How will the coronavirus impact the UK inbound tourism market?

This article appeared on the UK travel website, Travelmole, on 27th January 2019: By Helena Beard

Whilst we may have been treated to good luck greetings, lion dancing shows and beautiful Chinese New Year decorations over this weekend, for our colleagues in China, things have been very different. 

Our Chinese staff closed the Beijing office last Thursday, dispersing throughout Asia to welcome the Year of the Rat with their families. At the same time, millions of people did the same, travelling both domestically and internationally to take advantage of the national holiday running from 24-30 January. Within a matter of hours, the severity of the Coronavirus started to become clear and the city of Wuhan was on lockdown. On Friday, the Chinese authorities announced that all group tours or ‘flight plus accommodation’ packages departing after Monday 27th January should be cancelled by travel agents free of charge. Anyone wishing to cancel their flight may also do so without penalty. No more group tours will be booked until the advice changes.

So how concerned should we be as an industry? Our clients are UK and European hotels, attractions, destinations and travel brands. They depend upon their visitors from China, now the biggest and most valuable source travel market in the world. What impact will this have and what should we be doing in response?

The most obvious place to look for clues about the future is to return to the past, and to SARS, another coronavirus. The SARS virus also originated in China and the outbreak lasted around six months from late 2002 to mid 2003. It resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 people died. There have since been other similar coronaviruses, such as MERS-CoV, which developed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. 

SARS had a big effect on outbound tourism from China (and more markedly on inbound tourism to Asia), but there are some very important differences 18 years later.

China has learnt from SARS

The response to the outbreak of the current 2019 – nCoV virus has been incredibly swift and efficient compared to the response to SARS. Back in 2003, a full three months passed after the first case before the SARS virus was reported to the WHO. This new virus was reported to WHO just three weeks after the first reported case. Beijing is being a lot more open about the situation and sharing information globally in an effort to curtail the spread.

The city of Wuhan was swiftly put on lockdown, followed by another 12 cities, researchers have already published their analysis of the virus, and diagnostic tools are in place for testing at all China’s airports. They are also being used at airports around the world. There is a dedicated 1,000 bed hospital being built in Hubei province which, it is said, will be completed within just six days.

This is China

Probably the most comforting aspect about this virus is that it has originated in China. The authoritarian nature of China means that, when Beijing decides something needs to happen, it will happen, quickly, without bureaucracy and with compliance. China’s technology leads the world, and the country’s unparalleled technical and human resources can deliver a speedy and efficient response to a crisis like no other. An instruction from the government will be followed without question. The national holiday has already been extended to 2ndFebruary and schools will remain closed. People will work from home. Life, and business, will go on.

Prepare for a surge in demand

In 2002, 16.6 million Chinese travelled internationally. In 2003, the year of SARS, this figure increased to 20.2m. In 2004, the year after SARS, the figure jumped by 8 million people to 28.9m, showing the resilience of this market. The outbound visitor numbers then continued to grow exponentially, reaching over 150 million last year. 

I have worked in travel for 25 years and can’t remember the number of reassuring conversations I have had about the ‘pent up demand’ which follows any event with a tourism impact. But there is no market which is more likely to explode with pent up demand than the Chinese market. This is a nation which believes travel is key to success. For the young, it offers vital education. For the 400 million plus millennials, it delivers status and an investment in their future. For the middle aged, it is a vital life experience, and one which was denied to them in their youth. For President Xi, arguably the biggest influencer in the world, it is a fundamental part of his strategy to establish China as a global superpower. This is why Beijing is supporting route development throughout the globe, opening up the skies and supporting new flights from China’s Tier One, Tier Two and even Tier Three cities. Connectivity is key to success. And remember, if President Xi wants it, it will happen.

On a more practical level, on the instructions of the authorities, the travel agents have cancelled all trips free of charge. Airlines are also allowing free flight changes and cancellations. That money will all be coming back into the pockets of experience-hungry Chinese tourists. They aren’t going to bank it or spend it on home improvements or a new car. They will already be planning for their first opportunity to rebook.

For those interested in the UK and Europe, the next opportunity for many will be the summer. Given the speed of response, and the experience of history, we can predict that, hopefully, this current virus will be contained well before the summer months. The Chinese do their holiday research early but they book late, within around 6-8 weeks of travel, so there is plenty of time before the summer peak.

My best advice to tourism businesses is to use this time to prepare. Find your Mandarin speaking guides, translate your orientation materials, get your WeChat Pay and AliPay implemented, work your trade networks, and prepare your press releases, sales materials and social content, because this will pass and, when it does, that pent up demand is going to hit. Big style.

