The Chinese Global Study Tour Phenomenon

What is a global study tour, who goes on them, and why are they so vital to the future of UK inbound Tourism?

As the world emerges from the coronavirus crisis, competition to reach the top of the desirable destination list amongst Chinese outbound tourists is going to be fierce. This autumn, the whole world will be fighting for its share of this huge and lucrative market, encouraging the Chinese to return for Golden Week, Chinese New Year, the May National Holiday and, of course, Summer 2021. 

The UK will be part of this race and I am sure we will do well, with our fantastic tourism products and strong China Welcome. However, there is one very important sector where we have very real potential to excel and surpass the competition if we just pay attention and understand the opportunity, and that is the global study tour market.

What is the global study tour market?

A global study tour is a trip abroad made by a school-aged child for the purpose of learning. There are four main categories of global study tour:

  1. The most common type of global study tour involves a group of children visiting a foreign country to learn something (usually the language) with some elements of sightseeing as part of the itinerary.
  2. ‘Camp education’ is common in the States, where students stay in a camp and confine their activities to the camp and its surrounding areas. The content is around education, with most courses offering a theme; sport, art, science, technology are all popular. Many of the summer schools favoured by high-achieving students applying to America’s best universities offer campsite programmes.
  3. A third option is the ‘School immersion’ tour, where the student has a curriculum based experience within a foreign school or university.
  4. The fourth type is aimed at students with a clear ambition to study abroad in the future. This type of study tour aims at enhancing the actual university application and is intended to give the student the best chance of success.

How big is the market and how much is worth?

Like all Chinese travel sectors, it’s big and it’s growing. According to iResearch data in 2018, the number of people who participated in a global study tour was 1.05 million, with an estimated forecast growth rate in the global study tour / camp education market of around 20%. Of course, the coronavirus will interrupt this growth in 2020. The per customer transaction ranges from around £2,300 up to £5,800 and the estimated size of the global study tour and global camp education market in China is around RMB 94.6 billion (£10.5 billion).

Size of Chinese global study tour market
Image : iResearch

Image: iResearch

The market is still relatively immature. The penetration of the study tour industry is reported to be low at around 16%, and distribution is still fragmented, with a large number of tour operators having small shares of the market. For example, New Oriental, one of the leading players in this field, has only a 1-2% market share and most of the companies in the sector are SMEs with revenues below RMB 10 million (iResearch, 2018).

The biggest growth is forecast to be seen in the primary school sector.

The expectation is that although the biggest sector of students undertaking global study tours is currently those at secondary school age, the biggest growth is forecast to be seen in the primary school sector. This reflects the population development of young children since the lifting of the one child policy in China.

Why are global study tours so popular in China?

The Chinese middle classes are looking beyond day to day work and family life, and seeking richer cultural experiences, self-improvement, culture, entertainment and, very importantly, education. Travel is an investment in the future of their children and is often undertaken as a way to educate further, and to check out possible options for future overseas high school and/or university education. Travel broadens the mind, but it also offers the practical purpose of competitive advantage on a university application form. And all this in the context of the child who is still unlikely to have many siblings and certainly no cousins to compete with for the discretionary spend of the doting grandparent. What better way to spend your money than investing in your grandchild’s education?

What is the opportunity for the UK?

The most popular places to travel to for global study tours are United Kingdom, USA, Japan, Australia, France, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and Switzerland (Tuniu.com, 2019 Summer Global Study Tour Trends Report). According to C Trip, South East Asia is seeing strong and rapid growth over the last two years which Zhao Yao, C Trip’s Study Tour director attributes to low prices and a proliferation of European and American teachers working in South East Asia, offering great value access to language education. South East Asia also offers the benefit of volunteer work, especially on environmental projects.

One of the most popular reasons for embarking on a global study tour is to prepare the child for a future at an overseas university…”

One of the most popular reasons for embarking on a global study tour is to prepare the child for a future at an overseas university and, it remains the case that the USA, the UK and Australia lead the way in welcoming Chinese students at their universities. And this is the real opportunity for the United Kingdom. 

