The Chinese outbound tourism market is the largest globally by a landslide. With an emerging middle class and relaxed restrictions on foreign travel, more Chinese passport holders are departing the mainland than ever before. And this nation-wide eagerness to see the world is bringing forth astounding numbers.
Here are just a few Chinese tourism statistics:
- From 2010 to 2018, China’s annual oversees visitors went from 57.4 million to 149.7 million. That’s a 161% increase!
- It’s projected that the Chinese travel market will reach more than 160 million by 2020 and 260 million by 2030
- Chinese tourists spent approximately 277 billion US dollars while traveling abroad in 2018
- Most RMB is going toward unique travel experiences like sightseeing (97%) or recreation and entertainment (66%), with a dip in shopping (41%)
Over the last decade, travel experts have been digging into the rapid growth of this market, trying to understand Chinese consumer behaviour better when it comes to trip planning and booking. At the same time, travel brands everywhere are revisiting their target marketing in hopes of getting a piece of the pie.
If you’re interested in doing the same as a tour operator, you’ll have to adopt a few different strategies, considering the Chinese outbound tourism market is a whole new ball game. So, we sifted through multiple reports and articles on the subject and came up with three key takeaways:
1. Chinese travelers research on social media
Unlike US travelers who often return to a place they know and love, Chinese travelers seem to be the most open to new destinations. According to a recent webinar by PhocusWright and Miles Partnership, about 90% of Chinese travelers visited somewhere they’ve never been on their last trip, compared to that of 44% for travelers from the United States.
Amazingly, that correlates with the fact that 63% of US travelers already have a destination in mind, and don’t feel the need to research in advance. Whereas only 4% of Chinese travelers know where they want to go, and 57% of them will look for inspiration as little as 1-4 weeks before they plan to take off.
As you can see, there’s a huge opportunity to influence the Chinese outbound tourist to choose your destination for their next getaway. But again, you’ll have to promote your tour brand on Chinese marketing channels since the likes of Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have no presence there at all.
While Baidu is China’s number one search engine, there’s a lot of red tape for setting up PPC campaigns — such as paid search, in-feed ads, and display ads. However, that doesn’t matter too much because almost half of Chinese travelers use social media for destination research, and 2/5 will make travel and tourism purchases on a non-travel platform.
When it comes to social media in China, WeChat is the king. In our recent post on travel marketing trends 2020, we alluded to the importance of creating an official WeChat account. As TourismTiger puts it, “if your company isn’t on WeChat, it isn’t in China.” That said, here are some quick tips to gain visibility on the super app:
Getting started with WeChat marketing
- Select the best account for your goals — Subscription is for pushing high-quality content, whereas Service is, as the name suggests, for providing a service to users.
- Focus on delivering useful advice on your destination. Tencent only makes 19% of its revenue from advertising; the rest is from value-added services, so you should meet that expectation.
- Share exciting videos of your tours and activities. Videos are twice as popular as articles, and 45% of WeChat users like to watch short videos, following closely behind photos at 51%.
- Partner with a Key Opinion Leader (KOL), China’s version of a social influencer, and pay them to post about your brand. You can go about this the same way as Instagram influencer marketing by inviting them to experience one of your tours first.
- Target users with Moments Ads. Similar to Facebook Ads in newsfeeds, these ads show up in the WeChat Moments section and include your brand logo, company description, and up to six images or one video.
2. Mobile wins in Chinese outbound tourism
We already know that smartphones are changing how travelers research, plan, and book. However, no country has adopted mobile technology as rapidly as China — no one even comes close. They’re the key driver of mobile dominance in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, with mobile accounting for 80% of online travel gross bookings.
Of course, part of why China is leading the pack in mobile usage comes down to the rise of digital payments. Once Alipay, a Chinese mobile payment platform, used QR codes to handle transactions by linking directly to a user’s bank account, smartphone shopping skyrocketed. Essentially, China skipped right over credit card and desktop utilization.
Since digital wallets are the norm in China, tour operators can benefit from accepting mobile payments at the time of booking. And luckily, Alipay is making headway on global expansion, from tripling merchants in Europe to hitting prominent tourist attractions in Canada — giving tour operators a chance to serve this massive market better.
That said, 77% of Chinese travelers still pay with cash, whereas only 44% rely on mobile payments. But of the latter, 89.5% are Alipay users, so as the platform becomes more widely available, mobile will likely leapfrog to the top. Using Alipay Sources in Stripe, you can be one of the first to delight your Chinese guests with that familiar blue symbol.
Keep in mind; mobile payments are the last hurdle in the booking journey. If you want to appeal to this smartphone-dependent travel market, it’s best to optimize the entire mobile experience — from the first website visit to the last checkout step. Here is what that looks like:
Elements of a mobile-first booking process
- Page load time of three seconds or less — the probability of a bounce goes up 32% after that
- Responsive website design where nothing falls off the screen
- Noticeable hamburger menu for mobile navigation
- Short and sweet, scrollable content — keep the long paragraphs on your blog, where they belong
- A clear path to purchase with finger-friendly call-to-action buttons
- Date searchability to quickly bring up available offerings
- Currency Display to convert totals into a familiar price
- Three or less required booking form fields — collect more information later with a Guest Form
- Secure payment processing with refund assurance to alleviate purchasing anxiety
- Instant booking confirmation via email or SMS
3. Chinese travelers want unique experiences abroad
As Chinese international tourism grows, the average Chinese traveler evolves with it, moving away from large tour bus groups and selfie-sticks. Instead, free independent travelers (FIT) are dictating Chinese travel trends as they now make up 40% of the market, with semi-FIT taking up another 40%.
So, what do FIT Chinese travelers want? Klook, leading Hong Kong OTA for in-destination experiences, says that shopping is still a big part of their outbound trips, but unique tours and activities are becoming more important. They want to dive into the local culture, see a destination beyond the landmarks and go on a thrilling adventure.
In fact, Chinese adventure travel is taking off — New Zealand has seen this first-hand when struggling to provide enough sky-diving instructors to meet the demand from Chinese tourists. At the same time, 92% want to try the local cuisine, and trending themes on social media and guides include family, cultural, and nature tourism.
If your tours and activities fall into one of the above categories, then you’re already positioned well to break into the Chinese outbound travel market. However, if you manage group bookings by carting guests from attraction to attraction, souvenir shop to souvenir shop, then it might be time to add something unexpected to your tours.
Beyond that, you can wow your Chinese guests with a tailored experience as soon as they check-in. Here’s what you can do to make your tours and activities more Chinese-friendly so that they also have a memorable and share-worthy time:
Customizing tours for the new Chinese traveler
- Provide translated materials — such as brochures, audio guides, and signs
- Hire Mandarin-speaking tour guides and staff
- Offer free wifi in your ticket office and on the bus, and let guests know how they can access wifi throughout
- Use QR codes so Chinese guests can learn more by visiting your translated website
- Treat them to familiar amenities — like disposable slippers, hot water, loose Chinese tea, and instant cup noodles
- Create plenty of photo-taking opportunities, even designate an extra guide as the photographer
- Encourage all of your staff to follow cultural sensitivity guidelines
Let’s quickly break it down. By building a presence on popular Chinese social media channels, optimizing for mobile bookings and payments, plus tailoring the experience to make them feel at home while being abroad, you’re bound to attract and amaze China outbound travelers.