, vertical cliff faces that may have been carved out by the Aesir themselves; The Geirangerfjord sees countless Chinese adventurers sailing down its banks each year. Featuring tours, caves, hikes, hill tribes and a commitment to cultural and environmental preservation; Geirangerfjord has truly earned its place as a UNESCO world heritage site.

There are two primary means in which Chinese tourists come to visit this world-famous fjord. Frequent flights operate to Ålesund airport followed by a transfer to Geiranger, along with trains departing from both Oslo and Trondheim bound for Åndalsnes and connections to either Ålesund or Geiranger. The most popular option of travel, however, is by sea. Many cruise operators take tourists up to and into the fjords in the summer months, transforming the transportation element into the destination itself.

The Chinese love cruises, in fact, China is facing the potential to become the largest cruise market in the world. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that cruise liners are the most favourable method of exploring this Asgardian landscape. Cruises allow tourists to leisurely drift down the stream of the fjord, entirely immersed in the natural marvel that surrounds them on all sides. Additionally, cruises make numerous stops at various key sites and villages, encouraging tourists to step out and discover the local crafts, trade and cuisine. With such a keen love of photography and foreign culture, the Chinese will feel particularly enriched by this element of the fjords

Outside of cruising, the area of Geiranger provides travellers with an abundance of methods of experiencing the fjord’s beauty. From hikes, bike rides, picnics, kayaking and camping; Geirangerfjord maintains its capacity to cater to all shapes and forms of Chinese tourism and its diverse demands, now it just needs the right promotion in China to continue to do this.

3. Tromsø

Icy city in a valley

Welcome to the Arctic circle. Tromsø is one of only a few large cities that sit within this polar region and notwithstanding its typically icy temperatures, it still manages to draw in a considerable level of inbound Chinese tourism each year. Tromsø doesn’t suffer from its arctic location; actually, it owes a lot of its touristic success to it, with many travellers looking to experience more sights and sounds that are off the beaten path in such a polar environment mixed with having access to the facilities and amenities one would expect from a modern and well-developed city.

Along with the arctic circle, Tromsø also falls within the cultural region of Sápmi, a territory that encompasses northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sápmi is home to the Sámis; a traditional, remote people specialising in coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding and most significantly, reindeer herding. The Sámis offer a deep insight and education into a whole new, foreign way of life and are a considerable factor in bringing culture-hungry tourists to Tromsø.

As one of Norway’s biggest cities, tourists will have no difficulty in making the journey up to Tromsø. There are many domestic flights to Tromsø airport each day, though flying internationally from China, travellers will typically have a transfer at Oslo before heading up. Several popular Scandinavian cruise tours will make stops at Tromsø, again giving Chinese holidaymakers a (somewhat brief) opportunity to meander through this snowy metropolis and contribute keenly to the city’s tourist income.

There is an abundance of options for new arrivals to Tromsø to pick from when it comes to tours, shopping and entertainment; though the number one activity on most people’s bucket list is to chase the Aurora Borealis. Tromsø is one of the best locations to see the Northern lights in the country and the locals know this; offering a plethora of different tours and guided routes to tourists and recognising the prosperity and profits that the Chinese market could bring them with the right targeted promotion.

Snowshoeing, dog sledding, fishing, whale watching and arctic buggy riding will also be on the peripherals of the adventurous traveller, while others may prefer the slower pace of the arctic museums, a warm drink at a kaffebutikk (coffee shop) or a visit to the extra-terrestrial looking Arctic Cathedral standing proud to the east of the city. 

The tourist infrastructure is definitely in place in Tromsø, therefore bringing in a further flux of Chinese tourism will continue to benefit the city long into the future.  

2. Bergen

Bayside village

Known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’, Norway’s second largest city is one of the most culturally diverse in the country. As a UNESCO world heritage city, Bergen acts as the meeting point of the new ways and the old and while it is large in scope, Chinese visitors will still find themselves succumbing to the small-town atmosphere and charm that the city emits. Tourists appreciate the blending of Oslo’s modernity with the historic value that one would expect from more rural locations, ensuring that all who step foot within the city of the seven mountains, young or old, active or laid-back, will find themselves at home in Bergen.

