How to set up a WeChat business account for your tourism brand

For those new to the Chinese market, WeChat might seem confusing. However with many Western social media platforms being inaccessible in China, WeChat takes centre stage. If you’re asking what WeChat is, what you can do on it, how big it is, look no further. We’ve put together a little introductory guide to WeChat for you.

WeChat explained

WeChat is a mobile text and voice messaging communication service. In just six short years since its release in 2011, it has become one of the largest standalone messaging apps in the world, rivalling Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. In the first quarter of 2017, WeChat had 938 million monthly active users, a 28% growth year-on-year. And according to China Skinny, “WeChat’s reach and influence is unrivalled in China’s online space”, perhaps because the app allows users to do so much more than just messaging.

‘Moments’ is the popular sharing function on WeChat, similar to Facebook updates. You can upload pictures, post updates and videos. WeChat’s blog, Chatterbox, is a good place for technical tips on using WeChat.

Users are also able to manage their lives through WeChat. It starts simply enough with playing games, catching up on current affairs, buying film tickets, ordering food and taxis. Then it steps up a gear with in-store payments and online shopping, paying bills, transferring money, and even booking flights. You name it, WeChat probably does it. The key to WeChat’s success may lie in its ability to attract millennials. In September 2015, 60% of users were 15-29 years old. Perhaps this young and dynamic following are the reason why WeChat offers so many different functions and, as a result, have nurtured WeChat’s capacity to innovate and grow. It’s no wonder that WeChat is a powerhouse. Having taken over China, its next step is to take over the world.

Using WeChat for work

Despite their best efforts, Facebook and LinkedIn have never quite been able to catch up with WeChat’s status in the business world. Yes – LinkedIn is specifically used to build professional networks but it hasn’t successfully managed to embed itself into the daily workflow in the same way, and WeChat is becoming an increasingly more common workplace tool. In fact, 87.7% of 20,000+ Chinese web users would place WeChat as their choice app for daily work communication, even beating phones and emails; a staggering number. At China Travel Outbound, we use WeChat to share documents, images and presentations and we abandoned Skype as a method to communicate with China long ago. Now all our team calls with Beijing are made on WeChat. It’s far more stable and the app makes it simple to operate group calls.

According to the Financial Times, “at almost every Chinese workplace, WeChat has become the primary means of communication”. For instance, 57% of new contacts that are added every month are work-related, with family and friends being next on the list at just over 20%. This is a huge difference and is evidence of WeChat’s power in the workplace, so much so that according to Xue Yu, a senior market analyst with IDC China, “WeChat is becoming WeWork”.

Not only that, but WeChat is also used for a myriad of other workplace functions. Coordinating and arranging tasks is top of the list with 50%; sending notifications, making transactions and arranging tasks are next on the list, whereas having meetings and conference calls and marketing purposes are lower down. Then again, it’s only a matter of time. WeChat’s next challenge? To go beyond being used only for workplace communication purposes and become an essential part of the daily workflow. And, perhaps, that will happen sooner rather than later. The majority of Chinese office workers have been said to find WeChat a helpful working tool, with nearly all of the 90% who are regular WeChat work users finding value in the platform.

Using WeChat to promote your European travel or tourism brand to the Chinese

This is where things get a bit more tricky. You have done your research and recognised the importance of WeChat, and you’ve decided you want to set up a WeChat account for your tourism attraction, tour operation or hotel. So you try to set up a WeChat business account. And there is your problem. You can’t set up a WeChat business account which can be accessed by mainland Chinese unless you have a Chinese business licence.

So what are your options?

Option One

Commit to a one-off spend on WeChat advertising of around €25,000. In return, WeChat’s head office will authorise your account.

Option Two

Find a Chinese third party agency which is willing to allow you to use one of its WeChat licences to host your account. They will charge you for the privilege but, more importantly, they will have control of your account. It is important you trust them, have an ongoing relationship with them and, preferably, some kind of written agreement which would deliver the account to you in the event of a split (although contracts in UK law are likely to be of limited use to you in the event of a breakdown in a relationship with a Chinese agency.)

It is worth noting, however, that there is a limit on the number of WeChat accounts that a Chinese business can own. And once one has been allocated to you, it can not be closed down and allocated to someone else. Also, if the third party agency  allows the client to post freely on the account, it is running a risk (albeit potentially a small one) that the client could post something controversial in the eyes of the Chinese government. Social media is tightly monitored in China and the wrong post on WeChat could, potentially, lead to the revocation of the Chinese agency’s business licence. That is why we, at China Travel Outbound, will only consider licensing a WeChat business account to retained clients with whom we have worked for a while, and whom we feel confident are committed to the market. We also insist on editorial control over content, just to keep an eye on things.

If a third party agency is managing your WeChat account, we urge you to double check what plans are in place should you (or the agency) decide you no longer wish to continue the arrangement.

Option Three

Use a personal WeChat account instead. This is not recommended for prestigious tourism brands as it does not give the right impression. The management information from it is also very limited, but at least you will be able to communicate with your customers and you will be able to have full control of your own account.

