Building a brand in China during the pandemic using Weibo and WeChat

London North Eastern Railway (LNER) is the train operating company for the train line running from London to Scotland. The route serves some of Britain’s most popular destinations for Chinese tourists and students, including York, Leeds, Durham and Edinburgh. China Travel Outbound is LNER’s retained agency in China, delivering sales representation, PR and social media services since 2018.

Whilst some brands closed down their international marketing activity in response to the coronavirus pandemic, this forward thinking company understood the importance of keeping a brand presence going in China throughout 2020. Although the Chinese were unable to travel internationally, they were still dreaming and planning their future trips, searching online for inspiration and engaging with brands through social media channels.

LNER’s Weibo account has now grown from a standing start to over 58,000 followers in less than two years, making it one of the biggest Chinese social media accounts for a British transportation company. During lockdown, there have been different messaging strategies adopted as we moved through the pandemic. When the virus broke in China, our messaging was of support for Wuhan and the people of China then, as things progressed, we moved on to brand stories around the work LNER was doing to support staff, travellers and key workers, and to image-led destination-driven posts to inspire future travel. As the rail network opened up, our content started to include safety information and advice on travelling in accordance with new guidelines. 

To drive more followers, we collaborated with our destination partners, running competitions and promotions on Weibo. We also engaged with relevant accounts, such as attractions and retailers, posting comments and thoughts, to further drive awareness of the LNER Weibo and encourage followers. 

In August 2020, we identified a Chinese Weibo user group with a high interest in British literature. We contacted the Chinese owners and offered them a promotion for their followers to win free tickets on LNER and a set of classic British novels with associations along the LNER line, for the competition winners to read on the train when they next come to the UK.


During the pandemic, the number of followers rose by 12% from 52,000 in March 2020 to over 58,000 by the end of August and the account had 15.8 million views during that period.   The book promotion alone generated over half a million views, 654 reposts, 240 comments and 360 likes.

LNER further consolidated their online presence, launching an official WeChat account in August 2020, also managed by China Travel Outbound.

Chinese KOL Trip from London to Scotland by Rail


In May 2018, we were delighted to welcome the prolific Chinese blogger, Yuan Chao (西西里玩不停), AKA Sicilia, to the UK as a guest of London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Sicilia began her journey in London, and travelled all the way to Edinburgh via first-class train luxury, stopping at Durham, Newcastle, and York en-route. Her verdict was ‘I have always loved Australia, but actually I think the UK is more classy!’.


Our brief from LNER, then Virgin Trains East Coast, was to spread the word to Chinese travellers that catching the train is the best way to travel to London and the UK’s most beautiful cities. In order to achieve this, we set up an official Weibo account for LNER through our Beijing office.

Setting up a Weibo account is one thing, but building followers is quite another. To maximise the reach of this trip and secure flights, we negotiated a joint promotion with Beijing Capital Airlines to run a competition on its social media accounts to find the best travel blogger to come to the UK and travel the East Coast. This promotion was launched in April 2018 on Capital Airlines’ Weibo account which has over 1.3 million followers. The travel itinerary, including a full holiday package priced as a bookable product for its users, was hosted on HiApp, the Hainan Group’s new online travel platform. HiApp promoted the itinerary to its 739,000+ Weibo followers. Sicilia was the deserved winner of the competition.

Within just one month of launch, the LNER Weibo account had 10,100 followers.


Working with partners

In addition to LNER and Capital Airlines, we worked with eight other partners on Sicilia’s itinerary, including VisitYork, Visit County Durham, Visit Scotland, Marketing Edinburgh, Native Apartments, Household Cavalry Museum, Randall and Aubin and English Heritage. We constructed an eight-day itinerary to cover every step of Sicilia’s UK trip.



We were delighted with the results of this project which exceeded all our expectations. Sicilia shared her travel experiences throughout the trip on the popular Chinese social media platforms, WeChat and Weibo. She posted 12 posts on her official WeChat account including a great selection of images with each post, and published nine posts on Weibo, where she has over 144,000 followers.

