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Profiling the Modern Chinese Traveler

Let’s face it: China is a big deal, both in terms of geopolitics and outbound travel. The former is beyond our scope, but the latter will come to influence the way nearly every hotel operates in the coming years. As the country undergoes a monumental ecommerce and consumer revolution, a new middle class is emerging, rife with excess cash of which a sizeable portion will surely be spent on travel. I’m not going to indoctrinate you with statistics that prove how fast Chinese outbound tourism is growing. Rather, our focus should be on strategies to capture this market’s attention.

As part of an ongoing series of discussions, I’ve recruited Ernie Diaz, partner and marketing executive at Web Presence in China, who’s on the ground in Beijing. The objective of our latest talk was to formulate a series of four profiles for the typical outbound travelers from China, touching on their interests, their expectations and their fears. After all, the more you know about a tourist’s motivations upfront, the better you can design marketing and web materials that best appeal to each demographic.

But first, it’s important to touch on some of the latest trends unraveling in this populous nation’s urban centers and dispel a few misconceptions about who they are.

Native websites. In the past, best practices said it was acceptable to code for a Mandarin subsection or mirror site of your brand.com in order to attract Chinese consumers. While this still works, Baidu (the Google of China) gives much better rankings to hotel.cn domains where Mandarin is the primary language and the hosting is local.

Dao Dao. TripAdvisor now operates in China under the URL daodao.com. Just as this website has deeply influenced travelers elsewhere in the world, so too is its impact rippling through the Chinese Internet and blogosphere. If you want to attract customers from this market, you better get your Dao Dao scores up and your managers better start replying to criticisms.

Health and wellness. Just as chic trends like holistic wellness, nutritional supplements, no-carb dieting, Bikram Yoga and strict exercise regimens spread through the Western world, so too are many Chinese urbanites becoming increasingly proactive about their own health. Emphasizing this in your operations and your marketing materials will go a long way toward attracting consumers from this market.

Ecotourism. In tandem with the sharp focus on one’s wellbeing and exercise, the educated bourgeoisie in China is now quite bothered by the high levels of congestion and pollution in metropolitan areas. The government has plans to alleviate this dire problem, but these actions will take years, if not decades, to implement. In the meantime, those who have the means want a release; they want clean air and unscathed natural settings.

Indulgences. While healthy living is still top of mind, so too is the ideal to maximize vacation or holiday time. Chinese travelers don’t want to only visit the stock locales that every other tourist ambles upon. They want to indulge and splurge–on food, on souvenirs, on experiences and on hotels. The main obstacle to purchasing is a lack of information necessary for peace of mind, both digitally and onsite.

Hollywood. Already the second largest film market in the world, some estimates put the Chinese box office at a one-third rate of expansion year-over-year. As such, teenagers in Guangzhou are just as gung-ho about the latest Marvel installment or Transformers movie as a high schooler in New Jersey. Visiting the nexuses of the Western film industry–Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and so on–is not only a serious dose of wish fulfillment, it’s also bragging rights.

Knowing these factors–which are only a few of those at play–one thing should be readily apparent: the Chinese are just like us. With that said, here are four profiles covering a variety of demographics to better illustrate a few of the situations facing contemporary Chinese travelers:

1. Young adults (early 20s). In this stage of their lives, obligations are at a minimum and the desire for adventure is at its peak. Plus, everyone in this four-person mixed group of friends is fed up with the smog in their hometown of Shanghai and they want a breath of fresh air. Their past trip was to a quixotic beach village in Thailand–a very popular destination for Chinese tourists–but now they want something different, something a little more off the beaten track. They were about to choose the Philippines, but the uncertainty over theft and safety caused trepidation. Their runner-up was the Maldives, which are quite trendy amongst 20-somethings back home, but this group wanted something more rigorous and intrepid over just laying on the beach for a week.

As such, they settled on airlift to Sydney. They have friends living there, which eases the transition to a purely English-speaking country. These friends have also given the group some very helpful tips and recommendations. Their plan is to use Sydney as their home base as they tour the east coast, Melbourne and Tasmania as well as prepare for a hiking trip around New Zealand–the latter adventure heavily influenced by the group’s fondness for The Lord of the Rings movies.

2. Newlyweds (late 20s). With harried work schedules, both members of this new team had to forgo an immediate honeymoon following their nuptials. But the thought of an amorous getaway still permeates their thoughts and dreams every day. Both long to visit the United States for the first time, but they don’t want to partake in the usual boilerplate vacations to Los Angeles or New York. They want something special, something exclusive to their love for one another. Each night they cozy up in their bed with their tablets and browse the web, looking at Chinese travel blogs as well as English websites for which they both can somewhat read. After two months of deliberation, they’ve settled on a wine tour through Napa Valley.

Although California may be a very common honeymoon destination for North Americans, no one from their circle of friends or acquaintances has been north of San Francisco. They are not avid oenophiles, but they hope the trip will enlighten them in this regard as well as provide an opportunity for wellness and vinotherapy. After scouring the web yet again, they could only find piecemeal tips in their native Mandarin on which places will be mostly accepting of non-English-speaking foreigners.

3. Young family (early 30s). With two kids aged 7 and 10, they are both cognizant enough to warrant the family’s first major vacation together. Both parents have never been to North America before–their desired destination. Given that their English is limited and they are concerned for the safety of their children in a foreign city sprawl, the choice is to visit Los Angeles and stick to the traditional Hollywood jaunt–the Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Universal Studios and Disneyland. These are places they know will be manageable for young kids and have guidelines for Mandarin speakers. Plus, they can develop an accurate budget ahead of time–the airfare is already digging into their savings quite a bit.

4. Established married couple (late 40s). This upwardly mobile couple plans to revisit North America once again, but not as a dedicated vacation. They have one daughter who is currently enrolled in a New York university, so they plan to meet with her while they tour the vast concrete jungle of Manhattan. Their daughter has already expressed interest in finding a job in the U.S. after earning her degree and attaining landed immigrant status, which means this trip may be one of the only times they see one another in the next few years. Skype is not a worthy substitute. As such, they are looking to maximize their time with her by visiting many of the more popular destinations as well as a few that aren’t as touristy.

This couple’s last motivation is real estate. Their daughter, whether she’s at school or working in an office, will be in need of residency within the greater New York City area. She’ll undoubtedly need her family’s funds for this. As the parents support this move to the U.S., they have no problem parting with the cash. They view America as a valuable investment opportunity and a good way to hedge their bets by divesting money away from the Chinese banks. Having a daughter established in the West gives them options if any other family member wishes to move out of mainland China or attend school overseas.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky on Hotel News Now on March 17, 2014)

Larry MogelonskyProfiling the Modern Chinese Traveler