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.

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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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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Inaugural Chinese Student Society VIP Fam Trip to Brighton

There are around 130,000 students from mainland China and Hong Kong studying in the UK, making the UK one of the most popular countries in the world for overseas study. During their degrees, students explore beyond their university towns and share their experiences with their fellow students, and their 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.

Last weekend, our inaugural 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 five UK universities; Kings College London, Bournemouth University, University of the West of England, Lancaster University and the University of Birmingham. The students and their partners had a fantastic time exploring the city, eating out in restaurants such as the award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Terre à 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 nightlife of the city, 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 and in online blogs.

Here’s what they got up to:

Friday

After arriving at the Old Ship Hotel, the group headed to the award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre for a meal hosted by Julia and Katie from VisitBrighton and Helena and Sara from China Travel Outbound. They were keen to know all about the city, its bars and clubs and, very importantly, where they could find the best vintage clothes shops. Map apps on their phones made it very easy for us to pin shops, bars and places of interest. After a delicious meal which they really enjoyed, the group continued on to the Mesmerist Pub to see a live band then on for a spot of karaoke at Jade.

Terre a Terre 2

Saturday

Next morning, the students were free to explore Brighton and its sights. They visited the Royal Pavilion where they marvelled at its Chinese-influenced décor, and enjoyed the arcades and rides on the iconic Palace Pier. Many of them also visited Sea Life, the world’s oldest operating aquarium. And, of course, shopping in the vintage North Laine, Lanes and Churchill Square were top of the list for others. In the evening, the group came back together to enjoy a meal at the ever-popular seafood restaurant, The Regency, before experiencing Brighton’s vibrant nightlife.

 

Collage 3

Sunday

After breakfast, a walk down the seafront then time to head home. However, the sun was shining and it was such a beautiful day that some abandoned their train timetables and stayed a few hours longer to make the most of the city.

If your city is interested in working with Chinese Student Societies to promote your hotels and attractions on Chinese social media, please contact us to discuss.

Brighton

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China’s ageing population: a new market for tourism?

1.373 billion. China’s current population – one that is now deemed as ageing. A country that used to have a 43 year average life expectancy now has a 74.7 year average. China clearly must be doing something right, especially with about 30% of the population being over the age of 50. This figure speaks volumes about China’s continuing improvement in a number of areas. First of all, healthcare has improved vastly and that includes people understanding more about the importance of a balanced diet and regular exercise, but also huge improvements in living standards and the quality of life, with more time being put aside for leisure. Considering all these factors, the population of Chinese citizens aged 65+ is predicted to reach 219 million in 2030 which begs the question, how did China get here?

Much of the cause of China’s ageing population lies with the famous one-child policy. Although highly controversial, the policy achieved what it set out to do. But while the growth of the population slowed, China’s gender imbalance worsened. For instance, 2016’s estimate stands at 40 million more males than females – a staggering number. A lot of these extra men could be potential fathers, but how can they be fathers when they can’t find a mate? The solution has been to get rid of the policy but, even now, couples are placing less importance on a big family and are actively choosing to have only one child or none at all. A decreasing number of young people paired with an increasing number of elderly citizens equals the reason for China’s ageing population, which leads to the question:

So what does China’s ageing population mean for outbound tourism?

If people live longer, they have more time for travelling after they’ve retired. If people have fewer children and grandchildren to spend their money on, they have more disposable income to spend on travel. But would older citizens necessarily spend money on travelling?

First off, travelling educates people through new experiences. According to Chinese travel agent, Zhang Nanbeichao, older, well-educated travellers are usually eager and curious to learn new things. In today’s age, senior citizens also have good retirement pensions which they don’t save for the future generations of their family. This may be due to the combination of their children acquiring well-paid jobs and Chinese families getting smaller, resulting in older citizens having more disposable income which may be spent on travelling. And if these figures are anything to go by, they do spend their money on travelling as the willingness to learn new things paired with a higher disposable income has seen the “grey-hair travel” market grow by 50%.

