Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sail

7 million Chinese tourists are estimated to be travelling abroad during the upcoming Chinese New Year, but who’s to say they will be travelling by plane? With the rapid growth of China’s FITs who seek fulfilling and authentic travel experiences, cruise trips are gradually becoming a popular way for Chinese tourists to see the big blue world. With China’s biggest holiday on the horizon, we thought this to be a great opportunity to analyse this trend, identifying the key cruise operators providing cruise trips for Chinese travellers, where Chinese tourists take cruises, and how to accommodate them on-board.

The market has potential

It’s an exciting time for China’s cruise industry – the country’s cruise liners are beginning to realise they need to go further afield to satisfy their customers. As the industry continues to develop, it is expected to become “the largest cruise market in the world.” This will depend on whether the industry can harness the huge potential of the Chinese travel market, who made an estimated 140 million overseas trips in 2018.

It is estimated that the capacity of China’s cruise lines will decline 4.4% in 2019. The two major reasons for this are the knock-on effect of 2017’s Chinese travel ban to South Korea, and the absence of routes with diverse destinations – the majority of cruises setting sail from China’s coasts stop off in South Korea and Japan, missing out exciting Southeast Asian destinations such as the Philippines and Vietnam. This is to say, despite the demand, cruises from China simply lack the variety of destinations enjoyed by cruise trips around Europe and North America.

In response, many companies are making considerable efforts to bring Chinese holidaymakers overseas to embark on their first cruise experience. Royal Caribbean Cruises was the top ranked brand in a ‘Best Experiences’ customer satisfaction survey, conducted by brand experience agency Jack Morton, where Chinese consumers were among the 6,000 surveyed. Furthermore, the brand is among the most popular in China’s cruise industry, and in 2019, they will launch their Spectrum of the Seas cruise line that aims to provide high-quality experiences “specifically tailored to Chinese guests.” The cruise line, which will sail from Barcelona to Shanghai across a 51-night voyage, will entertain over 4,200 guests with virtual reality experiences, luxury dining offering both Chinese and Western cuisines, and the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex ever to set sail. This level of commitment to the China market by such a major brand is testament to the huge potential of the China cruise market.

Costa Group Asia, a major cruise operator in Europe and Asia, will launch its first ship designed specifically for the Chinese market in 2019. The Costa Venezia aims to provide an immersive Italian experience for Chinese travellers and its 5,100 passengers with boutique shops selling goods from luxury Italian brands, a theatre evocative of Venice’s iconic Teatro La Fenice and an atrium inspired by St. Mark’s Square. The cruise will set sail on a 53-day voyage in March 2019 covering the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Furthermore, Costa Cruises are evidently committed to improving their ‘China Welcome’. In 2018, the company partnered with football club Juventus to provide unique “football at sea” experiences especially for Chinese guests boarding its Costa Serena cruise liner. The experiences include the Juventus Museum decorated with trophies and club memorabilia, and a mini football academy for children to hone their skills. In addition, in 2017, Costa Serena was the first Costa Cruise to allow Chinese guests to pay using Alipay mobile payments.

Likewise, Princess Cruises, owned by the same corporation as the Costa Cruises Group, announced in December 2018 that it will introduce Alipay and WeChat Pay mobile payment systems on its North American cruises, being the first cruise liner to do this. Thus, if cruise companies want to welcome more Chinese travellers on-board, they need to show that they are making an effort to accommodate them. This is evidently paving way for competition between the major cruise companies who are acknowledging the potential of the China market and are targeting Chinese tourists with unique experiences offered only by their cruises.

Indeed, exciting, one-of-a-kind experiences like these are exactly what travel and culture hungry Chinese tourists are looking for, and could go a long way to bringing Chinese tourists away from airport terminals and back to the docks. Approximately 2.5 million Chinese outbound global travellers took cruise trips in 2017, but this is expected to rise to 8-10 million by 2025.