According to The Guardian, in 2019, applications from Chinese students to study at UK universities increased by 30% year on year, and Chinese students are now the largest group of international students in the UK’s universities. But the opportunity is bigger still and, like many things in China, it comes down to politics.

The trade war with the USA and the poor relationship with President Trump are driving Chinese tourists and students away from America. At the same time, China’s relations with Australia are also deteriorating, with arguments over trade tariffs and anger from Beijing over Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origination and handling of the coronavirus by China. 

Chinese people are hugely influenced by politics and the direction of their President. Any further breakdown in Sino-American and Sino-Australian relations leaves a path open for the United Kingdom to welcome more and more Chinese study groups and students to our shores.

What are the challenges?

So what does the UK need to do to maximise on this opportunity? Our team in Beijing has been speaking to two of the major players in this market and you can read the full interviews here. In summary, the agents are willing to hear from the UK and believe in the destination. They identify the most important priorities are to increase the options for study beyond the pure language courses, to focus on the promotion of our cultural heritage in order to compete with more famous attractions of the USA, to expand our promotion of the regions, universities and cities beyond London, to find ways to compete on price with the States, and to improve communication of product, benefits and tours to the Chinese travel trade, through marketing, sales missions, roadshows and trade communication.  It is also important for our top museums and attractions to create bespoke tours and products which can be offered flexibly as part of the study tours, and that they have Mandarin speaking staff who are able to deliver educational tours to the children on-site. If our attractions can make it easier for the Chinese tour operators to work with them during the summer months, and can deliver a really world-class service to these study tour groups, the demand from the Chinese travel trade is real and valuable. 

It is clear that the United Kingdom has some way to go in terms of product development and communication of our study tour offering, but the opportunity is real and ours for the taking. I hope the pause that has resulted from the Coronavirus crisis will offer our museums and attractions an opportunity to redevelop their offering, communicate with the Chinese specialist operators, and prepare for the inevitable surge in interest for Chinese study tours arriving next summer. It is an opportunity they would be foolish to ignore.

Are Chinese tourists becoming more responsible travellers?

Throughout 2019, the outbound Chinese tourism industry continued to prosper and expand, with an increasing number of worldwide travel destinations breaking into this incredibly lucrative market, offering many more reasons to fly. According to data from the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, in 2008 there were 43.8 million overseas trips made by Chinese tourists, just ten years later in 2018 this number had skyrocketed to 149.7 million and, it is estimated that the Chinese outbound tourist market will be worth $270 billion by 2025. In addition to this, President Xi has expressed great ambitions to open the skies and promote more flights to and from China. In September 2019 he announced the much-anticipated opening of Beijing’s Daxing International Airport. This new airport will be the key to enabling international inbound and outbound travel, acting as a pivotal air traffic hub. Already, it operates over 100 routes and connects to around 112 destinations worldwide. However, in the wake of the climate movement, this ever-growing outflux of Chinese tourism has caused some concern. Not only because of the flight emissions, but also because of some assumptions that the Chinese are less concerned than some other nations about their impact on the environment. 

China has struggled with pollution in the past, but arguably the extent of this pollution has been exaggerated by the media in other parts of the world. For example, images of a heavily polluted Beijing that were shared extensively via the media throughout the earlier part of last decade. Famously, in 2014 The Daily Mail published an article claiming that the pollution in Beijing was so bad that people were having to watch the sunrise on a giant LED screen in the middle of Tiananmen Square. This article was accompanied with a grainy image of a dystopian, smog-soaked Beijing where a handful of people were watching the virtual sunrise emerge. The article went viral, and a number of other prominent news outlets including Time, CBS News, and the Huffington Post published the same story. A week later technology news website, Tech in Asia, furiously disproved this story, explaining that the sunrise was actually part of an advert for tourism in China’s Shandong Province, and had nothing to do with pollution.  