How many people are we talking about? Over 5 million elderly Chinese citizens travel each year. And 47% of them even go long-distance. In a series of interviews conducted with ‘grey-hair travellers’ by Shanghai Daily, it seemed as if the norm for elderly Chinese citizens were two trips during the year – one being long-distance to Europe or America, and the other short-distance to other parts of Asia. The vast number of journeys being made by ‘grey-hair travellers’ brings in tourism revenue of over 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) yearly. China’s ageing population do like to spend their money on travelling.

What can travel brands do to market themselves to China’s ageing population?

We need to understand what older clients want. Beautiful and famous places? Of course. Tour package deals? Definitely. Cruises? Yes. Luxury shopping? Yes, but not as much as the millennials. But then, there are also the practicalities. Does cost matter? According to the same series of interviews, cost was actually one of the least important factors when considering when and where to travel. If tourism is seen as an important way for over-60s to improve and enrich their retirement, then really it comes down to whether the destination is suitable for senior citizens; and if not, then services should be adapted in order to cater for them. Especially if seniors are predicted to become the tourism market’s main force, with the president of Ctrip, Fan Min, expecting the number to have grown to 300 million within 10 years.

For Western travel brands, there is huge potential in assessing what an ageing Chinese population needs when travelling so they can tailor their products and services to fit these needs. However, many international tourist destinations have yet to realise this market’s potential. The problem? Many tour packages are unable to proficiently care for elderly travellers, which brings us back to the previous question:

What can destinations, hotels and attractions do to market themselves to China’s ageing population?

The clearest solution… introduce more age-appropriate, tailored services for seniors. But what does that entail? Ctrip places emphasis on shorter journeys and high-rated, senior tour guides who are also qualified to provide emergency assistance. In addition to this, the China Association of Travel Services is also currently working on guidelines that they can issue to tour operators. The rules will include uncluttered schedules, early bedtimes and healthy meals. With the introduction of these guidelines, it should be easier for travel brands to market themselves to China’s ageing population.

Take Iberostar Resorts for example; they offer all-inclusive, adults-only holiday destinations, spacious rooms, gentle recreational activities such as golf, excellent dining and, perhaps most importantly, 24-hour service. Having realised the potential for the ageing market, their resorts are world-class. Granted, these changes aren’t specifically targeted at Chinese senior travellers but with the right targeted promotions there is nothing to stop Iberostar attracting Chinese seniors too. After all, they’re already halfway there. Or perhaps take a leaf from China Odyssey Tours’ book; they’ve been providing tours of China to the elderly since 2005, including a private car and guide, a flexible and relaxing itinerary and a one-on-one travel consultant all at an affordable price. If that’s not good enough, travellers can actually tailor-make their own tours. The result? They are an award-winning tour operator boasting more than 10,000 customers each year.

The ‘grey-hair’ market is clearly growing into a powerful force, so it makes sense to strategise sooner rather than later. 219 million elderly Chinese tourists at your door? Yes please!

 

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How to reach Chinese millennials? Get online.

In last week’s blog, we looked at the habits and demographics of 300 million Chinese millennials. Here, we look more closely at what travel and tourism brands can do to reach them.

It has been said that Chinese millennials “don’t go online, they live online”. Unsurprisingly, this tech-savvy cohort researches travel online, and likes reams of information about destinations, including experiences and where to eat/drink/shop. They like to decide exactly what they want to see and do before they depart, making it vital for destinations, hotels and visitor attractions to promote their offering in China in order to secure a space on millennials’ travel itineraries.

This segment has a research and booking window of 4-6 weeks before departure. WeChat is key: almost half of Chinese millennials get travel information through WeChat moments and 35% from WeChat shares by travel advisors. Weibo is also important. Supported by native advertising, the digital space is extremely well-placed to reach Chinese millennials planning travel. Melia hotels encourage online interaction through beautiful visuals and engaged nearly 1m Chinese travellers via WeChat and Weibo in 2015.