Venturing to the End of the Earth

Over the past few months, you may have seen a plethora of articles about a growing number of Chinese travellers embarking on cruises to Antarctica. Today, China is Antarctica’s second-largest tourism market, having welcomed 8,273 Chinese visitors in the 2017-18 season, and approximately 90% of Chinese tourists visiting Antarctica choose to travel there via cruise (only 1%  directly fly to the South Pole). Perhaps the credit lies with Ctrip who provide nearly 200 Antarctic products on their platform and over 20 ships to choose from.

However, this adventure isn’t cheap, and appeals largely to group travellers who can afford to take extended time out of work. Figures from 2018 indicate Chinese tourists spent an average of 23 days on Antarctic tours, spending between $7,000 and $16,000 USD. Nevertheless, it seems money is no object for Chinese tourists looking for unusual yet fulfilling experiences that deliver ‘face’ status – on Ctrip, most Antarctic cruises for January and February have sold out, and the agency has increased its Antarctic products by 30% this year to meet the demand. This reinforces that unique travel experiences like these are becoming increasingly more important to Chinese travellers.

River cruises are making huge waves in accommodating Chinese guests

Idyllically cruising down one of the world’s most famous rivers and taking in its beautiful scenery is a popular travel experience, and certain river cruise companies are recognising the huge potential of attracting Chinese tourists to these experiences. In 2016, Viking Cruises announced its first step in the China market by dedicating two of its Europe river ships for Chinese travellers. The ships, which both set sail in 2017 along the Rhine and Danube rivers respectively, were fully staffed with Mandarin-speakers who made up all their hotel crew, included Mandarin signage, and a cuisine designed by a ‘Master Chef China’ judge. Furthermore, each ship assigned eight Mandarin guides to groups for their ground programs.

Viking were this committed to their ‘China Welcome’ to ensure their Chinese guests’ concerns about the language barrier, transportation and food and services were eliminated, and it seems to have paid off. Both cruises are still running, with Viking dedicating 100 tours for them in 2018, and the company now expects its cruises targeting Chinese travellers to account for half of their European river cruises in the future. Chinese guests on Viking’s Mandarin-language cruises can now also join a dedicated WeChat group to receive updates and share photos taken during the trip with each other.

This shows that, if their travel needs are accommodated for, there is an innate desire among Chinese travellers to experience a variety of destinations in the luxury and comfort of cruise tours, and there is definitely huge potential for them to become one of the authentic travel experiences they crave.

Chinese tourist spending – opportunity for land and sea

Chinese tourists have a strong spending power for duty-free shops; 40% of Chinese travellers purchase duty-free goods with an average receipt of $232, higher than the $146 global average. China’s cruise industry seems to have acknowledged this, and is redeveloping its cruise terminals to match the quality of services the best airport terminals provide. Shanghai’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal is undergoing redevelopment to transform into a “potential tourist attraction” itself, replacing its once solitary duty-free store with a duty-free shopping complex stocking high-end goods. Furthermore, the city plans to introduce linkages between cruises, airlines, trains and buses, to not only improve convenience of travel but to encourage Chinese tourists to visit the cruise terminal for their shopping needs alone. Perhaps overseas destinations should acknowledge this redevelopment and capitalise on Chinese tourists’ spending power by looking to provide more, and better, shopping facilities at their cruise ship ports (and if they accept Chinese mobile payments, even better!).

Reeling it in

As cruise companies are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities arising from China’s outbound tourism market, competition has ensued to ensure their ‘extra steps’ to accommodate Chinese travellers are being recognised inside-and-outside the industry. Perhaps this is why Viking Cruises’ Chinese traveller focused river cruises are the most publicised and prominent in their field – it will be interesting to monitor whether competing river cruise operators will follow suit and introduce more Mandarin-language services. Cruise companies can use all the PR they can get when it comes to the China market.

