By Marie Tulloch, Senior Client Services Manager at Chinese marketing consultancy Emerging Communications
A sharp rise is expected in the number of Chinese tourists coming to the UK this year, and spending could be as high as £1billion, with independent hotels and small chains potentially set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
The majority of Chinese visitors are a new generation of wealthy millennials who reject group travel and staying in accommodation owned by large hotel groups as previous generations did. They are expected to far exceed the last annual count of 5.99 million room nights. This is a guide to winning their business.
Clumsy translations, hard promotions, and assumptive marketing messages are among the audiences’ pet hates, and are a common approach in the UK tourism arena. To make your property stand out show heart and sincerity behind communications.
No.2: Millennial travel is independent
High spending tourists from China travel independently, either as a family unit, with partners or in small groups of friends. They plan itineraries and book hotel rooms well in advance of leaving home, and they want every part of their trip to be tailored to fit. Where tour guides are involved you are likely to see custom-made itineraries provided by boutique travel agencies.
If possible, meet customer expectation through translated signage and materials online and on site, and through provision of mobile payment options.
Mobile ‘phone social media payment has largely replaced cash and credit cards in most of China, and is now the most common form of payment by Chinese tourist overseas. Catering for this by installing a mobile payment system such as Alipay, should involve little if any expense, sends a powerful message of welcome, and even comes with free marketing tools. Alipay can be contacted via this link https://global.alipay.com/open/faq.htm
Online reviews are one of the most influential factors when visitors decide hotel selection. For those new to the Chinese market, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders or influencers) are a guaranteed method to generate awareness and establish credibility.
KOLs that address travel and hotels in the UK can be identified and targeted to promote key messages, and though they usually require payment the benefits far outweigh investment. Professional Chinese marketing support will be needed to utilise KOLs, but is a worthwhile expenditure.
No.4: The hotel research journey
KOLs aside, the other main form of search is through social media, which is not surprising when in China more than 50 per cent of purchases of medium and high ticket items are made as a direct result of social media recommendation.
There is often confusion about the two big social media options in China, We Chat and Weibo. Both are extremely widely used, and powerful in terms of communications reach. But We Chat is a closed platform, meaning only existing followers of a given account can see content, and to everyone else it is invisible. Therefore, Weibo should always be the starting point in creating a social media presence.
In time WeChat can be utilised along with travel platforms such as Mafengwo, Ctrip, AirBnB, Tripadvisor, and Chinese travel blogs.
Most UK brands do not set out Chinese name and branding, which leads to a fragmented image. One hotel can have four or more different Chinese translations, and in response slang names are often created that are far from flattering. As an example, highland games are sometimes referred to as,’ Strong man skirt party’.
Even if China is not currently your market, or your brand is not actively marketing to Chinese consumers, it may be worth establishing a localised brand name for the future.
No.6: Chinese customers are always closer than you think
As well as tourists, the 106,000 Chinese students in the UK are another good prospective market for independent hotels. Do not liken their habits to the stereotypes of British counterparts. They are well-behaved, wealthy and have on average £1,500 in disposable income to spend each month. Visiting heritage sites and KOL recommended hotspots are integral to the Chinese student experience in the UK. Not only that, but they also act as personal tour guides and make recommendations to wealthy relatives and friends that visit – each student in the UK is visited an average of 3.3 times per year.
For those wanting to know more about marketing to Chinese tourists a helpful new major initiative is the ‘Marketing To China Conference’ (https://marketingtochinaconference.com). It includes specialists talking about the tourist market, and also has mentoring. It takes place on 5 and 6 of June in Central London, with experts from all over the World coming together to educate on how to maximise revenue opportunities by identifying consumer targets, and creating the most effective marketing.