She wrote an extensive blog post which has been published on China’s most popular travel review site, Mafengwo, as well as Ctrip, Qyer, Autohome, and XCAR BBS, where it received outstanding user engagement.

On 3rd July, the blog made the coveted home page of Ctrip’s mobile site. One week later on Tuesday 10th July, the blog was featured on Mafengwo’s home page for five days, a place awarded to the site’s top five blogs. The post made it to Qyer BBS’s homepage on Wednesday 11th July where it was tagged and promoted by Qyer as recommended content. On 3rd August, it reached the home page of XCAR BBS, and lastly, on 22nd August, the blog featured on the home page of Qyer’s main site.

As of August 2018, the blog’s total views have reached over 171,000 across the five platforms, and it has over 5,360 likes and 1,220 comments. 4,225 users have saved the blog for future reference when planning their next trip abroad. These figures will continue to grow as budding Chinese travellers interested in visiting the UK are drawn to the blog.

Sicilia enjoyed her trip so much that she intends to come back to the UK in the summer of 2018, this time bringing her family with her.


Royal Britain Press Trip – National Geographic Traveller Magazine China

In early 2018, we started conversations with our contacts at National Geographic Traveller Magazine China about visiting the UK to write a feature to coincide with the forthcoming Royal Wedding. The senior writer at Nat Geo is Mr Han, a fan of art history and of the UK. We embarked on a project to bring Mr Han, a videographer, and photographer, and Sarah our Chinese PR Director, over to England to write a feature about Royal Britain.

We worked with a host of attractions in and around London to deliver an exciting, jam-packed trip for the journalists. The team enjoyed four nights in London, immersing themselves in the lived histories of Historic Royal Palaces’ Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London, Royal Museums Greenwich’s Queen’s House, Cutty Sark, and Royal Observatory, and the English Heritage site Eltham Palace. They also experienced royal tradition and elaborate ceremony at the Household Cavalry Museum. The trip offered the journalists many picturesque sights, from the overwhelming natural beauty of Kew Gardens, to the panorama of London’s iconic attractions seen from a City Cruises boat from Greenwich to Westminster.

The team went on from London to Dover to see the grandiose White Cliffs and Dover Castle, England’s largest castle. The trip concluded with three nights in Brighton, organised in collaboration with VisitBrighton. Here, they visited the party palace of another prince – the Royal Pavilion, went to a pub, saw the Seven Sisters, and even stayed out til the wee hours at the student night at one of the seafront clubs.

We organised exclusive interviews with the museum curators, directors and historical experts to ensure that the resulting feature was full of colour and engaging stories about Britain’s royal heritage.









The article hit the newsstands before the Royal Wedding and the associated social media was released on the happy day. With so many partners involved, this was a complex press trip to organise, but the results made it all worthwhile. The feature ran to 22 pages with an overall value of £737,000.

The magazine receives a circulation of 977,000 copies per month, and has a readership of 2,931,000.

Social Media

The trip received fantastic coverage on National Geographic Traveler China’s official WeChat and Weibo accounts. WeChat has over 1 billion active monthly users, and at the time of writing, the National Geographic Traveler Weibo account has 612,200 followers. Evidently, these posts had huge potential reach.

Video Coverage

The videographer’s beautiful work is showcased in a video of the trip, which featured on various mainstream Chinese video websites under official National Geographic Traveler accounts, including Tencent, Tudou, and Youku.

See the video below:


We were delighted with the results of this project, and it was great to see it all come together to promote Britain in such a prestigious title.

Click here to view the National Geographic Traveler Magazine China Royal Britain feature.

