The Gateway to Chinese Travellers

We all know Chinese outbound travel is growing. But by how much? How does one get involved? What are the first steps? The process is intimidating, and so I’ve sought the help of experts to help hoteliers understand this business arena. Joining me today is Evan Saunders, the CEO of Attract China (www.AttractChina.com) to discuss how Chinese tourism is impacting the world and how your hotel can get involved.

We hear a lot about China in terms of outbound travel. What are the numbers saying?

The numbers resonating from outbound Chinese travelers are staggering. Five years ago, they were barely making an impact on the world economy, but as of 2012, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has reported Chinese travelers spent a record $102 billion (US) on international tourism during the year, a 40% rise from $73 billion (US) in 2011. The numbers being predicted for 2015 and 2016 are so massive that, while sometimes people don’t believe them, they all point to one thing: this country of over a billion people loves to travel, see the world and experience life outside of its borders.

The stereotypical view of the Chinese traveler is a budget bus tour, focused on primary sights. Is that valid?

At one point in time this was a valid statement. Most Chinese had never been outside of China before, and trips to America or Europe were much easier for many obvious reasons. With that said, this has changed tremendously over the past few years alone. According to the Hotels.com and Chinese International Travel Monitor 2012 report, 59% of Chinese tourists traveling to the US in the past year were designated independent travelers. Many of these travelers once did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour from Los Angeles to New York City in two weeks. While that was fun, it was entirely exhausting and they prefer their next visit to be more leisurely. The Chinese who lack the funds and experience to organize a trip themselves will absolutely still do bus tours. However, that market is getting smaller and generally populated by first-time travelers.

What are the hot destinations for the Chinese traveler today? What about the future

Paris is packed with Chinese travelers. London can’t issue enough visas. Even Hungary and its surrounding countries are seeing an influx. One could say America is a hot destination – and we don’t see that changing at all. The individual cities and states will flux. Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington DC, and Las Vegas are the top five right now.  But other cities will emerge as hot destinations as well. For example, Massachusetts (mainly Boston) gets a strong 13.7% market share of all Chinese travelers coming to America but only attracts 3.7% of overall expenditure. Here is a hot destination that needs to make itself hotter and capitalize on the Chinese already visiting the city and state.

If a hotel in those ‘hot’ destinations wants to grow their business from China, what are the mandatory elements to their approach?

You have to put yourself out there to be found – Chinese are in China looking for hotels, attractions and things to do (unsurprisingly) in Mandarin. You need a Chinese facing image and that doesn’t mean changing who you area. It simply means communicating your brand effectively to a target market that might be looking for different selling points than their American or European counterparts. Don’t change your brand, just know what your target market wants and give them that. For example, Chinese care very little about hotel room size, even though the square footage of a room is important to some Americans.

If a hotel is not in a ‘hot’ destination, does that mean they have no hope in attracting Chinese visitors?

Not at all. Thanks to the internet (according to the Data Center of China Internet 2011 study, 70% of Chinese citizens find hotels using the internet) it’s very easy for someone all the way in China to research and learn about destinations 6000+ miles away without ever leaving their home. Chinese look for experiences and activities – hotels should associate themselves with the top things to do in the area.

Once you attract the Chinese visitor, what do you do to retain this business?

To retain the business, find out why they came, what they liked and most importantly what they didn’t like. This can be achieved through a simple survey card given at checkout. Connecting with these same visitors online and building a following with them via Chinese social media (which many hotels already do in Western social media) is a simple way to easily allow those who stayed with you to follow you online, keep in touch and share you with others. The easier you make it for Chinese to share your information with their friends (preferably online), the easier you’ll make it for visitors to tell others about their (hopefully fantastic) experience.

What is your prediction for the future for outbound Chinese tourism?

I travel to about five new countries each year to understand their tourism market. Over the past decade and 50 countries later, I’ve seen nothing but a rapid increase in Chinese tourism. This is both in terms of Chinese-friendly marketing materials and signs, and also Chinese travelers themselves. From Australia and Zimbabwe to Estonia and everywhere in-between, I’ve been shocked by the waves of Chinese tourists and appropriate signs present. And then walking into retailers, restaurants and hotels, asking the simple question of “Do you have many Chinese tourists?” and always getting the response of an emphatic “Yes!” all points to the fact that the future of outbound Chinese tourism is already here. Anyone who has traveled extensively in China knows one thing is for sure: they love to travel, explore and be active. If their domestic travel is any indication, the world has yet to see the full impact.

How does golf fit into the picture?

Golf is huge amongst wealthier Chinese citizens. According to the 2012 Hurun Report, golf is the most preferred sport among Chinese millionaires. This same group surveyed said traveling was the most preferred leisure activity among Chinese millionaires. This same report dictates that Chinese fondness of golf has helped boost tourism in this area. Outside of this report, we’ve seen firsthand golf courses requesting more information on appealing to and attracting the Chinese market. With this as evidence, there’s no doubt that luxury golf courses have also seen this interest from China. Coincidentally, while writing this response, I came across this New York Times article on a related topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/magazine/golf-in-china-is-younger-than-tiger-woods-but-growing-up-fast.html.

We hear a lot about brand names being important to the Chinese traveler. If you are not, for example, a Ritz-Carlton, can you still be successful?

Absolutely. It’s all about knowing your target market and ensuring you appeal to them. With a country of over a billion people, it’s naïve to think one type of general campaign will reach and attract every type of Chinese traveler. Non-brand names need to understand their focus – independent, boutique hotels absolutely have a market looking for them. For instance, one of the independent non-branded hotels we work with not only has a Chinese website that can be found via searches in Chinese, but if you go onto the Chinese Wikipedia Page for Boston, they are the only hotel listed. Putting yourself out there and not relying on brand prominence is one of the best ways to drive business.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on October 10, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyThe Gateway to Chinese Travellers