Key Opinion Leaders and public relations

Key Opinion Leaders and tastemakers are extremely influential for this group. From major celebrity partnerships to controversial blogger Papi Jiang for Jaeger LeCoultre and L’Oreal, and China Travel Outbound’s own work to bring Chinese rock group Miserable Faith to the original Hard Rock Cafe in London, gaining the right celebrity endorsement is a chance to bring your product to just the right millennial fan base. The Regency Restaurant in Brighton has benefitted from the endorsement of a Chinese food blogger while The Plough at Cadsden, host to David Cameron and President Xi Jinping in October 2015, has been visited by so many Chinese that it’s now been bought by Chinese investors.

Edinburgh brought 6 influential travel bloggers to Hogmanay in 2015. The resulting content has been viewed over 20 million times in China.

WiFi, websites and live streaming

39% of Chinese millennial travellers say they can’t go 5 minutes without looking at their mobile ‘phone, so mobile-friendly, responsive websites are essential for this demographic. And Chinese websites are not just a matter of translation; they must be structured, designed and written to meet Chinese needs. They also need to be hosted in China and to load speedily.

Live-streaming provides an opportunity for travel products to showcase their highlights. The right live streaming event with an influential Key Opinion Leader (KOL) could provide great cut-through for destinations willing to invest in this market to gain a lead on their rivals.

In destination marketing

Even if you haven’t managed to reach the travelling millennials until they’ve arrived in destination, all is not lost. Geographic targeting via WeChat can put your product in front of tourists adding the final hotels and restaurants to their itineraries. Shopping destinations and luxury brands can promote themselves using QR codes instore too.

130,000 students are already here

And finally, don’t forget the huge opportunity presented by the vast and growing Chinese student population here in the UK. With an estimated 130,000 Chinese students, the UK is one of the most popular choices for overseas study. And these affluent and educated young people want to explore, not just the UK, but the rest of Europe whilst they have this opportunity. Connect to them through WeChat or Weibo, or speak to China Travel Outbound about our connections to the influential Chinese Societies.

To find out more about how to market your destination, visitor attraction or hotel to the Chinese, contact us and we’ll talk you through some options.

 

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How to attract 300 million Chinese millennials

They’ve been called “the most important demographic in the world today”. They make up around 2/3 of Chinese outbound tourists and by 2020, they will number 300 million. This growing force in Chinese outbound tourism is travelling far and spending big – but who are the Chinese millennials and how can you attract them to your destination, hotel or visitor attraction? We look at the characteristics of Chinese millennials, how they plan their travel, and what attracts them.

Who are Chinese millennials?

Chinese millennials are commonly defined as those Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s, so they range in age from 17 to 37. Thanks to China’s one child policy, they are the beloved focus not just of their parents, but also of two sets of grandparents, whose financial and emotional resources are concentrated on this single child.  By comparison with older generations, Chinese millennials are privileged and indulged. They are also more outward-looking than their parents, and some have studied overseas or at foreign schools in China. Indeed, 74% feel they have more in common with their age group globally than older Chinese.

Money to burn

Some, but not all, Chinese millennials are from wealthy families, and there are two key reasons why they have more ‘money to burn’ than their North American and European counterparts. Firstly, they have no student debt – tuition fees and living expenses are paid for by their families. (Contrast this with the USA where more than 7m student borrowers are already in default). Secondly, many Chinese millennials have no housing costs. Around 90% of Chinese households own their homes, and about 80% do so without mortgages or other loans, partly because Chinese culture takes a dim view of borrowing.

This young, middle-class group are, however, happy to take on non-student debt. Far from saving a portion of their income like their parents, they are China’s first generation whose need for instant gratification is driving them to (short-term) debt. They pay using credit cards and extended credit deals from platforms such as Alibaba and JD.com – and even peer-to-peer loans via WeChat. They are sometimes known as the Moonlight Generation, because their bank accounts are always light at the end of the month. But most know that their parents will bail them out if they need more cash.

Independent travellers seeking authentic and unique experiences

Millennials are in the vanguard of change in the Chinese outbound tourism market. Second generation travellers, they are less interested in the group trip ‘tick box’ tourism of their parents’ generation, and are instead travelling independently and seeking out authentic experiences.