Video interview: ‘The life of a Chinese student in the U.K’

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:

Why are the Chinese going Nordic? – Part 1: Norway

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

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

Music Credits:

‘Dawn’ – Sappheiros

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?

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

Chinese KOL Trip from London to Scotland by Rail (Case Study)

Taiwanese Superstar Nana Ou-yang Visits Bristol (Case Study)

Join our Chinese Media Hospitality List

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Ready for 7 Million Chinese Tourists

National Day Golden Week, celebrating China’s National Day, is one of the country’s longest national holidays, lasting from Monday 1st to Sunday 7th October this year. Similar to Chinese New Year, it is also an extremely popular time to travel for the Chinese, with many taking advantage of the rare week-long break to enjoy a relaxing vacation at home or abroad. But what evidence is there to suggest that this year’s Golden Week will be huge, and how can travel brands prepare for and take advantage of the potential influx of Chinese tourists?

What happened with Golden Week 2017?

The success of last year’s Golden Week put the national holiday on the global map and cemented its significance. 705 million domestic tourists travelled around China during the eight-day break in 2017, around half of China’s 1.4 billion population, and tourism income reached 583.6 billion yuan (£64.71 billion). These figures represented a year-on-year increase of 11.9% and 13.9% respectively – huge results for a rapidly growing tourism sector.

In terms of overseas travel, it was estimated that around 6 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad, visiting 1,155 cities in 88 countries or regions. One of the most popular destinations was Russia, as well as Southeast Asian destinations including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. Czech Republic and Hungary were also popular destinations, and on the whole, Belt and Road countries benefitted from the holiday.

During this holiday period, Chinese travellers abroad tended to travel independently rather than in group tours, and they were looking for unique experiences rather than luxury outlets to spend their cash with, perhaps making the most of their relatively short travel time to visit essential, authentic attractions. For example, In France Chinese visitors frequented idyllic villages and museums as opposed to the traditional tourist sites, and in the US, they mainly attended shows and basketball games.

That’s not to say they didn’t go shopping; data from WeChat found that over Golden Week 2017, 52% of outbound Chinese tourists shopped at duty free retailers. Restaurant and retail spending was also staggering, reaching 1.5 trillion yuan (£166 billion) over the holiday period. Chinese tourists who travelled to the UK for Golden Week spent £29 million with retailers and £11 million in London alone. Tourists were likely drawn to the UK for its cheap pound due to the previous year’s Brexit vote.

Figures concerning accommodation bookings made during this period also shed light on the holiday’s success. Airbnb recorded a 32% increase in overseas bookings during the period, and Tujia, a Chinese online vacation rental site targeting the country’s middle to high-end travellers, witnessed a 400% year-on-year increase in their bookings, and an average per room per night spend of 557 yuan (£61) during Golden Week.

Gear up for 7 million tourists

While that all sounds brilliant, what are the predictions for 2018’s Golden Week? We’re very fortunate that this year, Chinese citizens could potentially take sixteen-days’ worth of holiday, which is more than enough time to comfortably travel to and experience an international destination. This is because the Mid-Autumn Festival, the national holiday held on Monday 24th September, gives Chinese citizens a 3-day weekend, and if the rest of the week is taken off, it will roll into Golden Week commencing on 1st October. Is there a better time for Chinese tourists to travel abroad!?

Roughly 7 million Chinese tourists will travel internationally during Golden Week this year, accounting for approximately 5% of the year’s total number of Chinese outbound tourists. The top short-haul destinations are likely to be Japan, Korea, Thailand, while for long-haul, the US, Russia and the UK are expected to attract the bulk of international travellers.

It seems like Chinese tourists really want to make the most of this extended break; 30% more Chinese travellers than last year have decided to take off the last week of September. Furthermore, despite reports that outbound travel prices during National Day have risen up-to 30% year-on-year, Chinese travellers seem unfazed by this as almost all flights for the booking period have sold out, and only economy seats remain on available international flights.

We can expect great things from Russia this Golden Week – the country has recently attracted record numbers of Chinese tourists to their shores. From January to July 2018, Russia saw a 150% increase in Chinese visitors compared to the same period in 2017. Obviously, the FIFA World Cup was an influencing factor in this, having alone welcomed 50,000 Chinese tourists.

Likewise, the UK may be a popular destination of choice as it has seen significant growth in Chinese tourist numbers over the past few years. The country welcomed 337,000 Chinese tourists in 2017, a 29% increase from 2016, and spending was up 35% at £694 million. Furthermore, Chinese tourists spent $2707 (£2060) per arrival to Britain in 2017. This is more than the average spend of Chinese outbound travellers, which about 7,300 yuan (£810), and over three-times that of the average tourist visiting the UK.

