Last month, we wrote about the Top Five Challenges faced by UK tourism brands in accessing the Chinese travel market. Here, we look at the first of those challenges; Generating Results with the Chinese Travel Trade
When I talk to marketing managers on their return from events or sales missions where they have met with Chinese tour operators, they are full of optimism about the receptiveness of their counterparts. However, a few months later, the same people will tell me that nothing has happened. Despite the interest, the questions, and the promises that your attraction or destination would be featured in itineraries and promotions, six months later your follow up emails have gone unanswered and there are no results to shout about. So what went wrong?
In order to understand what is happening, you first need to understand two elements of Chinese culture. The first is Guanxi. Guanxi is an important ideal in Chinese society and its origins lie in the Chinese philosophy Confucianism. China is a hierarchical society and social order, trust and giving and receiving are central to the foundation of Guanxi networks. It is also a collectivist culture and the interests of the group are paramount.
Put more simply, the concept of Guanxi explains why it is going to take you a very long time to start to generate business with Chinese tour operators if your only connection with them comes once a year at an event followed up by a few emails. Relationships are what matter in Chinese business culture, and you need to give before you can start to receive. Once your relationship is established though, and you start to work together, the partnership will be long lasting and fruitful for both sides.
The other important thing to understand is that it is considered very rude to say ‘no’ in China. The Chinese society is one which believes that it is acceptable that we are not all equal. We have a rank and we accept it. This also makes the Chinese people very eager to please. So Chinese people will always try to find a way to say ‘yes’. You sit in front of them with your sales presentation and boundless enthusiasm for your attraction, hotel, destination, or product. They sit in front of you feeling that they want to help you. Whether they can or not may be irrelevant. It would be too rude to say ‘no’, so they say ‘yes’. Afterwards, they try to find a way to deliver that yes. If they can, they will. If they can’t, they won’t. This seems very strange to the British culture where we are more used to dealing with the European ethic that it is more morally acceptable to say ‘no’ and move on. What we see as ‘wasting time’, the Chinese see as politeness and standard practice.
Once you understand these two fundamentals, it is easier to see that you are not failing, you are just facing some of the challenges of a working with a unique business culture. The question is, how do you overcome these challenges?
If you have the time, the money and the inclination, you can start to build your own relationships with your Chinese colleagues. Visit them in their offices in China, spend time with them socially, and connect with them on social media. Ask questions about their families and try to form proper friendships and connections. Be generous, do not focus on money, think what you can do for the other person. If you can, help them out with personal favours, such as offering an internship to a young relative, or giving advice.
The Chinese society is a collective society, and Chinese people will always do business with a friend or family member before a stranger. If you do not have the ability to build these relationships yourself, you can employ an intermediary, such as China Travel Outbound, to represent your brand and benefit from the relationships its staff already have. In this way, your brand will be supported by the tour operator friends of your account manager because they want to help him or her and they understand that he/she needs to generate results for you in order to be successful.
And how do you know when a ‘yes’ is actually a ‘no’? This takes time and experience and can also depend upon whom you are talking to. Some operators are more forthcoming and comfortable in an international environment than others. Again, working with a Chinese national with experience in the industry will help. We often organize escorted tailored sales missions for our clients. Each meeting is attended by our staff who not only translate your language for the tour operator and manage questions and answers but, valuably, are able to probe effectively and politely to deliver genuine feedback to our clients about what is possible, what isn’t, and what needs changing before a deal is likely to be done.
Using these methods, you can get a true picture and start to make some progress. It may take a bit longer to start seeing results in the Chinese market compared to Europe or the US, but the rewards are definitely worth the wait.
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