One way to promote your Chinese tourist friendly cruise trip would be through hosting an influential Chinese Key Opinion Leader, who could not only blog about the wide variety of destinations visited throughout the journey, but most importantly, describe in detail the facilities and services on the cruise that accommodate Chinese guests and where these can be improved. If an influential KOL tells their audience “this particular cruise line makes the extra effort with its Chinese guests” in a blog that reaches the home pages of China’s key travel platforms, this would no doubt put them on the radar for adventurous Chinese travellers.

If you are interested in finding out more about marketing your cruises to the Chinese, including the benefits of hosting a Chinese KOL, please feel free to contact us for a chat.

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Photo by ben o’bro on Unsplash

How to attract Chinese tourists to your destination

As Chinese outbound tourists travel further and more frequently, competition to attract these high-spending visitors intensifies. From the China-Australia Tourism Year to Mandarin-speaking wine educators in California’s Napa Valley, sometimes it seems as if every destination, visitor attraction and hotel chain is targeting Chinese tourists.

And yet the number of destinations which truly excel in appealing to the Chinese is small. That means there’s a great opportunity for savvy destinations to sneak ahead of their competitors in the Chinese tourism stakes. There is still time to make your destination Chinese-friendly and to make it known amongst this most valuable of target markets.

Here are China Travel Outbound’s top tips for making your destination appealing to the Chinese.

Make yourself attractive to the Chinese before departure

The average Chinese tourist plans and researches their trip almost 3 months in advance, with 43% consulting travel, shopping and fashion websites and 38% using brand channels on social media. To get in front of this audience, you must have some kind of presence on WeChat and Weibo, indispensable social media platforms for the Chinese. You can do this via your own social media accounts, or by using someone else’s and tapping into their influence and their friends and fans.  The digital space is great for promoting your destination; use rich video showcasing its experiential offer or get the support of a Chinese vlogger or KOL.

Make sure the Chinese travel trade know you are there

The vast majority of  bookings overseas from China are still made via travel agents and tour operators, so even if you are targeting the FITs, you still need the Chinese travel trade to sell your destination. Connect with them through trade shows, via DMCs, trade PR or using the services of an in-market representative. Or, ideally, all of the above.

Welcome your Chinese visitors in Mandarin

You don’t have to undertake extensive cultural training to make your Chinese guests feel welcome. Just learning a few key phrases in Mandarin and understanding frequent requests is useful. All the better if you have fluent Mandarin speakers to say ‘ni hao’ to your Chinese arrivals.

Flights to Las Vegas from Hainan are greeted by bilingual ‘ambassadors’ who welcome travellers and help with directions. Tourism Tasmania has started hiring bilingual guides at its most popular national parks. If your Chinese visitor numbers are still small, signage (when used well) and literature can provide a practical and affordable alternative. When China Southern introduced direct flights between Guangzhou and Adelaide, Adelaide rolled out directional signage in Chinese.

Make it easy for your tourism businesses to be Chinese-friendly

Work with your tourism businesses to create a fully Chinese-friendly destination. Chinese tourism has brought £43m to Scotland over the last 3 years and Edinburgh’s Tourism Action Group offers comprehensive support, advice and training to help its tourism businesses to attract, and welcome, Chinese visitors. Work with your service providers to implement some entry-level Chinese-friendly innovations, such as signage in Mandarin and a simplified, translated menu at restaurants, and build your Chinese offering from there. We offer China Ready Training through our partners at Capela China. One day workshops for up to 10 people can get your business ready to accept and welcome Chinese guests and help you navigate the cultural challenges of working with China.

Rice and the new wave of Chinese food tourism

Chinese restaurants continue to be attractive to Chinese tourists but those offering other cuisines stand a better chance of attracting the new wave of Chinese food tourists if there’s upfront information in Chinese. Offering rice as an accompaniment to any cuisine will make the Chinese feel ‘at home’ too. The big sellers at the seafood restaurants in Brighton we work with are the risottos, the seafood spaghettis, oysters, and the huge, shareable, seafood platters including lobster, crab and other shellfish. Sharing is the norm and, as a rule, hot food trumps cold.