Option Four

Wait. WeChat is moving so quickly that the rules may change as it seeks to replicate its success in China throughout the world. Or hop over to Weibo.

One final point. Before you decide you need a WeChat account, do make sure it is the right thing to do. It takes time to build followers on WeChat and you might be better off, particularly in the medium term, to use PR, bloggers, and customer interactions to ‘piggyback’ onto the existing accounts of other influencers. It’s going to be far more beneficial for you if a Chinese celebrity endorses your brand to three hundred thousand followers, than if you post an article to three hundred.

If you would like to find out more about WeChat, please get in touch.

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Get Ready for Golden Week

Golden Week is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, a week-long holiday that happens annually at the beginning of October. Traditionally, the Chinese flock in their droves (589 million to be precise) throughout China via train and by car, visiting domestic tourism attractions such as Beijing’s Forbidden City which sold 166 tickets per minute during last year’s festivities. However, times are changing and Chinese tourists are turning their attention to international travel during their week off work.

In 2016, it is thought that a record 6 million Chinese nationals opted to travel overseas for their holiday. Not only are they venturing abroad, they also have money burning holes in their pockets, in 2015 the Chinese spent $180billion abroad. Europe is seen as a favourable destination due to the ability to claim tax back, in the UK goods are almost 30% cheaper than Chinese high street prices because Chinese tourists can reclaim the VAT they’ve spent and taxes on luxury items are lower.

Attract a new market in a quiet period

2018, has been announced as the year for EU-Chinese tourism and, the spotlight is firmly placed on links between Europe and China. As relationships start to strengthen, the number of visiting Chinese should start to multiply. Europe needs to find ways to entice tourists in the off-peak seasons, and adding Golden week to the roster alongside Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter maybe the perfect way. Golden Week is all about shopping to excess, and the European high streets, and particularly the gift shops, could really benefit from this shopping extravaganza in the post-summer, pre-Christmas lull.

Exchange rates have an impact

Golden Week 2016 saw sterling at the lowest it had been in 10 years, meaning the UK was 10% better value for money than it had been in 2015, enticing Chinese tourists to dig deep and spend, spend, spend. The UK saw a +58% rise year-on-year in Chinese Tax free shopping during Golden Week last year; fuelled not only by the post Brexit exchange rates, but also by dedicated promotions on travel websites such as Ctrip. This steady rise has seen stores such as Gieves and Hawkes on Saville Road benefit from the kind of shameless spending that Golden Week promotes.

So how many Chinese tourists will travel to Europe for Golden Week in 2017? Well, sterling has made a slight come back so the UK isn’t quite so cheap. In October 16, tourists could expect to receive around £0.12 for their Renminbi, where today (August 17), they would receive slightly less – around £0.115, but this is still a good rate in comparison to previous years. Looking at the euro, last year the Renminbi would have bought you €0.136 to splash out in the designer boutiques of the Champs-Elysees, but today that same Renminbi may only take you to Printemps, with a rate of €0.127. So the Chinese will get around 6% less for their money in the Eurozone this year, and around 4% less in the UK.

More importantly, perhaps, will be the response of the Chinese to the recent terrorist attacks in the UK. In the wake of the Paris attacks in 2015, Paris saw a drop of approximately 30% to the city . But, anecdotally, we have heard that the terrorist attacks in the UK received less media coverage in China so perhaps the impact will not be so deeply felt. Let’s hope so.

Are you ready with a Chinese cashless payment solution?

Another important factor for Chinese shoppers, is the availability of Chinese cashless solutions, such as AliPay, Union Pay and WeChat Pay. The might of Alipay is incontestable, more than 250,000 Chinese tourists visited Britain in 2015, and during this period the spend on Alipay topped £586.22 million. The mighty Tencent has brought WeChat Pay to Europe this year, and we can’t wait to see what effect this will have on Golden Week 2017.

Here’s hoping for a golden October.

 

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Marketing your restaurant to Chinese tourists

In 2015, Chinese travellers spent a whopping £586 million in the UK with an average spend of £2,174 per person – that’s 3.5 times the average of the average tourist. And, according to Hotels.com, 59% of their budget goes on food and drink.

Food and drink is an important consideration when selecting a holiday destination; the a top three consideration in fact. Furthermore, dining out in restaurants tops the list of main activities for Chinese tourists with 56%. Still not convinced? Tourism Australia found that 46% of international Chinese travellers placed ‘good food, wine, local cuisine and produce as one of the most important factors when choosing a destination.

With food and drink experiences so highly prized by Chinese tourists, what can you do to attract this growing market of gastro-fans to your restaurant? Where a previous blog discussed food preferences, here are our top 6 sales and marketing tips.

1. Mandarin menus are a must-have

Your menu is your primary sales material for the passing hungry tourist. Although more and more Chinese are learning other languages, many still have limited foreign language skills. The Chinese are also very conscious of embarrassment and are fearful of ordering the wrong thing. So avoid confusion over food choices, and make your guests feel welcome with a Mandarin menu. And what would be even better? Include a section or a set menu recommending the dishes most popular with other Chinese guests.