Taiwanese Superstar Nana Ou-yang visits Bristol

One of the most effective ways to influence Chinese consumers and to get them to actively engage with your tourism or travel brand is to embrace the power of celebrity. Chinese millennials love to know what celebrities are doing and saying, and follow them avidly via online media channels, WeChat and Weibo. Websites and other media platforms often work with celebrities or high profile bloggers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to take them on trips overseas and film, photograph and record their experiences abroad.

One such platform is, China’s ‘go-to’ fashion and lifestyle website that attracts a phenomenal following of more than 1 million on WeChat and more than 570,000 on Weibo. We have a great relationship with Haibao, who asked us to organise a bespoke celebrity media trip for the 17-year old A-lister Nana Ou-Yang. This Taiwanese film star and musician is a huge star in China with over 10 million Weibo followers.

The brief was to celebrate England’s artistic British style and to provide Nana and her team with a cultural treat following on from their attendance at London Fashion Week. We had been talking to Destination Bristol about opportunities to promote the city’s hip, fashionable and artistic credentials and its music scene to the Chinese so this project was perfect for them.

The trip

Following hours of planning and research, Nana, her mum and her extensive crew of 10 (make-up artists, hairdressers and cameramen) visited Bristol in September 2017. The trip offered Bristol the opportunity to highlight their key attractions and put the city on the global map, especially in China. SS Great Britain, creating her own ‘Banksy’, and a riding in a hot air balloon – these are just some of the experiences Nana enjoyed during her visit. Destination Bristol even organised for Nana to play her cello overlooking the Suspension Bridge with Bristol-based band ‘Transition’, who sing in Chinese and have a massive following in China.


In terms of organisation, the trip was complex to organise, but in terms of media worth and publicity, the trip was a great success. Haibao started publicising Bristol before Nana had even set foot in the city. Banner ads, videos and have appeared on the Haibao site.

Nana’s WeChat post of the trip garnered 98,000 views its first week alone. Two videos were made: one with a fashion emphasis, using Bristol as a backdrop, and the other was a more traditional trip video. Each received more than 60,000 views within one week.

To see the October WeChat post, please click here.

Filming with CCTV in Brighton

China Central Television location shoot in Brighton

China Central TV (CCTV) is China’s premier TV network, with an audience reach of 1.2 billion people across Asia. The London office contacted China Travel Outbound to invite us to pitch against two other UK towns to host CCTV’s annual Chinese New Year tourism story for the news channel. This story was to be about the etiquette of travelling in response to the President’s previous public invitation to the Chinese nation to be careful to follow local customs and manners when travelling.

We offered the journalist a number of different reasons why she should choose Brighton over the other cities she had been considering (Oxford and Cambridge), and were delighted that our pitch was successful. The crew spent two days filming in Brighton and recorded a particularly long segment in the Royal Pavilion, including a piece about the artefacts within the museum and an interview with one of Brighton and Hove’s Councillors. The crew also visited The Regency Fish Restaurant and interviewed the owner about why he feels his restaurant is such a success with the Chinese, and they interviewed our Managing Director, Helena Beard, about the welcome offered to Chinese visitors to the city.

The piece ran on the news over the Chinese New Year period, with regular repeats throughout the day. Two other holiday destinations were also featured in the piece; a domestic tourism resort and Walt Disneyworld Resort, Florida. We were absolutely thrilled to have positioned Brighton & Hove amongst such prestigious company and to have delivered these outstanding audience figures for our client.

Sales Mission in China for Royal Museums Greenwich

RMG Success in China

China Travel Outbound engaged with Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) to help them promote their four London museums – the Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark, Queen’s House, and the National Maritime Museum. One of the early activities was a sales mission for RMG’s Trade Marketing Manager, Amy O’Donovan, to visit Beijing with us to gain a better understanding of the market, introduce the museums to a hand-picked selection of tour operators, and get important feedback from our trade partners about the RMG product and its opportunities in China.