Communal dining is important to the Chinese, and deft cultural touches such as according the highest respect to the oldest person in the party – which might seem counter-intuitive when the most fluent English speaker is younger – is the kind of attention to detail which garners positive reviews on Chinese social media sites.

It’s easier for the Chinese to shop if they can pay

The Chinese don’t use Western credit cards and don’t want to carry large amounts of cash, so try to offer the most popular Chinese payment options: China Union Pay, Alipay and WeChat Wallet. These online payment platforms are ubiquitous in China and savvy overseas destinations and retailers, including Harrods and Body Shop in London, are reaping the rewards of early adoption.

Adapt to changing Chinese tourism trends

It’s not just one big group market. Independent travel is on the rise and self-drive, Airbnb and caravanning are seeing increasing take-up too. Chinese millennials are a force to be reckoned with and this group of digital natives, in particular, are self-assured and confident about making their own travel arrangements.

Make sure your website and destination information is available to the Chinese – and not just in straight translation but in formats, design and wording which meet Chinese needs. Destination websites should also be hosted in Hong Kong or mainland China so they can be viewed in China. Remember that Google is banned in China, so if your website is packed with Google features, such as Google maps, it won’t upload easily in China. These functions need to be stripped out.

Experiential travel is on the up for Chinese tourists, with heritage products and experiences finding favour for their novelty as well as their WOW factor for social media. Some of Washington State’s most popular products are rural experiences including fishing and spending time in nature, and visitors to Japan are shunning shopping in favour of hot springs and sand baths. What authentic heritage experiences and products can you highlight to the Chinese?

Make it easy for the Chinese to recommend you

Make WiFi as widely available as possible so that your Chinese visitors can share their experiences in real time on social media. And make sure you monitor and respond to comments on social media review sites such as Mafengwo and DaoDao. This will give you invaluable insight into what the Chinese like and don’t like about your destination and its hotels, attractions and restaurants.

Lobby for easy access to your country

Make visas easy to buy and widely available in China to individual travellers. Better still, make visas purchasable on arrival, or allow accredited tour companies to process visa applications in advance for group travellers. Precisely this change last year saw South Africa grow its Chinese visitors by +53%.

Introduce a multi-year, multiple entry visa. Australia is trailing a 10-year multiple entry visa for Chinese visitors as part of a package of China-Australia Tourism Year initiatives in 2017.  Don’t get left behind; if it’s difficult for the Chinese to enter your country, lobby your government for easier access. The sheer size of the Chinese tourism opportunity is reason enough for more open entrance policies.

Don’t forget the Chinese who are already here

The Chinese value overseas education highly and, in particular, the USA and the UK. There are over 130,000 Chinese students studying in the UK, all of whom see this experience as an investment in their future and are keen to explore. They also have access to important social networks both in the UK and back home in China. To tap into these networks, China Travel Outbound has launched a new Student VIP Travel programme, making connections with the Presidents of the Chinese Student Societies of the UK’s universities and inviting these important influencers to experience our clients’ products.

Put Chinese-friendliness at the heart of your strategy

Don’t be half-hearted about attracting the Chinese market. It’s the biggest outbound tourism market in the world and it’s growing the fastest too. But you need to invest and be committed to get a return – and it requires special, expert attention from professionals with thorough knowledge of China and its travel market.

The rewards are considerable. By marketing differently to the Chinese, Las Vegas has grown a whole new audience of Chinese millennials not interested in casinos, benefiting other tourist attractions as Chinese visitors spend on dining, shopping and leisure activities instead. High-end Chinese tourists visiting Perth in Western Australia are spending up to AU$10,000 on a week’s luxury travel in the state.

Are you ready to start your journey to attract the Chinese to your destination?

 

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