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Five Innovative Ways to Back the Winning Horse this Chinese New Year.
By Emily Assender
Friday, 31st January 2014
 

With the Year of the Horse almost upon us, EyeforTravel global conference director Emily Assender shares some tips for targeting the Chinese traveller;
 
If you’re keeping abreast of travel news across the Asia-Pacific region, you will no doubt have seen the headlines:

'Chinese Tourists now the biggest source of travel spending’ (BBC); ‘Rapid increase in number of Chinese travelling abroad’ (Asia Report), ‘At 97 million and growing, China has most outbound tourists’ (China Daily).
 
As news on the Chinese traveller continues to dominate, all travel companies have reason to celebrate the Chinese New Year this Friday. But how can you make sure your travel brand is on the Chinese tourists’ radar in 2014 and beyond?
 
Here are five ways your travel company can engage with Chinese travellers:
 
1) Engage through local social media channels and put mobile first
 
Never mind Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese are highly active on local social media channels such as WeChat, Weibo, RenRen and Baidu. To put this in perspective, it took Twitter 1,400 days and Facebook 1,600 days to reach the ‘100-million active users’ milestone. For the mobile messaging app ‘WeChat’, however, it took just 433 days. 

Not only does this demonstrate how active the Chinese are on social media, it also highlights that the mobile channel is key to engaging with an extremely lucrative target market. According to the China Network Internet Information centre, 464 million citizens access the Internet via smartphones or some other wireless device.

Another plus for Chinese social media is that integration between different platforms is possible; unlike Twitter, for example, it is possible to create defined Weibo channels that integrate with other social media tools such as WeChat.
 
2) Offer the Chinese traveller ‘a breath of fresh air’
 
Pollution has been worsening in China for many years, but last year it became unbearable. In October 2013, in the Chinese city of Harbin, pollution levels were 15 times the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.The police even officially declared that they would not fine motorists for jumping a red light, as the traffic lights could no longer be seen due to smog. Pollution has developed a major push factor, driving former domestic tourists out of the country whenever they can afford it.

Actively market your destination or travel brand as an escape from these environmental problems, and you may just rouse interest from Chinese travellers. Some airlines are already looking for opportunities.

China Eastern Airlines, for example, recently added two more flights to Honolulu, providing a total of five weekly flights out of Shanghai. And in April, Hawaiian Airlines will launch its own Beijing-Honolulu direct nonstop service.
 
3) Position your brand or destination as the place to escape the madding crowd
 
Overcrowding is another push factor for Chinese tourists to leave the country. Golden Week, a week long public holiday at the beginning of October, came under fire this year, even from official Chinese media. Criticised as a ‘Golden Mess’, Chinese tourist destinations were reportedly overselling tickets throughout 2013, which led to drastic overcrowding at some sites.

On the plus side, Golden Week delivered revenues of $36.5 billion to China’s economy. With incomes rising, tourists are looking at outbound destinations to avoid overcrowding at home. Position your brand as a place of peace and tranquillity, and you could harness some of this travel spend.
 
4) Rethink the package tour
 
Off-the-shelf package tours became unfashionable with Chinese tourists in 2013. In fact self-organised trips and customised tours are on the rise. Personalisation will become increasingly important and now is the time to get creative and understand your target audience.

This is especially true given the widening age range of the Chinese traveller. Not only are young people travelling more than ever before, older and today more affluent pensioners are also venturing beyond Chinese borders and have more time on their hands to spend in a destination. This could be meaningful for cruise operators, for example.
 
5) Campaign for change
 
On a final note, if your destination makes it difficult for Chinese tourists to obtain a visa then now is the time to start campaigning for change.

In Europe, for example, Chinese travellers must apply for two visas – a Schengen one to visit 26 countries and one for the UK. Research by the lobby group, UK China Visa Alliance, recently warned that just 6 per cent of Chinese coming to Europe bother obtaining the additional UK visa. This could mean your travel brand could be missing out. 
 
For more insights into how your company can penetrate the rapidly growing Chinese tourism market don’t miss this year’s Travel Distribution Summit, Asia (27-28 May, 2014, Singapore).

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