Similarly, when some media outlets have written about Chinese tourists, their environmental impact has also been a point of focus and concern, with Chinese tourists sometimes being portrayed as irresponsible. For example, there have been tales of excessive waste, with viral stories of tourist groups overfilling plates at all -you- can-eat buffets and then leaving piles of uneaten food. Other articles have complained that Chinese tourists act in an uncivilized manner and disrespect the environments that they visit. For example, there was the famous incident in 2013 of Chinese teenager, Ding Jinhao, defacing an ancient Egyptian temple, sparking outrage and a backlash against Chinese tourists for their misbehaviour abroad. Despite the fact that isolated incidents such as this do not reflect Chinese tourists as a whole, if you Google ‘Chinese tourists’ you will be met with numerous articles and videos which name Chinese tourists as ‘rude’ or ‘unruly’.

It seems the singling out of Chinese tourists by some media outlets has, at times, created an unflattering and negative stereotype of the Chinese traveller, and this includes their impact on and regard for the environment. 

In a recent Oliver Wyman survey entitled, ‘The Changing Face of the Chinese Traveller’ the author lists four common beliefs about Chinese tourists which include ‘They spend indiscriminately’ and ‘They are always in groups’. These beliefs have ignited concerns around over tourism and over-consumption. However, there is evidence to disprove these images of the Chinese traveller. In recent years the Chinese have expressed their desire to improve sustainability and reduce their impact on the planet both at home and overseas, and action is being taken in order to make these desires a reality.  

Increasing demand for sustainable tourism 

In November 2019, Gillian Tans, the chairwoman of Booking.com reported to CNBC that the demand for sustainable tourism and responsible travel alternatives was drastically increasing amongst Chinese tourists. A study conducted by Booking.com found that 79% of Chinese customers would be happy to change their selected holiday destination if they were offered an alternative that was better for the environment. Furthermore, Tans expressed how Chinese tourists are beginning to opt for alternative and more sustainable accommodation choices such as home sharing, which now accounts for 20% of Booking.com’s overall revenues. This kind of accommodation is more flexible as well as environmentally friendly, Chinese travellers can cook their own food, which will subsequently produce less waste. It also allows them share in large groups for a cheaper price, an arrangement which suits large multi generation family travel groups. These kinds of choices made by cost aware and progressively savvy Chinese travellers are setting new trends for future Chinese tourists. Furthermore, these statistics show that a growing number of tourists are veering towards making sustainable decisions when travelling. 

Shopping locally and travelling small

For a long time, the Chinese have been known for their love of shopping, with discounted fashion destinations such as Bicester Village considered to be a prime UK destination spot. In 2018 alone, the global spend by Chinese tourists came to $277.3bn, the highest in the world. However, over the past couple of years there has been a shift in terms of what Chinese tourists want to spend their money on.  Gillian Tans highlighted the growing trend amongst Chinese tourists for shopping locally and eating locally produced foods when abroad, she explained that these decisions are made as a way of knowing what kind of impact they are having on the destinations that they travel to.

This desire to ensure that they are making a positive impact on tourism in the local market reflects how travelling and shopping habits amongst some Chinese tourists are changing and becoming more environmentally motivated.

In addition to this, many young affluent Chinese travellers are now favouring other activities besides retail. There are more Free Independent Travellers (FITS) than ever before, and this category of traveller favours cultural experiences and private personalised tours that they can share across their personal social media platforms i.e. WeChat and Weibo. As a result of this, the traditional tour style of travelling in large groups on a hop on hop off tour bus trip complete with extensive shopping excursions are declining in market share. Instead, many Chinese travellers prefer tours at cultural hotpots in smaller, more intimate groups. This is highly beneficial for popular wildlife destinations such as Scotland, which is known and favourited by the Chinese for its natural beauty, as it will prevent these areas becoming too overwhelmed by large groups of tourists. Furthermore, the decrease of interest in material goods is positive in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of Chinese tourists. 