Brighton’s highly popular,seafood restaurant, The Regency has gone one step further. Due to the restaurant’s vast number of Chinese guests, they have a Mandarin menu complete with comments about all the dishes other guests enjoy. It was translated by a Chinese student and is full of ‘in’ jokes, making the menu even more fun to read and shareable on social media.

2. ‘Ni Hao’: say hello to your Chinese guests

Not only will Mandarin menus go a long way in attracting Chinese travellers to your restaurant, but speaking Mandarin will too. If you have any Mandarin-speaking staff, that’s great – be sure to utilise them front of house. If not, why not start by learning a few simple key phrases yourself, then teach them to your team. It will show you’re actively making an effort to make your Chinese guests feel welcome and comfortable in your restaurant, and put you one step ahead of other businesses. It might help you garner positive online reviews too, a surefire way to put your restaurant on the map. It is widely known that Chinese tourists plan and research their trips months in advance and good reviews will do wonders for attracting more Chinese travellers to your restaurant. All it takes is a simple ‘ni hao’.

3. Accept Chinese payment methods

The Chinese do not like to carry money around with them, especially not large sums. In fact, in 2015, the combination of card and online payments accounted for nearly 60% of all retail transactions in China.You are far more likely to see people pulling their phone out to pay for their lunch in China, than their wallet. If you want to attract Chinese travellers to your restaurant, cater to their payment needs.

China UnionPay is found in more than 140 countries worldwide. Many companies have already recognised the power of UnionPay and rightly so – there are more issued UnionPay cards in China than there are Mastercards or Visas worldwide. One such example of this comes from Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG). When the Royal Observatory Greenwich received its highest ever number of Chinese visitors on record in Q1 2017, the shop also began accepting UnionPay. This is just one of the many reasons RMG won the CTW Chinese Tourism Welcome Award 2017.

If that doesn’t convince you to start accepting Chinese payment methods, maybe this will? The combination of payments from popular online methods, Alipay and WeChat Wallet, has flourished from less than $81 billion in 2012 to $2.9 trillion in 2016. Clearly the introduction of these payment methods can work wonders, so why not introduce them to your restaurant now?

4. Get online

With 721.4 million internet users, having an online presence in Chinese is fundamental. Chinese travellers like to plan in advance, reading information about where they’re going and planning each element, including their meals. They also look at photographs of the products you have to offer. Perhaps start by building a presence on WeChat. With 938 million active WeChat users, a presence on WeChat will help you reach high numbers of potential diners. Post relevant information, such as your address and opening times, your Mandarin menu, photographs of the foods and drinks on offer and anything else you think may be of interest to Chinese travellers. This will make it easier for users to find you online after reading about the experiences from their friends and family. Also high on their radar are online reviews. Positive reviews can go a long way in attracting Chinese visitors to your restaurant. After a rave review by a popular Chinese blogger, The Regency Restaurant, witnessed a very noticeable increase in the amount of Chinese visitors they received, and the Chinese now make up almost half of their clientele year-round.

If you want to attract Chinese diners and generate big business fast, get the help of a Key Opinion Leader. If you have the resources, utilising a KOL is a great way to gain publicity for your restaurant. Here at China Travel Outbound, we invited famous Chinese rock band, Miserable Faith, to lunch at Hard Rock’s original London Cafe. They enjoyed a meal, were given a VIP tour, had their pictures taken and given personalised gifts. The subsequent posts on Weibo reached nearly 3 million followers, giving Hard Rock Cafe great exposure to the Chinese market.

5. Photograph your food

Whilst a picture of your food is considered a sure sign of a downmarket joint in the UK, restaurants in China almost always publish pictures of their food. A picture takes away a lot of the stress of knowing what to order where language is a challenge. Again, it is vital to make your guests feel comfortable.

Food presentation is also important. With the rise of social media, making your dishes ‘WeChat-worthy’ will also help your online reputation. Appealing, well-presented food is great for your business when Chinese guests share their experiences on social media and review sites. Lots of small sharing dishes, presented on pretty crockery or with decorative garnishes, will encourage social shares.

6. Get friendly with your local tourist board

Let your local tourist board, or VisitBritain, know you are keen to host Chinese trade fams and media trips. All visitors need to be fed and this is a great way to start to make inroads to the influencers in the market. Or offer discounts and jobs to students at the local university, and open yourself up to the Chinese millennial market. They are brilliant at spreading the word as we found out during a recent VIP Student Fam Trip to Brighton.

With these six simple steps, attracting Chinese diners has never been easier. Contact us to find out more and put your restaurant on the map.

 

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Chinese media event for VisitBrighton

When we organise media events for our clients, our priority is to ensure that the events are memorable, enjoyable, informative and value for money. Instead of a presentation in a bland hotel room, we decided to take over a silversmith workshop in downtown Beijing for our latest event for our client, VisitBrighton.