According to a recent Trip Advisor survey, 9 in 10 Chinese millennials had booked their most recent trip in components. More than 3.5 million have used Airbnb outside China. 47% are interested in natural, cultural and historical attractions.

Chinese millennials are more confident about travelling overseas than their parents. They are exploring by train, visiting historic houses, touring the countryside, staying in boutique hotels and buying heritage goods. 100,000 Chinese tourists visited Edinburgh Castle in 2014.

They’re travelling far and wide too; Morocco saw a tripling of Chinese tourists after it removed visa restrictions in 2016. India is rising up the popularity charts, and polar cruises have recently been in vogue.

Shopping, eating and drinking

While Chinese millennials rarely make a choice of destination based on shopping options, they will still include time for shopping in their itinerary. Luxury and heritage goods are a big draw, with Chinese millennial luxury travellers allocating US$34,000 on holiday shopping. Additionally according to research conducted by MasterCard, about 2/3 of Chinese millennials favour Western brands over Asian ones. Therefore, shopping is highly appealing for Chinese millennials visiting Europe.

What do millennials choose to eat when travelling? On the one hand, young Chinese tourists like to try the local cuisines of their chosen destination – being more curious and open-minded than their elders. This is mixed with familiar foods with a traditional Chinese hot pot being highly regarded. However, unlike older Chinese tourists, a buzzing social life means Chinese millennials rarely spend more than one hour dining.

Experiential and luxury travel

Chinese investment of US$40million has been earmarked to build a luxury base camp on Mount Everest, aiming to capture a millennial market which increasingly prizes experiences. Unique or truly unusual experiences are attractive for their scarcity – and even more compelling if they provide great content for WeChat or Weibo. Experiences ranging from underwater hotel rooms and restaurants in the Maldives to short breaks to Iceland have proven popular recently.

And for Chinese millennials, experiential travel does not have to be cheap. WildChina ran a ‘luxury hike’ up Mount Kilimanjaro in 2015. There were 10 customers, 72 porters and 7 chefs.

Trends in Chinese millennial travel

Research for Melia hotels in 2016 found that hotel choice is very important for this segment, with millennials looking for room condition, service, location, high-tech facilities, and design and style in that order when deciding where to stay. Unsurprisingly, speedy Wifi is vital; this group spends 27 hours/week online on average.

Top destinations in 2016 included Seoul, Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris and the Maldives, with London and the UK sprinting up the popularity charts thanks to the favourable exchange rate in the second half of last year. In more familiar destinations, Chinese millennials are discovering new regions and cities driven by a search for novelty, authentic experiences and a desire for compelling content for WeChat and Weibo.

Recent years have even seen the emergence of ‘lung cleansing trips’ as millennials sought fresh air destinations from exotic Thai islands to chilly Iceland to escape China’s noxious smog levels.

The future of Chinese millennial travel

Over half of Chinese millennials plan to holiday for longer periods and spend more money on travel in the future. A recent study by the Singapore Tourist Board estimates that Chinese millennials will soon spend upwards of US$14,000 on travel annually. Luxury millennial tourists already average around US$65,000 on travel annually.

Millennials want their families to share in their international travel experiences too. ‘Family reunion’ and multi-generational trips are on the rise as children want to spend quality time with their families on overseas holidays. Unsurprisingly, these large family groups form very attractive prospects for destinations, hotels and visitor attractions.

Are you ready to attract 300 million Chinese millennials to your destination, visitor attraction or hotel? In next week’s blog, we will discuss some of the best ways to market to them.

 

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Is Chinese New Year 2017 Set to Be the Biggest Ever?

Chinese New Year marks a time for celebration. And also, the time for travelling. To celebrate the holiday, the people of China are given a week off for the Chinese Lunar New Year Golden Week. This year, it runs from 27 January to 2 February. In the UK, our clients are preparing themselves for an influx of very welcome Chinese visitors all important to fill  beds at this off-peak time of year. But how big can we expect Chinese New Year to be this year?