There is some evidence suggesting the UK may have a great Golden Week this year. According to Ctrip, the average prices for UK packaged tours during Golden Week fell 20% year-over-year, and the majority of tours were fully booked a month before.

Other destinations are making a considerable effort to prepare for and reap the benefits of Golden Week. Tourism Toronto has launched a Golden Week campaign with Alipay allowing Chinese users to redeem special offers via the app for participating retailers and attractions in the Canadian city.

Surely, from these statistics, we can expect great things from Golden Week for these destinations. But only time will tell…

How to prepare for Golden Week

Golden Week is a fantastic opportunity to show how ‘China Ready’ your travel brand is, and your eagerness in accommodating the rapidly growing Chinese market. If you’re a retailer, Chinese tourists will expect to be able to pay for items abroad using mobile payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, so introducing these services may entice them to spend more with you. Mandarin shopping directories, Chinese-language restaurant menus, and Mandarin-speaking staff will go a long way to improving your ‘China Welcome’, and word will get around quickly on Chinese social media about your efforts to accommodate Chinese visitors.

With the pace Chinese global tourism has been growing recently, we can only hope for another thriving Golden Week!

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

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Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

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

Watch and Go – How do TV and film influence Chinese travellers?

Chinese tourists and the Great Outdoors – let’s explore

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

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

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

Why is this a trend?

China’s air pollution is a growing concern

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

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

Rural tourism is on the rise

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

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

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

Garden and flower tourism is b(l)ooming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor attractions rank highly on Chinese review sites

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

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

Chinese travellers visit destinations purely for the countryside

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

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

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

Listen up

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

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

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Photo – Ana Madeleine Uribe from Pexels (https://www.pexels.com/@bananamade)

Watch and Go – How do TV and film influence Chinese travellers?

Image: Malin Head, Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Appeared in the latest Star Wars franchise films.

Is it really a travel incentive?

Travelling abroad to visit film and television locations is an often-overlooked tourism incentive. Since Chinese tourists are beginning to favour authentic travel experiences over shopping and organised group tour packages, travelling to see film and television shooting locations, often in remote areas of countries steeped with history or natural beauty, plays right into this narrative.

Despite the blind-eye turned to articles and reports concerning this subject, it is hardly a recent phenomenon. I am guilty myself of reserving particular days of my holiday itinerary to visit iconic film and TV locations, such as Tokyo’s Park Hyatt Hotel, famously featured in Lost in Translation, and the city walls of Dubrovnik, which double as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones (more on this later). I’m certainly not alone – the Making of Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Bros Studios in Watford was the most-booked attraction through TripAdvisor last year.

This article hopes to uncover how and why film and TV location tourism is an important trend tour operators should consider when developing products for Chinese tourists.

Lights, Camera, Action

A recent webinar co-hosted by Mafengwo revealed while Chinese people watch films or TV for its content and characters, they also pay close attention to shooting locations. According to Mafengwo, 25% of Chinese FIT travellers will visit a film or TV shooting location during their next domestic or international trip. 42% of these FIT travellers are from the post-90s generation, meaning this is a hugely popular travel experience among young people.

Reality shows, TV series, and animations have more influence over FIT travellers than any other genre. Nicholas Tse, a famous Chinese chef, recently visited New Zealand to film his reality show Chef Nic, which has received over 1.04 billion hits across Tencent and iQiyi since 2014. China is “New Zealand’s second largest international visitor market”, meaning Chef Nic may help attract Chinese travellers to New Zealand.

Among the most popular destinations to visit due to film and TV shooting locations are Northern Ireland, Turkey’s Istanbul, Morocco’s Casablanca, Iceland, and the Koh Chang ‘Elephant Island’ in Thailand. Elephant Island is the filming location of the popular Chinese reality show Chinese Restaurant, which invites Chinese celebrities to open and run their own independent restaurant. Following the success of the show’s pilot episode, broadcast in July 2017, Elephant Island witnessed a 547% increase in visitors.

The ‘Lost in Thailand effect’

This was not the first time Thailand had welcomed international visitors to its shores for its filming locations. Film enthusiasts have been visiting the country’s northern city of Chiang Mai in droves since December 2012 when the Chinese comedy, Lost in Thailand, became a surprise blockbuster hit. By early January 2013, the film had grossed over RMB 1 billion, becoming China’s most successful homegrown production.