Our guests included journalists from digital and offline travel and lifestyle media, including sina.com, Leisure + Travel, Travel Vivid, lvxingshe.com and Travel Weekly China, and editors from travel review site, mafengwo.com. We also invited two senior marketing managers from Hainan Airlines as we hope to collaborate with them this year on press trips to Brighton.

China Travel Outbound’s staff delivered a presentation about Brighton, with a focus on festivals, events and the key attractions to visit this summer. Following this, our media guests were invited to design and create a piece of silverware to represent their impressions of Brighton. These were taken away as mementoes of their day and reminders of Brighton. The fish and chips necklace was a particular favourite!

The coverage from the event delivered a media value of £31,500 across 10 articles, plus social shares by the journalists of their memorable day with Brighton in Beijing.

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Is the rise of Chinese travel to the UK unstoppable?

It’s hardly a secret that Chinese tourists stay longer (twice as long) and spend more (3½ times more) than the average visitor to the UK. This long-staying, high-spending market is moving up every tourism provider’s priority list as the value of China’s growing outbound travel market – which already stood at 120 million in 2016 – becomes abundantly clear.

Chinese tourism to the UK increased by +10% in Q4 2016 – and this after a record-breaking 2015. Early indications point to another very healthy year in 2017: May saw an increase of 31% of bookings by Chinese tour operators to London, while the capital’s luxury quarter saw a 39% increase in tax-free shopping for designer clothes, handbags and jewellery in the same period.

Is the rise of Chinese travel to the UK unstoppable? There are plenty of reasons to think so…

The Chinese are flush with hidden money and they’re ready to travel

It turns out that the Chinese travelling middle classes have even more money to spend than the headlines suggest. The government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing recently declared that that estimates of household income have undervalued real income by up to 20% through omitting to measure household investments. And we can expect plenty of that income to be spent on travel; a recent report by Sabre found that 90% of Chinese travellers expect to travel more often in the future.

Travel is increasingly the norm and an expected activity for Chinese, which means not just more Chinese travelling, but an increasingly independent, experience-seeking market in search of destinations, hotels, visitor attractions and activities which will genuinely differentiate their holiday from the norm.

The revolutionary rise in independent travel

As new waves of Chinese outbound tourists take to the skies, independent travel is taking off too, especially amongst Chinese millennials. By some measures, around 40% of Chinese outbound tourists travel independently. English-speaking countries are naturally-preferred long-haul destinations since they present fewer language challenges than other nations.

Self-drive tourism, camping & caravanning, and adventure travel are all trending travel segments in China, helping to distribute Chinese tourists and their largesse more widely in destination nations.

The Chinese love spending money in the UK

Chinese visitors to the UK spend £2,174 on average during their stay – more than 3 ½ times more than the average tourist. They spend twice as much time in the UK as the average tourist too – averaging 15 nights vs the average 8 nights.

Encouraging even more spend in the UK is the proliferation of Chinese payment options including UnionPay. The heavyweight retail early adopters long ago proved the value of accepting UnionPay. Harrods introduced 75 China UnionPay terminals in 2011 and has since seen an increase in sales to Chinese tourists of +40%; by 2015, Harrods took £1 for every £5 spent by Chinese tourists in the UK. In 2011, the Ritz became the first London hotel to install China UnionPay terminals, a pioneering move which paid off handsomely with a 17% increase in Chinese guests and 25% rise in spending.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich’s average sale in the shop via UnionPay is 3.7 times higher than the average.

Brexit and the increasing strength of the renminbi

Record numbers of overseas tourists visited the UK in April as the fall in sterling made the UK very good value – a positive Brexit side-effect for inbound tourism. The UK is already a particularly attractive destination for the Chinese to spend their holiday money; Chinese visitors to London spend twice as much time and twice as much money as they do in mainland Europe, greatly benefitting the capital’s luxury goods sellers. So continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit may actually offer a continuing positive pull to Chinese tourists.

Even Brexit itself seems unlikely to be a deterrent to Chinese tourists visiting, with no new visa requirements since the UK is already outside the Schengen visa zone.

The powerful allure of the UK

VisitBritain has invested heavily in China over recent years. The GREAT names for GREAT Britain campaign in 2014 generated 30 million views of the campaign video and 2 million visits to the campaign website – as well as such memorable monikers as ‘Big White Streaker’ (for the Cerne Abbas Giant) and ‘The Strong-man Skirt Party’ (for the Highland Games). VisitBritain’s recent +56partnership with Alitrip, Alibaba Group’s tourism arm, has created a virtual British marketplace to showcase UK tourist offerings and great British experiences and destinations to Chinese consumers.

And VisitBritain is building on a very strong base of traveller interest. The Chinese rate “a rich and interesting heritage and history” very highly as a travel motivation and this is one of many areas in which the UK excels. “Romance” and “the beauty of the landscape” also feature highly both in Chinese motivations for travel and as qualities which the Chinese ascribe to the UK. And there are plenty of current British qualities are tempting the Chinese to these shores, from the Royal Family, Downton Abbey and Premier League football to designer shopping and Harry Potter. Not to mention the apparently irresistible charm of Curly Fu and Peanut.