During her three day mission in Beijing, Amy met with student specialists, major online travel agents, mainstream and specialist tour operators. She also met travel social media review site,, for a presentation about the social media landscape in China and the scale and influence of user generated content in China. She was also interviewed by the Chinese travel trade press about her mission to China and RMG’s attractions.

China Travel Outbound’s sales missions are all tailor made to meet our clients’ objectives. We only organise meetings with pre-qualified operators and agents with good potential to sell our clients’ products, and we also suggest meetings which expand our client’s understanding of the market or deliver press coverage. You are looked after at all times, with airport transfers and a private driver and bilingual account manager escorting you to every appointment.

Amy O’Donovan, Travel Trade Marketing and Sales Manager, RMG:

 ‘China can be difficult to navigate and the language is an obvious barrier. If you’re looking to target the Chinese market, I’d highly recommend China Travel Outbound. For me, they organised a really good sales mission and made sure I had a great trip.’

Student VIP Fam Trip to Brighton & Hove

Chinese Student Society influencers take to Brighton & Hove

Almost one-third of non-EU students studying in the UK are from China, and the UK is one of the most popular countries in the world for overseas study. During their studies, students explore beyond their university towns and share their experiences with their fellow students, and friends and family back in China, primarily using social media. We were keen to find a way to engage this large group for the benefit of our tourism clients, and to leverage their activity on Chinese social media.

Many universities have a Chinese Student Society which provides a strong network for students and support during their time away from home. The Presidents of these societies have access to various communications platforms, including well-followed WeChat accounts, Weibo and the Society communication outlets. They also have great personal networks. We felt that these senior members of the Societies would be our prime influencers.

Thus, in March 2017, the first ever Chinese Student Society VIP Fam Trip took place in Brighton & Hove. We worked with VisitBrighton to organise a fun-packed weekend for the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of Chinese Student Societies from six UK universities; King’s College London, University of Birmingham, University of the West of England, Bournemouth University, Lancaster University and Loughborough University.

The students and their partners had a fantastic time exploring the city, eating out in restaurants such as the award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Terre a Terre, and the seafood restaurant, The Regency. They visited some of Brighton’s iconic sights such as the Royal Pavilion, the Palace Pier, Brighton Beach and the vintage shopping areas of the North Laine and The Lanes. As students, they also made the most of the city’s nightlife, enjoying live music, pubs, clubs and even a karaoke bar.  All their experiences were photographed, photoshopped (as is common practice in China!) and shared through their Societies’ and their own social media networks.

Upon their return, the students were able to tell their friends and family about Brighton and the attractions, restaurants, and hotels they visited. They even wrote on some of China’s most influential social media sites.


The results are in – we have collected five full trip reviews on Mafengwo, Ctrip, Qyer, Qunar and TripAdvisor. Trip reviews have also been posted on four of the Societies’ WeChat accounts, as well as dozens of images and comments have been shared on personal WeChat and Facebook accounts with family, friends and other members of the Chinese Student Societies.

Brighton & Hove’s Student VIP Trip has reached 106,882+ people on social media!

Media Event for Leeds City Region

Event: Bake off in Beijing for the Leeds City Region

Our team in Beijing organised and hosted a very unusual media workshop for ten of Beijing’s top travel journalists, introducing them to the English cities of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, and the surrounding regions of West Yorkshire.

We like to do things a bit differently at China Travel Outbound, so our Beijing Director, Vivienne Song, invited the media to a trendy bakery in the city, for a lesson in making their own ‘naked cakes’, which have no icing. They’re not only traditionally British, but also bang on-trend. Ask any bride-to-be considering her wedding cake this year!

Our journalists loved hearing about the Leeds City Region, offering their support to China Travel Outbound in their promotion of the region in China. They were given a presentation on the city’s key attractions, and a press pack of information. They were also delighted with their Union Jack aprons, which they took with them as a memento of the day – plus their own cakes, of course!