Lost in Thailand’s success was a driving factor in Thailand, welcoming 4.7 million Chinese visitors in 2013. The growth in tourism numbers to Thailand continues to be outstanding, with 8.8 million Chinese tourists visiting the country in 2016. On Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce website, travel agencies continue to offer Lost in Thailand-themed activities, such as crossing rivers on elephant back.

Seattle has seen similar success with the 2013 Chinese romantic comedy Finding Mr Right, known in China simply as Beijing Meets Seattle. The film’s popularity helped attract more than 75,000 Chinese visitors to the seaport city in 2013.

According to The Guardian, in 2014, more than a third of homes priced over $1 million in exclusive parts of Seattle and in its suburbs were “being bought by Chinese owners looking to move to America”. The success of these films in China has made tour operators realise the potential in attracting Chinese travellers to destinations featured in popular films and television series.

Europe is also benefitting

Europe has also tasted the fruit borne from this trend. In 2015, popular Chinese travel website Qyer attributed the popularity of Czech Republic, Switzerland and Turkey to the phenomenon of hit films and TV shows. Czech Republic witnessed a 119% increase in spending by Chinese tourists in 2015 – the country benefitted from the success of Somewhere Only We Know, the first Chinese film to be set in Prague. Like Seattle, direct flights from Beijing to Prague were introduced, seven months following the film’s Chinese release in mid-September of 2015.

The lasting influence of Somewhere Only We Know is still evident – over 491,000 Chinese tourists visited Czech Republic in 2017. The steps of the Rudolfinum, featured in the film’s finale, are still a popular place for Chinese tourists to gather and take photos.

Why international co-productions are important

Many countries have attempted to capitalise on the success of Chinese productions filmed abroad to improve their own tourism numbers. In 2015, following Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s, visit to China, three deals were made to create India-China co-productions, one of which was directed by a star of Lost in Thailand. China also made cooperation agreements with Russia and Spain in 2017 in the hope of rolling out their domestic films overseas. With regards to the China-Russia agreement, between Russian Film Group and Chinese film company Yangtze, the two countries plan to collaborate on three feature films planned for theatrical release, investing around $50 million each.

However, co-productions aren’t always a stable bet. The Great Wall, released in 2017 and starring Matt Damon, is the most expensive China-US co-production to date, but it fell short of box office forecasts, despite becoming one of China’s highest grossing films. The difficulty with co-productions is “finding films and stories that can work both in China and international markets”, but if done correctly, these films can gain mass market, international appeal – drawing more eyes to the locations shown on-screen.

Closer to home

The UK’s film and television history also contributes to its popularity. Our recent article on the EU-China Tourism Year explored some of the UK’s key film and television-related attractions that appeal to Chinese tourists – from Castle Howard to Dover Castle. While these particular locations are well-known for their cultural heritage, their appearance in popular British dramas and Disney musicals attract hundreds of thousands of overseas tourists every year.

The HBO fantasy drama Game of Thrones, most of which is shot in Northern Ireland, has become surprisingly popular in China. When the first season aired there in 2014, it was heavily censored by China Central Television, which removed all traces of violence and nudity. In this form, Asia Times described the show as like “watching a documentary of European castles on the History Channel”.

Since then, the rise of online video platforms in China like Youku, and WeChat mini programs like Tencent Video, have allowed viewers to watch uncensored versions of the show with Mandarin subtitles.

Ctrip discovered that Game of Thrones is putting countries like Croatia, Northern Ireland, and Iceland on the Chinese map. The online travel agency reported that the number of Chinese tourists who booked a visit to Croatia through the website in the first half of 2017 increased by 300% compared with 2016, while Iceland saw its tour booking numbers increase by 148%.

In August 2017, Tourism Ireland ran a promotion to remind Chinese fans that Northern Ireland is “one of the main filming locations of Game of Thrones”, which was estimated to be seen by 14 million people across Chinese social networks, film review sites, and Tourism Ireland’s social media accounts.

This was followed by the news that Northern Ireland is expecting over 2.3 million visitors in 2018 because of China’s emerging market. The recent announcement that Cathay Pacific will launch the first direct flight between Hong Kong and Dublin this year will help achieve this, helping to expand Northern Ireland’s visitors to the 100 Chinese nationals living in and around the Chinese city. Clearly, an international phenomenon like Thrones can incentivise travellers to visit places previously overshadowed by more popular destinations.

Show me the money

It looks as if film and television shooting locations are becoming a significant draw for Chinese tourists, and are a key incentive for them to travel abroad. The importance of film and television in travel of tourism should not be understated, and tour operators and DMOs should closely monitor Chinese productions set to film abroad so they can pounce early on any opportunities to promote their tours and destination.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, 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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