The early, concerted and continuing promotion of the UK in China by VisitBritain has brilliantly built and consolidated the UK’s position as an aspirational destination for Chinese travellers.

Chinese friendliness is on the up in the UK

TripAdvisor China’s 2016 survey found that the UK was the most-researched European country. And the world’s most valuable tourists have plenty of reasons to make the UK their European destination of choice. Britain is increasingly welcoming to the Chinese, partly thanks to Visit Britain’s Great China Welcome initiative which has encouraged many UK destinations, hotels, visitor attractions and shops to adopt Chinese-friendly products and service.

Many London visitor attractions, including the Houses of Parliament, now offer audio guides in Mandarin, and Mandarin audio guides make up 50% of the total hired at the British Museum. Increasing numbers of Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking tour guides and shop assistants are evident, especially in London, and organisations from Great Western Railway to The Globe are undertaking Chinese-specific marketing and promotion initiatives to encourage visitors from the Middle Kingdom.

The future of Chinese travel to the UK

A progressively more Chinese-friendly UK with increasing recognition of the value of Chinese tourists is perfectly poised to keep a lion’s share of the world’s largest outbound market. And while recent terrorist incidents hardly provide the ideal backdrop for welcoming inbound tourists, even these gained favourable coverage in China, with Manchester’s homeless heroes garnering plaudits for their unselfish, typically British kind-yet-practical help.

So is the rise of Chinese tourism to the UK unstoppable? The indications are certainly pretty positive…

 

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Now that your hotel is Chinese-friendly, what are the key steps to promote yourself to the Chinese? We look at the top 5 ways to market your hotel.

Unlock the power of China’s travel trade

The Chinese travel industry landscape is complicated. More than 27,000 bricks & mortar travel agents hold the key to many of the bookings by first-time overseas holidaymakers, while the two largest Chinese travel websites, CTrip and Qunar, have millions of customers that European websites can only dream of. CTrip’s users alone number more than 250 million. The Chinese spent over US$87 billion online on travel in 2016.

Not only does China have a complex travel industry, but business is based on Guanxi, a Confucian concept of trust, hierarchy, giving and receiving. Guanxi is built over time and the only fast way into successful working relationships with the Chinese travel trade is via an established partner.

Don’t get lost in the Middle Kingdom

2/3 of Chinese planning travel carry out research online, so make sure you can be found. Much has been written about China’s singular digital environment; to get noticed by Chinese holidaymakers you need to have a presence on Weibo and WeChat so that prospective Chinese visitors can find out about your offering. A fantastic presence on Facebook will work in many of your markets, but China isn’t one of them.

Make sure you share compelling content and promotions on social media too. Upgrades and late check-ins are just some of the special offers promoted via WeChat which have been encouraging Chinese travellers to book direct with Mandarin Oriental.

Offer quick and easy online booking in yuan

More than 1 in 5 Chinese travellers say they plan all aspects of trips themselves, so having a bookable website is vital. Design your Chinese website with the audience in mind, using the right tone and focusing on the aspects of your hotel and destination which appeal most to Chinese travellers. Optimise your site for Chinese search terms, and remember that Chinese travel agents will use your site for information too.

Of course, you site needs to be in Mandarin, and Cantonese is a plus. Show prices in yuan and accept China UnionPay. The growing tide of Chinese independent travellers will thank you for it. 

Make it easy to be reviewed

Thanks to China’s collective culture, the Chinese are much more influenced by peer reviews and recommendations than Western travellers. Encourage your Chinese guests to review your hotel on Ctrip and Qunar as well as on travel guide sites such as Qyer and Mafengwo; experiment with signs at the front desk and by asking your Chinese guests for reviews via WeChat. Numbers of reviews help rankings, as do Chinese-friendly facilities such as free Wifi.

Partner with the most influential Key Opinion Leaders

Chinese actress Yao Chen’s wedding in Queenstown, New Zealand was reported more than 2.4 million times on Chinese social media – and that was in 2012. The subsequent tripling of Chinese tourists to the country certainly helped Tourism New Zealand share the actress’ happy day. Partnering with the right KOL, especially when coupled with genuine social media moments via livestreaming, remains a great way to raise awareness of your offering. Destinations from New York to Indonesia are investing in the power of KOLs.

 

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Chinese visits to Royal Museums Greenwich up 74%

Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) today announced results of its annual international visitor survey, which reveals a 74% increase year-on-year in Chinese visitors.

The figures also show the Chinese taking a larger share of the international market, making up 8.3% of all overseas visitors to RMG in 2016/17, compared to 4.9% in 2015/16.

In recognition of the opportunity presented by the growth in Chinese inbound visitors to the UK, in 2016 RMG developed its international strategy to include a strong focus on China. Specialist travel PR and representation agency, China Travel Outbound, was appointed to design and deliver a programme of work in China to raise the profile of the museums, engage with the travel trade within the groups and FIT markets, and, specifically, to encourage Chinese tourists to extend their stay to visit more than one museum.