Having already referred to China’s love for cruises and tours, Bergen’s nickname does well to open itself to the Chinese market. A bounty of tours and voyages will set sail from the port and float down one of the many branching fjords nearby. Travellers also opt for the local-based tours that allow the pulsating colours of Bergen’s architecture to be taken in from the seas. Tours are not limited to the water and Ctrip (or Trip.com) offers a variety of walking tours to get up close and personal with some of Bergen’s top sites. 

China experiences a vast amount of inbound tourism searching for culinary exploration and foreign tastes, something which is mirrored by its outbound tourism too. Chinese ‘foodies’ will fail to miss the warm allure of the fresh Norwegian pastries lining the shelves of the local bakeries or the pungent musk of the stockfish, the traditional unsalted cod hanging from wooden racks and drying in the cold, Nordic air. Tourists love to book themselves onto food tours in which sightseeing, and food sampling are conveniently rolled into one.

The Chinese also love a photo opportunity and the mountains that encase the city provides a golden opportunity to do this. The cable cars running up the mountainside take tourists to a wonderous aerial location which perfectly frames all of Bergen’s best features into one image; an image that will likely find its way onto a Weibo post to induce envy onto all who see it.

1. Oslo

Oslo opera house

A nation’s capital should always be one of its most prized possessions. Oslo connects Norway to the rest of the world and connects the rest of the world to Norway. Wherever the final destination maybe be, there is a near certainty that a Chinese tourist visiting Norway will end up in Oslo at some point of their trip, subsequently meaning that the capital receives the most inbound tourism from China in the country each year.

Ease of access isn’t the only factor attributed to Oslo’s popularity; the city embodies everything one associates with Scandinavian elegance, design and progressiveness. Modern Norwegian and Nordic architecture is an area of fascination for the Chinese, in fact, they love it so much that they’ve recruited the Norwegian group, Snøhetta, the company behind the Oslo Opera House, to blueprint the designs for the Shanghai Grand opera house in China. Every element of the city centre has been intricately crafted and outlined to cater to visitors and locals alike. Oslo regards itself as a walking city, something which is favourable among Chinese tourists, though a frequent and convenient transportation network is also available for those in a rush and willing to spend a bit extra.

There aren’t many cities in Europe where you can thrive within a metropolitan hamper of museums, international food markets and high-class shopping brands in the morning and take a short train ride to the mountains for skiing and hiking in the afternoon. Oslo will never be short on options with regards to tourism and the city is the epicentre of Norway’s modern culture, something which the patriotic locals are always willing to demonstrate to visitors. Many of China’s favourite holiday pastimes can all be found in Oslo, meaning the capital could potentially stand to gain the most from establishing itself on popular Chinese travel sites.

Oslo benefits from being an all year destination; that is to say that the capital’s appeal is just as prominent in the winter as it is in summer. Its ‘low-season’ is far from being considered a low season. Such a consistent level of inbound tourism combined with the right promotion to the surging Chinese market will only continue to propel Oslo’s rapid development even further in the years to come.

Find out more:

Norway is certainly a hotbed for touristic attraction and has one of the highest potentials for expansion into the China market in Europe. If you would like to see how PR and promotion on Chinese platforms can boost tourism for your brand, please find our contact details here: https://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/contact/

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to look out for the next blog in the series: Why are the Chinese going Nordic? – Part 2: Finland (Coming soon)

Why not check out some of our other articles related to Chinese tourism?

Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sailhttps://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/chinese-tourists-are-setting-sail/

How do Chinese tourists choose their hotels?https://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/how-do-chinese-tourists-choose-their-hotels/

Top 7 Apps Chinese Outbound Tourists Use Overseas – Part 2: Discoveryhttps://www.chinatraveloutbound.com/top-7-apps-chinese-outbound-tourists-use-overseas-part-2/

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

Chinese KOL visiting Brighton Pavilion

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese review sites – Mafengwo, Qyer, and Ctrip

Mafengwo logo

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

Qyer logo

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

Ctrip logo

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

TripAdvisor – for local recommendations

tripadviosor logo

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

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

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

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

Little Red Book – Easy content sharing

red book logo

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

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

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

Dianping – The Chinese Yelp

dinning logo

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

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

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

The world in your pocket

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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How do Chinese tourists choose their hotels?

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

Photo by Tri Hua from Pexels