Awareness and protection of wildlife

The Chinese are quickly becoming more concerned about protecting animals and wildlife, both at home and overseas.  In 2015, Northwest China’s Qinghai Province was given approval to build the Sanjiangyuan National Park, it was one of the first provinces in China to trial the national park system. In August 2019, the first forum on national parks was held in Xining and 450 representatives from regulatory agencies, experts and scholars from China and overseas attended. They discussed topics such as construction and management of nature reserves, biodiversity protection, and the future of natural heritage sites. The aim of this is to attract people from all over the world to come and see China’s national parks in order to learn about its wildlife and experience its natural beauty in a way that will still protect biodiversity. 

There are also cultural shifts occurring in light of the actions taken by conservationists to protect wildlife. Shark fin soup, once one of the most famous Chinese delicacies, is now becoming frowned upon by many due to its wastefulness and impact on shark species. For some time, sales of shark fin soup have been decreasing, back in 2014 the Guardian had already reported a 70% drop in sales. The dish, which was often consumed during special occasions such as weddings and high-class events, was banned by the government from being served at state events in 2012 as part of an austerity campaign. Since then, a number of other factors have contributed to the reduction of this once highly successful business. For example, the awareness created by conservationists that 100 million sharks were being killed each year, leading to the decline in some shark populations by as much as 98%. Additionally, high profile celebrities have spoken out against the shark fin business, most notably former basketball star Yao Ming, whose awareness campaign on the impact of the shark fin industry has greatly influenced the decrease in consumption of this dish. Celebrity influence is China is strong, and it is very positive that high profile Chinese celebrities like Ming are using their status to influence the minds of the Chinese people, who frequently respect the celebrity opinion above others.

Overseas, a portion of Chinese tourists are beginning to take their impact on nature into consideration when making holiday decisions. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 13 percent and 26 percent reduction in elephant rides taken and shows watched by Chinese tourists across destinations in Thailand, respectively. This was discovered by a survey conducted by the World Animal Protection (WAP) in August 2019. The survey also revealed that 77% of Chinese tourists interviewed from 15 main tourist counties in Thailand said they would rather see animals in the wild, and 84% said wild animals should live in the wild rather than in captivity. This data reflects how wildlife friendly tours are steadily becoming more favoured by Chinese tourists which is an environmentally positive development in Chinese outbound tourism. According to China Daily, WAP released survey results in May 2019 showing that more than 90% of Chinese travellers participating in overseas wildlife tours said they would reject activities that could be harmful to wildlife. Again, celebrity influence and the media are highly accountable for driving these decisions forward. The 2017 documentary, Black Elephant, by Shanghai director Zhang Chaodao has now been viewed millions of times, the film exposes the brutal cruelty and mistreatment of elephants in Thailand for the sake of tourist entertainment, and has played a role in the decline of this activity. 

The newfound interest in Antarctic vacations amongst affluent Chinese tourists in 2019 was also accompanied with awareness around the impacts of tourism on even the most remote of environments. An article published by Lifestyle Inquirer in November 2019 followed the experience of a Chinese traveller, Yu Tong, on her trip to Antarctica for her 30th birthday. Throughout the trip, the tour guides made everyone aware of the wildlife and all visitors had to disinfect their shoes and stay at least five metres away from any animals. Yu Tong came away from this adventure with more awareness and understanding of environmental protection, and consequently applied this to her day to day life. For example, she began taking public transport more often and buying less luxurious products. This kind of media angle is becoming more frequent in terms of encouraging more awareness amongst Chinese tourists regarding sustainable travel.

The positive lifestyle changes taken by Yu Tong after her trip reflect how with the right kind of education and approach from the media, Chinese tourists can share this knowledge and inspire others to make environmentally conscious decisions. 