Activities have included an audit of each museum’s online profile in China, a series of press releases and interviews with the Chinese press, a tailor-made sales mission to Beijing, attendance at ETOA’s World Bridge Tourism Conference at IPW China in Shanghai, meetings with Chinese tour operators at UK trade shows, and the introduction of Union Pay to the Royal Observatory shop. RMG staff also underwent China Ready Training and the organisation signed up to VisitBritain’s GREAT China Welcome Charter.

Last month, Royal Museums Greenwich, won a Chinese Tourist Welcome Award for Service Quality at ITB China in Shanghai, placing the museums squarely onto the international stage in showcasing best practice in this market. The award was received by China Travel Outbound’s Beijing Director, Vivienne Song, on behalf of RMG.

Travel Trade Sales & Marketing Manager, Royal Museums Greenwich, Amy O’Donovan, is responsible for the Chinese market. She says,

“I am delighted by today’s results. Our Chinese journey is really starting to bear fruit and we have exceeded all our targets. It is a fast-moving and complicated market but, with the help of our agency, China Travel Outbound, we are making significant inroads and hope to see even further growth next year as we implement more of the initiatives we have planned.’

The greatest percentage increases were seen at the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, where the Chinese visitor figures grew by 247% and 200% respectively year-on-year. Total Chinese visitors across all four museums exceeded 68,000.

Vivienne takes her parents to Chiang Mai and learns Thai Boxing

China Travel Outbound’s Beijing Director, Vivienne, travelled to Thailand last week on holiday. Like a growing number of Chinese 30-somethings, she took her parents with her, and immersed herself in the experiences offered in Chiang Mai. Here she tells us why there’s a huge growth in multi-generational travel and how experiential holidays are important to the Chinese.

I recently journeyed with my parents to Chiang Mai in Thailand where we enjoyed glorious food and weather. I made some interesting observations about Chinese travellers there but first I’d like to explore their changing travelling preferences.

Chinese independent travellers are rising. Group tours and set itineraries are no longer prominent features of travelling. Instead, Chinese millennials especially are growing more confident in planning and booking every aspect of their trips. According to a TripAdvisor survey, 9 in 10 of them do so. And while shopping does still feature highly on Chinese travel itineraries, there is also a growing demand for booking unique and authentic experiences.

Experiential travel is becoming increasingly more attractive to Chinese travellers, especially if we can share our activities on social media. We are getting tired of the same mainstream destinations, Chinese travellers are looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences; from visiting wineries to polar expeditions, there is nothing the Chinese won’t try. Much evidence has been found for the growth of experiential travel; road trips are expected to grow by a whopping 75% over the next two years, adventure travel by 52% and polar travel by 32%. This makes it clear that, for travel destinations, highlighting local experiences is a high priority.

Multi-generational family travel is gaining momentum…taking advantage of holiday time by travelling with families is becoming more common.

As I did with my parents, multi-generational family travel is also gaining momentum. Young professionals nowadays focus on their careers leaving little to no time being spent with their families. Therefore for many Chinese people, taking advantage of holiday time by travelling with their families is becoming more common. I must also add that my parents’ generation, those born from 1955 to 1965, didn’t have many opportunities for anything – a good education, a good lifestyle, a window to the outside world. And with more and more people making good incomes nowadays, I’m in a position where I am financially capable to show them the world and treat them to experience the same things we did. And, perhaps most importantly, it allows us to give them the opportunity to show off in front of their friends! Lastly, another reason why multi-generational trips are becoming more popular is that they represent a token of our appreciation. Unlike in Western countries, grandparents more commonly look after and help to raise their grandchildren. Therefore, taking our parents on holiday is a way for us to express our gratitude at being there for us to help raise our children.

Taking our parents on holiday is a way for us to express our gratitude at being there for us to help raise our children.

As a result, multi-generational family travel is on the rise. According to ForwardKeys, family travel bookings for up to four people were up 18% in December 2016 compared to the previous year.

This brings me to Chiang Mai.

Whilst there, I was interested in experiencing some of Thailand’s local customs. The first thing I tried was a sweaty, but fun, boxercise class.

I also partook in a Thai cookery course which is where I made some interesting observations. When I first visited Chiang Mai four years ago, I registered for the same course. At that time, there was no Chinese-speaking course and I was the only Chinese tourist in the class.

Four years ago, I was the only Chinese tourist in the class. This time, I was able to sign up to a Chinese-speaking course.

However this time, I was able to sign up to a Chinese-speaking course and, not only that but, there were so many Chinese tourists there that they had to separate us into two groups with about 8 to 10 people per group. The English-speaking course? There was only one group with 8 tourists. This highlights to me how much Chinese travellers have changed and how far travel destinations have come in adapting to the needs of Chinese tourists.

