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How hotels can attract Chinese travelers

The boom in overseas Chinese travel continues. According to the latest figures, Chinese travelers made 145 million overseas trips in 2017. This is expected to rise to 400 million by 2030.

If that level of growth isn’t striking enough, a mere 7% of Chinese citizens own a passport. Clearly, there are enormous opportunities for travel brands to tap into this ever-expanding market. But to do so requires an in-depth understanding of the trends, behaviors, platforms and technology behind the boom.

In the following post, we’ll be exploring these factors in more detail, with a series of takeaway tips to help your hotel market itself more effectively in China.

Social media holds sway

WeChat dominates in China

To unlock the Chinese travel market, you have to get to grips with its social media platforms. While Facebook dominates in Europe and the US, the leading social platform in China is WeChat — boasting over one billion users. In terms of usage, it accounts for a staggering 34% of all mobile traffic. In contrast, Facebook accounts for just 14.1% of mobile traffic in North America.

In terms of travel, WeChat and Weibo (which has 411 million monthly active users) are both used heavily as sources of inspiration. It’s therefore imperative to understand how these platforms can be used to attract Chinese tourists.

WeChat isn’t just a social platform, either. It also allows users to make payments to other individuals and businesses. Suffice to say, this all-in-one functionality makes it indispensable throughout the travel journey — from early trip inspiration, to posting content, to paying for travel extras during a vacation.

Tips for success:

If you want to connect with travelers in China, forget about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — all three platforms are banned in China. Instead, you’ll need to build a strategy around the major domestic platforms. Due to its vast user base, WeChat is a good place to start.

Whichever option you choose, it’s essential to evaluate the strengths and weakness of each platform by understanding each platform’s core demographic and the kind of content that generates a buzz.

This recent article by Skift offers a deep dive into how different social media platforms are used throughout the travel journey.

Mobile payment

In China, mobile payment plays a huge part in everyday life. According to a recent white paper commissioned by Nielsen and Alipay, over 90% of Chinese tourists would use mobile payment overseas given the option. Approximately 65% said they had already used mobile payment overseas, compared with just 11% of non-Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists expect mobile payment to be available when traveling overseas. 40% say they hope accommodations will accept mobile payments.

Furthermore, 91% would consider shopping more if mobile payment brands were accepted. For travel brands willing to make the investment, the potential returns are significant: Chinese tourists spend more than any other nation, parting with US $261 billion in 2016. That’s double the amount of the second largest spending nation, the USA (US$ 122 billion).

Tips for success:

If you’re looking to attract Chinese tourists, having a website that accepts mobile payment should be a priority. But it’s also worth providing a point-of-sale mobile payment system at your property.

Given the fact that Chinese tourists are willing to spend more when mobile payment options are available, this could help your hotel sell additional amenities, trips and services during the guest stay — while also creating a streamlined experience that makes life easier for this audience.

The smartphone is king

Mobile is used throughout the travel journey in China. Notably, it’s frequently used to book — far more so than other countries. According to a recent survey by Worldpay, 32% of Chinese travelers pay for their trip on a smartphone. In comparison, five of the other countries surveyed (United States, Australia, Brazil and Germany) averaged just 13%.

In addition, Chinese travelers are happy to book last minute. Over half said they booked just 2-4 weeks prior to their trip, and a fifth booked less than two weeks out.

Tips for success:

In order to reach the smartphone-dominated Chinese market, hotels need to adopt a mobile-first policy. From initial inspiration to final booking, having a website optimized for mobile is essential to capture early attention and drive conversions.

From a user experience perspective, your mobile website should load quickly, offer intuitive navigation, feature an uncluttered design, and include simplified booking forms that reduce booking friction. It also goes without saying that having translated content and built-in currency conversion are extremely important.

The high level of last-minute bookers also reveals an opportunity for tactical mobile-specific offers specifically aimed at China’s mobile users.

Cultural behaviors and trends

Chinese travelers on vacation

Marketing your hotel successfully in China isn’t just about understanding booking platforms and social networks. It’s also about understanding deep-rooted family values, cultural behaviour, seasonal booking habits (such as Chinese New Year) and the new expectations of younger generations.

For example, there’s a strong tradition in China of looking after older family members. Knowing this, Cathay Pacific promoted flight prices on WeChat with a message encouraging users to take their parents on a trip overseas. The post received over 25,000 page views.

Key influencers also have a major impact on travel decisions. In 2016, Tourism Ireland invited a group of Chinese bloggers to experience various attractions, such as a trip to the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace, and a Game of Thrones-themed banquet. VisitScotland also invited two Chinese influencers to the country, with 1.6 million Chinese people watching their live streams in Edinburgh.

Tips for success:

Do your research. The Chinese digital marketing agency Dragon Trail offers updated videos and presentations full of invaluable information on the country’s latest travel trends, including interviews with Chinese travelers.

It’s worth noting that a lot of Chinese travelers are now choosing to travel independently, and they’re more interested in authentic experiences rather than to hitting the typical  major tourist hot spots.

For that reason, it’s worth promoting the unique customs, local trips, and off-the-beaten-path experiences in your destination. Along with integrating these in your outbound marketing, consider creating a localized content page on your hotel website to inspire and educate your audience.

Research and booking platforms

Baidu used for travel research

When it comes to researching a trip, Chinese travelers invariably turn to Baidu. The country’s largest search engine (and the second largest in the world), Baidu is used by 43% of Chinese outbound travelers, with daily page views exceeding 20 million.

The two biggest online travel booking platforms are Qunar and Ctrip. Based on market value, Ctrip is the second largest online travel agency in the world after Priceline. As part of its global expansion plans, the company also recently acquired US startup Trip.com.

Tips for success:

To gain a foothold in the Chinese travel market, your hotel needs to be present on the dominant search engines and booking platforms. That means having visibility on Baidu, as well as the two major travel bookings sites, Qunar and Ctrip.

Baidu is a platform that can be used as a marketing platform throughout the travel journey. Alongside PPC advertising, Baidu Brand Zone acts as a premium advertising product that allows you to include extra information about your brand, including your logo, description, links, images, videos, and social links.

Putting it all together

There’s an incredible opportunity for hotels looking to capitalize on the lucrative overseas Chinese travel market. The path to success involves understanding a new digital ecosystem — one that involves unique social networks, search engines, booking platforms and technologies.

Alongside this, it’s essential to account for unique cultural expectations, online behavior, booking trends, and the shifting travel desires of younger generations.

While Travel Tripper aren’t specialists in the Chinese travel market, we recommend that you take some time to research and find a agency that understands the Chinese market and has skilled native Chinese-language speakers. With the help of experts, you can build campaigns and content that market your hotel to a captive audience ready to explore the world.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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