Conclusion 

These outcomes show how progress is being made and actions are being taken amongst the Chinese to improve sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint. We know that the initiative and willingness to make a difference is already there but there are certainly improvements to be made, so how can we also help to influence further change? For certain, China is a collective society and following the lead of influencers is a huge part of Chinese consumer behaviour. Celebrities and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can make a difference to trends, opinions and ultimately, action. A prime example of this is Chinese superstar, model and actress, Angelababy, who has been speaking out against the excessive trafficking and killing of Pangolins across Vietnam and China. For a long time, Pangolin meat was considered a delicacy in China and their scales were used as a medicine for chronic conditions such as cancer. Around 100,000 Pangolins are poached each year. Since 2016, Angelababy has been an ambassador for WildAid and has used her celebrity influence to put a stop to this cruel trade and raise awareness of its consequences. With a Weibo account of over 60 million followers, she is China’s equivalent to the Kardashians in terms of her status. This means that her ability to influence is extremely powerful. Since 2017, all Pangolins have been fully protected from cross-border commercial trade under international law. This would not have been achieved without the influence of Angelababy and shows how involving a high-profile celebrity in animal and environmental protection campaigns can cause a great impact and bring about drastic changes in attitude. Whilst government initiatives will always be the best way to enforce change, involving celebrity faces in future campaigns to promote sustainability will result in further positive changes in consumer attitudes and actions.

For more information about China Travel Outbound, please visit www.chinatraveloutbound.com or contact us. 

Bon Voyage! Chinese tourists are setting sail

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

The market has potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venturing to the End of the Earth

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

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

River cruises are making huge waves in accommodating Chinese guests

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

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

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

Chinese tourist spending – opportunity for land and sea

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

Reeling it in

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

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

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

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Are Chinese tourists the new adventurers?

Chinese tourists are becoming more independent

In 2017, it is predicted 135 million Chinese tourists will travel abroad, making China the world’s largest outbound travel market. This has the potential to increase to an estimated 234 million Chinese overseas travellers by 2020. However, an ever-widening gap between Chinese tourists travelling abroad in groups, who are likely to be first-time overseas travellers opting for the comfort and convenience of organised group tours, and Chinese free and independent travellers (FITs), who are willing to venture off the beaten path to uncover unique and exciting experiences, is becoming more evident.

Reportedly, Chinese FITs make up most of the growth in Chinese outbound tourist numbers in 2017. 40% of these travellers are fully independent, another 40% are semi-independent, and the remaining 20% are tourists who rely on package holidays, but do not travel in big groups.

Switzerland is currently observing a rise in Chinese FITs. Data from Swiss Quality Hotels, Switzerland’s largest hotel chain, shows a 144.5% increase in the number of individual Chinese travellers who visited the country in January and February of 2017 compared with the same months in 2016. In addition, 12% of bookings for Swiss Quality Hotels were made on the same day of arrival, which indicates some Chinese FITs are willing to flavour their travel experience with spontaneity.

Earlier this year, Skift reported 70% of Chinese outbound travellers made their own travel arrangements or purchased travel packages for their first trip abroad, but became increasingly more confident to venture out independently for subsequent trips.

Different city, different people

As Chinese travellers become familiar with a foreign destination through multiple trips, and acclimatise to its cultural differences, they begin to venture outside the comfort zone of holiday packages and organised group travels.

This reveals the differences in travel behaviour between Chinese outbound travellers living in first-tier and second-tier cities. Residents of first-tier cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai are generally more experienced with independent travel than second-tier city residents.

China Luxury Advisors’ co-founder, Renee Hartmann, claims the majority of growth for Chinese overseas group travel comes from residents of second-tier cities, such as Chengdu and Wuhan, who are mainly first-time travellers. This is mainly due to the recent introduction of direct flights from these cities to overseas destinations. France is the most popular European destination among second-tier city residents, who account for 40% of all Chinese travellers visiting the country. Also, second-tier city residents typically spend more overseas than their first-city counterparts, showing that they take advantage of their first journey abroad.