To get an idea, we’ve looked at Chinese visitor numbers of previous years, the changing travel and economic landscape of the UK in recent times, and forecasts for 2017. But let’s start with past years.

2015-2016

2015 was a big year for Chinese visitors to the UK; According to VisitBritain, 270,000 people were welcomed, up by 46% from 2014. Collectively, they spent £586 million that year here in the UK, claiming a spot in the UK’s top 10 inbound markets for spending. It’s no surprise then that, according to travel intelligence company ForwardKeys, the UK ranked 4th place in the list of European destinations for Chinese travellers.

Fast forward to 2016 and Chinese visitors to the UK during Chinese New Year were up again. Not all that surprising since the estimated total number of 2016 Chinese New Year journeys reached a whopping 2.91 billion. Yet 2016 was also characterised by widespread fear of terrorism for much of Europe, resulting in a Europe-wide fall of 7.4% in visitor numbers. Perhaps fuelled by safety concerns around France and Germany, London was up by 7.8% and Manchester by 27%.

Britain’s Travel and Economic Landscape

Why do we think 2017 could be the UK’s biggest ever Chinese New Year? First, if you cut back to this time last year, Brexit seemed highly unlikely. From January to June 2016, the British Pound to Chinese Yuan averaged between 9.3 and 9.4. Now? The Pound to Yuan average is around 8.5. The combination of a weak pound and a large Chinese luxury market surely means that UK shopping has never been more desirable. At least Beiwei 55, a tour operator specialising in the Chinese market to the UK, thinks so. It says the UK is becoming an increasingly affordable destination for Chinese visitors which may be why last year’s summer season saw a 40% increase in Chinese tourist numbers. Cheaper luxury products and the time to buy them are a winning combination, making Golden Week the perfect time for the Chinese to visit the UK.

Not only that but access to Britain has never been easier. Over the past year, the number of direct flights between the two countries has increased. Summer 2017 will see Hainan Airlines service new direct routes to London from Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Qingdao and Changsha. This is in addition to their previously launched direct flight from Beijing to Manchester. Ease of travel combined with a cheap holiday destination should encourage Chinese tourists to travel to the UK and send those visitor numbers soaring. Hopefully 2017 will reflect this and be the biggest year for Chinese New Year in the UK yet.

Chinese New Year 2017

Recent studies are showing signs of this already. EChinanews forecasts that the number of total journeys (including domestic) predicted to be made for 2017’s Chinese New Year is 3 billion, a 0.9 billion rise from 2016.

ForwardKeys study also shows positive UK inbound statistics for Chinese New Year 2017. Compared to the same time last year, bookings to Europe are ahead by 68.5% with the UK actually up by 88%. A phenomenal figure! The UK now ranks in 2nd place for Chinese visitors to Europe; a nice 2-place climb from 2015. This week, VisitBritain announced that the number of Chinese visitors in January is up a whopping 80% compared to last January, with bookings focused around the Chinese New Year at the end of the month. As Jo Leslie, VisitBritain, was quoted in the Evening Standard this week, ‘Chinese tourists in London spend twice as long as they do in mainland Europe, spend twice as much money and the numbers are growing at twice the rate.’ London is putting on a huge spectacle with parades, markets and entertainment to celebrate Chinese culture, maintaining its position as one of the most exciting places to celebrate Chinese New Year outside Asia.

With so much going on, in the economy, the market and the fantastic celebrations in London and beyond, Britain can be very optimistic that the Chinese New Year and, indeed, the rest of the Year of the Rooster, will be the biggest yet for Chinese visitors.

 

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This article first appeared on the travel news website, Travel GBI.

Helena Beard, managing director of China Travel Outbound, on what the industry can do to capitalise on the increased interest in the UK among the Chinese travel trade.

Few people have had such an influence on UK tourism as President Xi Jinping. Following the Chinese leader’s visit to England in October 2015, there was a flurry of Chinese investment in our football clubs, hotels, housing developments and now, we hear, the humble Buckinghamshire pub where he shared a pint with David Cameron.