Experiential travel is important to me as there are many things I want to experience and learn. If I visited Europe, there are a number of things I’d want to try. In the UK, I’d be really interested in partaking in a royal etiquette course as well as learning how to organise a traditional English afternoon tea party. With the right marketing and promotion, anything to do with tradition and the country’s history, such as baking classes and horse riding, would be popular with Chinese tourists. If I were to visit France, I’d opt for a cookery course again and, of course, lots of wine tasting, but also some short museum-organised courses about art would be of interest to me. And, most definitely, I’d sign up to a Flamenco dancing course if I travelled to Spain.

 

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7 steps to hotel heaven

The Chinese outbound travel market is not just the largest in the world – it also grew by 12% in 2016. Chinese tourists outspend and outshop all other tourists. And yet many hotels are missing out on this valuable market, because they think either that Chinese tourists are difficult to cater for, or that they all travel in large groups and stay in mid-market chain hotels on the unfashionable outskirts of cities.

But the Chinese market has moved on, and Chinese tourists are increasingly seeking out stylish independent hotels. And you’ll be pleased to hear that making your hotel Chinese-friendly doesn’t require big investment or massive changes – just a few tweaks to your offering, core information translated into Mandarin and some understanding of cultural norms can make you a great proposition to this market. Here’s our list of 7 great ways to make your hotel appealing to the Chinese …

1. Food: it’s not just about congee and chopsticks

Just a few short years ago, congee was widely touted as the ‘must have’ breakfast for Chinese tourists overseas. But these days food tourism is on the rise among Chinese millennials, and genuine local cuisine is an important part of the holiday experience. From Brighton’s Regency restaurant to The Plough at Cadsden, host of Prime Minister Cameron and President Xi Jinping’s fish and chip dinner in 2015, restaurants of all types are welcoming the modern Chinese tourist.

Make both first-time overseas travellers and millennials happy by offering a local hot breakfast option and having hot water available. Be ready to recommend local restaurants and regional cuisine too. From shortbread in Scotland to oysters in Brighton, Chinese food tastes are evolving beyond rice and dim sum.

2. Authentic experiences make you more attractive

While non-Chinese hotel chains such as Hilton and Kempinski are learning the value of adapting their product to Chinese tastes in China, this is outweighed in overseas destinations by the demand for authentic local experiences. If they are memorable, exclusive and Instagrammable, all the better – there’s a reason that China is now the 4th largest source market for polar tourists.

Remember that the Chinese are rarely travelling for relaxation, rather to experience different cultures and see how other people live. Make sure you promote experiences which offer genuine insight into local life, as well as VIP trips. Chinese now make up the 2nd largest group on winery tours in Australia; if you have vineyards nearby, why not partner to offer VIP tours with paired wine tastings?

3. A little Mandarin goes a long way (to making your Chinese guests feel welcome)

It isn’t always practical to have Mandarin-speaking hotel employees, but offering menus and general hotel information in Mandarin goes a long way to making your Chinese guests feel welcome. It’ll reduce cultural misunderstandings and unanswerable queries too (unless your receptionists already have enough Mandarin to communicate the location of smoking areas and explain that breakfast takes place from 7am). Making core hotel information in Mandarin available by QR code will also tick an important technological Chinese box, as well as making it easier to update.

Small cultural gestures, such as accepting credit cards with two hands, and addressing the oldest person in the party first, are also greatly valued as signs of understanding. Rooms including the number 8 are a great choice for Chinese guests, since the number 8 is considered lucky. Conversely, don’t ever give Chinese guests rooms on the 4th floor or containing the number 4, since the number sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.

4. China UnionPay: a surefire way to increase revenue

China UnionPay is by far the preferred payment method for Chinese tourists. Accepting UnionPay shows your Chinese guests you are serious about their custom; according to Australia’s Commonwealth Bank, Chinese tourists are 20 times more likely to use a business which accepts China UnionPay. Your afternoon tea probably costs less than £50 per head, but it’s still worth noting that The Ritz saw spend by Chinese visitors increase by 25% in the first year it accepted UnionPay.

5. Delight your Chinese guests with free Wifi

Over 80% of Chinese share photos of their travels in social media – a figure which rises to over 90% amongst millennials. And over 70% of Chinese under 40 years old rely on social media for travel inspiration. So it makes sense to offer free Wifi: not only is it a great draw for visitors, it also allows them to share content which will help to promote your hotel and region to at-home Chinese looking for holiday ideas.

And there’s another reason for offering free Wifi; Ctrip and Qunar, China’s two largest travel sites, give great weight to free Wifi in their hotel rankings.

6. Style and heritage lift your hotel above the crowd

Boutique hotels are taking off in China and the growing number of independent travellers are looking for something more interesting than a standard mid-market chain hotel. Stylish architecture, on-trend interior design and local heritage are all attractive draws, especially to millennials seeking that perfect Instagrammable moment. Promote your local roots and what makes you unique, whether that’s local music heritage in Liverpool or links to Royalty in London.

