Social media is a must do when promoting Australia as a tourism destination to the Chinese international travel market, writes Geoff Tink from Shanghai.
“Ding Jinhao was here.” It was a banal declaration etched by a Nanjing teenager into an artefact at a 3,500 year-old temple in the Egyptian city of Luxor – and following an embarrassed weibo post from a fellow Chinese tourist, it was a declaration that caused recent uproar across China. The very public debate that ensued touched on everything from appropriate travel etiquette to the concerns about the country’s image abroad.
But aside from newspaper column inches and a lot of national hand-wringing, the incident highlighted another clear fact: Chinese tourists are now a ubiquitous presence across the globe.
And those businesses seeking to attract Chinese tourists must respond quickly.
The Chinese outbound tourism market is developing at a pace unparalleled in the history of the travel and tourism industry.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, China assumed the title of the world’s leading source of tourists last year with over 83 million visits abroad.
Many of these visits are to Hong Kong or regional countries in Asia, but the figures and the potential for business are still massive.
Over the course of last year, Chinese tourists spent over US$102 billion – spending that has been crucial towards covering the tourism slow-down that followed the GFC. In New York alone, Chinese tourists contributed US$877 million to the city’s economy, at an average of US$3,297 per tourist per trip.
To put this in perspective, just look at the luxury industry – last year Chinese tourists accounted for 62 percent of all luxury purchases in Europe and 33 percent of such spending in the United States.
Australia is already well placed. Australia was the first western country to receive Approved Destination Status (ADS) for Chinese tourists and China is now Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable international inbound market, with a 13 percent growth to A$4.2 billion in overnight expenditure in 2012. Chinese visitors also increased 16 percent to 620,000 during 2012, making China the second largest inbound market for Australia after New Zealand. Chinese travellers are also showing a greater interest in natural scenery – which Australia has in abundance – as opposed to the traditional driver of shopping.
These numbers will continue to rise. Tourism Australia recently signed marketing or cooperation agreements with Air China, China Southern and China Eastern airlines, as just part of an effort to reach the regularly cited aim of 900,000 Chinese visitors annually by 2020. Now to get a slice of the pie, the rest of the tourism industry must adapt accordingly.
In the same way that an increased number of Japanese tourists in the 1980s led hotels to offer more rooms with twin beds or begin providing more baths instead of showers, Chinese tourists also have specific and unique traits that are now being acknowledged.
There are the obvious requirements, such as the necessity for hotels to provide disposable slippers, a kettle with Chinese teas, instant noodles, chopsticks, and congee for breakfast – but there remain a wide range of other ways that all Australian businesses can better target and then cater for Chinese tourists.
For all businesses, providing services in Mandarin Chinese is essential. Tourism Australia recently unveiled ‘Welcome Chinese Visitor’ grants to offer China readiness training to organisations accredited under Tourism Australia’s T-QUAL programme. Hotels have made rapid recent progress, but the retail sector continues to lag behind. Offering Chinese language staff and even
VIP appointment shopping has illustrated proven success.
But the issue of language also extends to collateral materials. Catalogues, brochures, maps and signage in Simplified Chinese are greatly appreciated, and Tourism Australia recently allocated
A$1 million worth of funding to translate tourism information across the country.
Businesses need to take this step as a minimum and ideally blend with dynamic technologically advanced interfaces appreciated by younger tech-savvy Chinese tourists. Just one example is iPads with information explaining the procedure for reclaiming GST when departing the country.
In another example, Phillip Island Nature Parks in Victoria recently introduced an iPhone application offering Mandarin language audio tours for attractions such as the Penguin Parade and Koala Conservation Centre. This is just one great example of an Australian business that has taken an extra step in creating a personal experience for Chinese visitors.
Any number of studies will tell you that Chinese are prolific users of the internet, so naturally a Simplified Chinese language website is also essential. Studies by the Data Centre of China Internet (DCCI) found that more than two thirds of Chinese citizens use the internet as the main channel to get tourism information. The same study found that 70 percent of Chinese citizens found their hotel accommodation via the Internet. But aside from a Chinese language interface, there are other strategies that can pay significant dividends online.
Businesses hoping to benefit from Chinese tourism must also leverage their search engine marketing opportunities, not just by targeting Google and Bing, but also Baidu, Qihoo 360 and Sogou. While the market share of Chinese search engine monolith, Baidu, decreased by 10 percent to 57 percent of total Chinese searches in March 2013, Baidu remains the dominant force. It is also worth noting that any decrease in Baidu market share has not been to the benefit of western search engines – Google market share has also decreased. Chinese search engines still represent 90 percent of all search engine visits in the country. Likewise, do not ignore local tourism sites such as Ctrip and eLong.
The Ding Jinhao scandal began online on social media – “I’m so embarrassed that I want to hide myself,” the micro blogger wrote – and this clearly illustrates that the localisation of online strategy must extend to social networking services. Studies have shown that Chinese spend over 40 percent of their online time using social networking services (SNS).
It is a well-known fact that Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are blocked in China, where Weibo, QQ, Youkou, Tudou and Weixin are dominant. All of these forms of social media have specific practical applications and can all be valuable to the Australian tourism industry when used correctly. It is a mistake to think that like some western consumers, Chinese consumers will think less of SNS-active brands – in fact studies have shown that they actually appreciate this added interactivity.
Last years Tourism Australia advertising campaign featuring an online drama series entitled “再一次心跳” (“Heartbeat Again”) starring Taiwanese celebrities, Show Lo (罗志祥) and Rainie Yang (杨丞琳) was a great example. The two actors engaged in a courtship across picturesque destinations in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, with the ten-minute episodes broadcast on Tudou and linked with Weibo. This nicely illustrated the art of the multi-dimensional social media campaign in China.
The use of Show Lo and Rainie Yang also illustrated the power of the Key Opinion Leader (KOL)
in tourism marketing to the Chinese audience. Whether online or offline and whether led by celebrities or by influential bloggers, mass opinion is a very key sales driver in China.
While these “opinions” are almost always paid opinions, the distrust of public information services and the prevalence of the internet make their impact impossible for any business to ignore.
*Pictured: Taiwanese stars Show Lo and Rainie Yang at Melbourne’s Flinders Station in Melbourne as part of Tourism Australia’s China social media campaign. (Tourism Australia)
And finally, something a little more mundane but of no small importance – providing UnionPay withdrawal points or payment options is greatly appreciated. UnionPay is the dominant bankcard in China by a country mile, and as a UnionPay cardholder myself, I can vouch for the fact that major Australian banks have been slow on the uptake. UnionPay cards are currently only accepted by National Australia Bank, although Commonwealth Bank is planning future acceptance. Aside from Duty Free shopping, retail uptake has also been slow, although David Jones recently announced that it would accept the Chinese national bankcard.
Meanwhile back in Nanjing, Ding Jinhao’s parents aren’t too impressed. His father begged netizens to stop harassing his now 15 year-old son, while his mother told a local newspaper, “We want to apologise to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China.” So while Chinese attitudes to behaviour abroad slowly change, so too must we. Chinese tourists will continue to come and Australian business needs to be ready. ■