Other highlights of 2016 included the launch of the first direct flight from China to Manchester in June, the lifting of flight restrictions between the two countries in October, and the moment when we all sat up and listened; the release of the annual visitor stats. Chinese tourist visits in 2015 were up a massive 46% over the previous year, shooting China into the top 10 of the UK’s most valuable inbound markets.

More than 120 million people travelled overseas from China in 2015, a number forecast to hit 220 million by 2020. That means roughly one in 10 people travelling overseas is Chinese. The market will be worth an eye-watering $255 billion in the next 10 years, twice that of the US.

The UK currently attracts fewer than 300,000 of them. Place these stats against the backdrop of a weak pound, a relatively strong yuan, and a drop in popularity of continental Europe due to security fears, and never before has such an opportunity for UK inbound tourism been quite so obvious.

The lifting of flight restrictions and the ambitions of President Xi for improved connectivity have also led to an increase in services. In just the last two weeks, Hainan Airlines has announced new flight routes to the UK from five of China’s regional cities.

At a grassroots level, our team in Beijing is reporting an increased interest in the UK among Chinese travel trade and media contacts. They want to know more about Britain’s tourism proposition and are particularly interested in unique experiences beyond the established tourism trails.

While the royal palaces may always claim the number one spot on the to-do list, the market is becoming increasingly adventurous and independent and we are asked more and more about experiences and activities; weddings, restaurants, countryside pursuits, golf, and even British beer tasting. It is safe to say that in China right now, the UK is definitely trending.

So what are we as an industry doing to maximise this opportunity?

More than 300 tourism businesses have signed up to the VisitBritain Great China Welcome Charter, a programme developed in recognition of survey results showing that our ‘Chinese welcome’ needed improvement.

VisitBritain has also opened new offices in China and runs successful marketing campaigns to attract the growing affluent middle-classes to visit this distant island. Yes, they are doing a great job. But is it enough to sit back and rely on their efforts?

Let’s look at the US, a country welcoming two million visitors from China and expected to be the number one market within three years. Tourist boards, hotels and attractions in the US are investing in the Chinese market, running targeted campaigns, training their staff and developing their products accordingly.

Our daily conversations with British tourist boards, hotels and attractions tell us that, although some of the more forward-thinking organisations are keen to invest in this market, many others are relying on VisitBritain to do the job for them.

There simply isn’t enough money to go round and prioritisation of source markets is based on historic visitor numbers and, arguably, fairly unreliable research methods. I would argue that if you are going to take a leap, better to look forward, not backwards.

Finally, the inevitable word about visas. As we are not, and never will be, part of the Schengen agreement, the UK is at a disadvantage compared to countries such as France, Germany and Italy, where visiting Chinese tourists can use one visa to travel throughout a number of exciting countries with varied landscapes, culture, cities and, frankly, better weather.

In January, Philip Hammond proudly announced the introduction of a new two-year visa system, and there have been improvements in accessibility and processing. But more needs to be done, including the introduction of the promised 10-year multi-entry visa.

China operates on a system of relationships and networks, collaboration and cooperation, loyalty to friends and partnerships with colleagues. The easier it is for the Chinese to visit and make these affiliations with the UK, the better our export prospects, the more students will come here to study, and the greater the economic benefits to our tourism industry.

We need more action in our post-Brexit world, and we need it fast.

 

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Chinese Lantern Festivals Light Up The UK

Lantern festivals and events are becoming more and more popular in the UK. We take a look at why that might be and the significance of lanterns to the Chinese.

Legend of the Lantern

What are lanterns? Where did they come from? How did they originate?  Obviously, lanterns are a light source that were previously used for illuminating spaces such as entranceways. They’re made with many materials but the most common ones in ancient China were paper and silk, perhaps with a wood or bamboo frame. And believe it or not, fireflies were also sometimes caught to be used as short-term lanterns.

So, they’re just used as light sources? Not entirely.

The tale goes like this. Once upon a time, sometime in 230 BC China, after Emperor Ming got a hold of Hindu scriptures he had a great temple built. He placed the scriptures and many paper lanterns in this temple as a way to symbolise the Buddha’s power. Paper lanterns have stood the test of time and still exist to this day bringing with them a host of other connotations, such as joy, celebration, good fortune and longevity; an object full of positive symbolism. It’s no wonder that people still use them.