7. Welcome multi-generational families

A growing trend in Chinese outbound travel is multi-generational travel, where sons and daughters bring their parents on overseas trips for a shared family experience. You already know to address the most senior member of the party first, and it turns out you can probably offer the ideal room arrangement too. Make it possible for multi-generational parties to book several rooms together; the old family rooms linked by internal doors turn out to be perfect for this, allowing Chinese family members to create a common meeting space when holidaying together.

So it turns out that just a few small changes will make your hotel Chinese-friendly – and they’re your first step into a virtuous circle whereby your Chinese guests will help your promotion by sharing their experiences on social media. But first you’ll need to make yourself known in China. Our next blog will look at the key steps to promoting your newly-China-friendly hotel to Chinese travellers and travel agents.

 

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A short guide to Chinese KOLs

The rise of the Chinese KOL has been widely documented, but in order to understand how you might use them as part of your marketing tool kit, you should first understand who they are, what they do, how they work, and their potential and pitfalls. We’ve put together a short guide to help and ask whether they are still worth considering or have had their day.

What is a Chinese KOL?

KOLs (standing for Key Opinion Leaders) are influencers; the people who are deemed experts in a specialised field and who can make high profits from it. Due to China’s thriving internet population of 721.4 million users, KOLs are a popular and powerful social media force – they possess strong communications networks due to a large and dedicated online following, the charisma to engage with their fans and in-depth knowledge about their fields. Followers are likely to listen to and emulate their favourite KOLs due to their position as specialists. They are respected and thus have loyal fans. It comes as no surprise then that KOLs are often utilised by brands to market their products, giving the brand easier and endorsed access to a niche audience. They’re often seen promoting and endorsing a brand’s products allowing a communication channel to be opened between a company and a KOL’s legion of loyal followers.

Who are they?

Originating from some of China’s most popular social media platforms, online KOLs are also known as micro-influencers. China’s social media community is vast, especially when 91% of them are also frequent users; from the January 2016 to January 2017 period alone, there was a 20% increase in the number of active Chinese social media users. It’s worth considering then two of China’s biggest social media networks which KOLs most commonly use: Weibo and WeChat. 2016 saw the number of active WeChat users reach 846 million whilst Weibo’s monthly active users reached 261 million. Despite Weibo’s much lower number of active users, a 76% year-on-year increase in user’s interactivity has been noted by the network, meaning Weibo is still a great medium to consider in order to connect with the online community.

KOLs have managed to navigate their way impressively and establish themselves within this community and, thus, are perfect conduits for brands to target specific audiences. They are persuasive and influential individuals who possess the ability to reach masses of people, whether it’s through endorsing a brand through photographs, blogs or videos. And, what’s more, it’s been proven that 50+% of Chinese consumers are loyal to brands that partner with celebrities; for social influencers, such as bloggers, the figure is 46%.

This is not just a Chinese phenomenon of course. British fashion and beauty blogger, Zoella, started her blog in 2009 before launching her now popular YouTube channel which currently has 11.6 million subscribers. She’s now asked to endorse and comment on many brands and products within her specialised area and is able to reach out to many people; she’s even been featured in multiple ‘social media influencer’ lists.

How are brands able to utilise Chinese KOLs?

Brands can utilise Chinese KOLs in many way, including social media exposure, advertising campaigns, and employing them for public appearances. Prices vary and depend on the popularity of the KOL and the type of promotion used but it is fair to say that the sums are not for the fainthearted. Another challenge lies in finding the most appropriate person for your brand. Websites such as the Chinese ParkLU, a ‘KOL broker’, help brands with this problem. The site lists different KOLs, their special areas of expertise and the number of social media followers they have. Brands are able to pay to be linked up with the most appropriate person wherein their products are then endorsed on their social media accounts.

Live-streaming is becoming more popular and KOLs play their part. Chinese video messaging network, Meipai, hosted a Cannes Film Festival live-stream which was sponsored by cosmetics company, L’Oreal Paris. 3.1 million people tuned in and 164 million likes were given. Chinese pop star and actress, Li Yuchun, promoted a L’Oreal lip balm during the stream which sold out only a few hours later, only emphasising the power of a KOL.

The KOL name can also extend to celebrities.  On behalf of our client, Hard Rock Cafe, we invited popular Chinese Rock band, Miserable Faith, to the London restaurant. The band and crew all enjoyed a meal, were given a VIP tour, were given personalised gifts and had many pictures taken. The band posted about their visit to their 369,000 fans, effectively endorsing the Hard Rock Cafe brand.

Keeping it real

The rise of the KOL in China has become so well known that it has brought with it a certain degree of scepticism. In a country where everything can be copied and fake products abound, authenticity is lacking in many aspects of Chinese culture and is thus, highly prized. Fake reviews, or endorsements which are clearly funded masquerades will lack authenticity and will be rejected by an increasingly savvy audience. Whilst celebrity endorsement continues to be hugely powerful, the days of splashing lots of cash at top tier KOLs may be numbered. Better to look for the second tier of bloggers and influencers who may have fewer followers, but are still seen to be keeping it real.

 

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