Desire for ‘better travel experiences’

China’s perception of the importance of health and wellness is a significant factor in fuelling a desire to seek better travel experiences. According to Amrita Banta, the managing director of Shanghai-based Agility Research and Strategy, China’s affluent classes are becoming more adventurous as they increasingly adopt active and healthy lifestyles. A report conducted by the firm, which focuses on high-end consumers, found that China’s top earners ranked ‘travel experiences’ as the third-greatest incentive for travelling abroad, behind shopping for cosmetics and designer clothing.

Indeed, the lure of shopping as the primary motivator for Chinese outbound travel is diminishing in favour of unique and exciting travel experiences. Hotels.com and ISPO found the proportion of Chinese tourists who travelled for shopping decreased by two-thirds in 2016, and one-third in 2017. Instead, according to a Financial Times Confidential Research survey, the Chinese are spending more on dining, accommodation, and entertainment, a rise from 31% to 44% since 2013, to satisfy their desire to experience more from the countries they visit.

Adventure tourism is on the rise

It is estimated that over the next three years, Chinese overseas adventure, polar, and road trips will increase by 52%, 38%, and 75% respectively. New Zealand evidenced a 60% increase from 2013 to 2014 of visiting Chinese FITs, primarily for their leading skydive businesses and other renowned adventure activities. Reportedly, 14% to 19% of Chinese tourists planning on visiting New Zealand are doing so because of such extreme activities. Since New Zealand’s skydiving companies are struggling to reach the high demand, this had led to a shortage of licensed instructors. With the country’s unpredictable weather, Chinese travel agents ensure two bookings slots are made for skydives to reduce the risk of alienating Chinese visitors with sudden cancellations.

Tourism New Zealand found 71% of Chinese tourists would like to go hot air ballooning when in the country, among a list of other activities including abseiling, paragliding, and white-water rafting. This is due to younger Chinese travellers taking advantage of affordable flights and relaxed visa restrictions to experience activities which have little-to-no market in China.

Likewise, Morocco is witnessing a growth in Chinese FITs. According to the China Travel Academy, since the removal of visa restrictions last year, Morocco has attracted three-times as many Chinese tourists since May 2016.

Alaska’s vast wilderness and natural beauty has also become a popular tourist destination among young Chinese people travelling to the US for the second time, exceeding visits to Los Angeles and New York. This is emblematic of a recent surge in popularity for polar tourism among Chinese FITs. This year, Chinese tourists travelling to Antarctica accounted for 12% of an estimated 46,000 annual visitors. Father Christmas also saw a fair share of attention; Finland’s Lapland measured a 92% increase in overnight stays by Chinese visitors in 2016.

Keep it real

Evidently, Chinese FITs are clamouring for niche tourism experiences. In response, a leading Chinese tour operator has warned against attracting too many Chinese groups to overseas attractions, mainly to prevent overcrowding, but also to ensure an attraction’s authenticity is not compromised as a result.

One of the key appeals of overseas travel for Chinese tourists is the ability to share their unique experiences with friends and family back home through social media. The majority of Chinese FITs use social media and travel review sites, such as Ctrip and Mafengwo, for travel recommendations, and they depend upon user reviews to inform their own overseas travels. As a result, Chinese tourists are becoming increasingly enticed by attractions which appeal to fewer visitors than your typical tourist traps.

The Chinese outbound adventure tourism market is growing at a rapid rate. With China due to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, and with Chinese President Xi Jinping attempting to convert 300 million Chinese people to winter sports, the push for adventure tourism among Chinese travellers has never been more dramatic.

Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt, COTRI, told guests at the Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Dinner in London this month that the Chinese are looking for unique experiences that they cannot find in China, such as stargazing, mushroom and blueberry picking, and a slice of authentic daily life and culture. The passion among China’s FITs to seek out authentic experiences has certainly created exciting opportunities for international tour operators.

If you are involved in adventure tourism and you want to attract more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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How to attract Chinese tourists to your destination

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The rise of the independent Chinese traveller 

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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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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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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