So, how about sky lanterns? Well, this story begins in 3 BC China with historic figure Zhuge Liang. Liang was also known as Kongming so for the purposes of this story we’ll stick to Kongming. Kongming first used sky lanterns as a way to communicate with his troops. He found himself in a bad situation and needed to summon help against the enemy. Sky lanterns served their purpose in this situation and, funnily enough, this is how they obtained their alternative name ‘Kongming lanterns’.

Lighting the Festivals

If I said “Chinese lanterns” now, what would you think of? Would you think of either of these tales? I doubt it. Unless you’ve taken an extensive course in lantern history, in which case I applaud you.

But no, nowadays most people traditionally associate them with Chinese festivals.

Which festivals you ask? Number one: the Ghost Festival where people place lotus-shaped lanterns in rivers which are supposed to act as symbolic guides for their ancestors. Number two: the Lantern Festival where the lighting of many lanterns takes place to signal the lunar New Year celebration’s last day. Number three: the Mid-Autumn Festival where lanterns, which symbolise the sun and light, are used to celebrate the end of the harvest. And the last use, whilst not a festival, sees children take lanterns to temples to solve riddles on them in celebration of Chinese New Year.

West for the Winter

As was previously stated, lanterns are becoming more and more popular, so much so that the UK has seen a growth in lantern festivals.

Longleat’s Festival of Light is one of the UK’s earliest, and Europe’s largest, Chinese lantern festival, which transforms the Safari Park into a winter wonderland every year. Incredible, giant lanterns in all shapes and sizes can be seen there throughout the month of December into early January. As it’s a safari park, many of the lanterns come in animal form making it a spectacle to remember. The Magical Lantern Festival is another large Chinese festival making its debut in Roundhay Park, Leeds this year. Hosted in Europe’s largest city park, visitors can follow a trail around Roundhay Park and witness some of the most artistic and beautifully constructed lantern installations outside of China; lanterns which represent and celebrate Christmas, as well as Chinese culture and heritage.

What’s the reason for this growth in popularity? Well, a number of reasons could play into this. For the 380,000 Chinese people already living in the UK, it’s a reminder of their home and culture; a celebration of what’s important to them. China also provides one of the biggest numbers of new immigrants to the UK, with 40,000 Chinese migrants in 2014. Chinese lantern festivals would then have the purpose of welcoming and accommodating new migrants to their new home, providing them with a sense of comfort. The biggest reason, perhaps, may be to do with the British fascination for pretty lanterns, and the positive impact they bring for tourism. In the wintertime, stately homes and their gardens are probably not at their best; it’s cold, often wet and plants and shrubs lack colour. So what do they do to combat this? They usually hold ‘festive’ events that prominently feature lanterns and fairy lights, maybe with some ‘Christmas mulled wine’ or ‘winter hot chocolate’ included, in an effort to appeal to visitors. The beauty of the lanterns is a big draw as we move towards Christmas. We like to take festive-looking pictures and create magical moments with our family and, therefore, for the tourism industry, lanterns are great money-spinners. Also, the China outbound tourism market to Britain is growing with visits from China increasing 46% in 2015, making winter lantern events a great way to also accommodate to this growing market.

Some of the UK’s winter lantern events include Christmas at Kew, a winter trail throughout lantern-lit gardens, which is now in its fourth year. A botanical after dark experience awaits visitors; an experience boasting 60,000 patterned lights in the Tunnel of Lights. Similarly, Glow Wild at Wakehurst also offers a lantern-lit journey through the grounds and gardens of a spectacular Elizabethan mansion. As well as marvelling at the lanterns, visitors are able to absorb the architectural beauty of the mansion whilst enjoying marshmallows and hot chocolate. Events like these are found around the UK, each one displaying stunning light installations; another use it would seem for the historic Chinese lantern.

A beautiful tradition and, some would say, the more lanterns the better.

 

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