As a result of this activity, ten articles about Leeds, Bradford, and Huddersfield have been published online and in Chinese media including Beijing Times, Travel Weekly and Lonely Planet Magazine. Celebrity chef, Mr Lee Hao, also posted articles and images about Leeds and the workshop on his Weibo account, which reaches 369,000 followers. The media value of the coverage exceeded £15,000.

Chinese titles including Beijing Times, Travel Weekly and Lonely Planet Magazine.

Celebrity Trip Reaches 3 Million on Weibo for Hard Rock Cafe


Celebrity Rock Band visits the Hard Rock Cafe

Celebrities are extremely influential in China and, when we heard A-list rock band, Miserable Faith, was coming to the UK, we made sure that our client, Hard Rock Cafe, became part of their journey. The resulting coverage reached 3 million people on Chinese social media platform, Weibo.


In Summer 2016, we heard through our contacts in Beijing that Chinese rock group, Miserable Faith, would be visiting the UK on a tour sponsored by Canon and China’s most important travel social media and review site, Mafengwo. When we heard they were coming to London, we knew that we had to invite them to lunch at the original Hard Rock Cafe. So we did.

The band and its entourage enjoyed a great meal at Hard Rock Cafe – they were given a VIP tour of The Vault to see the restaurant’s fantastic memorabilia and to have their pictures taken. They were also presented with classic t-shirts bearing their names – a wonderful gift to take home with them.


Miserable Faith is one of the most popular rock bands in China. The band formed in 1999, have released six albums, and regularly headline China’s outdoor music festivals. Mafengwo has 2.98 million Weibo followers and, following Miserable Faith’s visit to Hard Rock Cafe, they posted about the visit on the social media platform. Miserable Faith re-posted immediately on their Weibo account to their own 369,000 followers, and added their own content and comments.

A celebrity-endorsed post like this on Weibo can cost upwards of £10,000 in China. Due to our connections and relationships in Beijing, we were able to deliver this for our client, Hard Rock Cafe, without charge.

On their return, the band wrote a travelogue hosted with click-through home page banners on The travelogue imagery included the Hard Rock Cafe’s iconic guitar, and pictures of their food, the restaurant, the Hard Rock Cafe’s museum, The Vault, and their merchandise. Mafengwo has 35 million visitors a day on its app and website, and a travelogue like this is valued at around £23,000.

See the full media coverage here: miserable-faiths-media-clipping.

The influence of the Chinese media and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) can not be overestimated, and reaching out to them on behalf of our clients is one of our top priorities. In 2016, we hosted a journalist from the upmarket Chinese magazine, Travel +, at the Hard Rock Cafe in New Orleans, an influential Chinese travel blogger for lunch in Phoenix City, and a TV crew at the Hard Rock Cafe in Saipan.

Researching the Brighton Brand with the Chinese Travel Trade

Research: Travel trade survey for VisitBrighton

We started working with the team at VisitBrighton in early 2016, and very quickly came to realise that the brand awareness of the city of Brighton and Hove was very low in China. We needed a way to introduce the city to Chinese tour operators, find out what they already knew, and take their advice on what challenges Brighton is facing in the Chinese travel market.

With nearly 80% of Chinese visitors to the UK booking via the travel trade, the views of our tour operator colleagues are extremely helpful when we are planning our strategy to support our clients’ brands, particularly where the brand has yet to gain traction in China.

Our survey for Brighton involved our team in Beijing calling around 30 tour operator contacts to ask them questions about brand awareness, product knowledge, inclusion in itineraries, and customer opportunities. It also opened the door for VisitBrighton, offering a ‘soft’ collaborative introduction to show the Chinese travel trade that Brighton is committed to the Chinese market, and to ask for their assistance in turning the city’s commitment into sales results. This collaborative approach is a key part of Chinese business culture, something very well understood by our team of Chinese nationals in Beijing.


The responses from our survey delivered useful feedback for VisitBrighton and helped formulate our strategy for the next 12 months’ promotion of the city in China.