To many in the Western World, cracking the Chinese travel market is a frustrating enigma. There are over a billion souls living in this over-six-thousand-years-old nation with a voraciously widening middle class, and yet a combination of language, cultural and governmental barriers intimidate us away from launching full-fledged awareness campaigns in this market. But this shouldn’t be the case, and it’s why I’ve been ever curious these past few years, seeking out individuals who have insights as to how hotels can breach this gap.
I had the chance recently to interview Evan Saunders, the CEO of Attract China, with regard to the expectations of Chinese outbound travelers as well as a few simple tips that hotels can implement to better accommodate members of this group. And to clue you in on the gravitas of this situation, it’s estimated that by 2018 China will be the number one nation in terms of visitors to the US and in the top three for most other Western European countries. The main obstacle which prevents this from occurring right now has to do with visa issuing.
As of now, the top destinations tend to be the foremost tourist cities. They want to experience the best the West has to offer. In the US, this entails New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco while in Europe, it’s primarily London, Paris and Rome. However, as more direct flights open up and Chinese visitors become acclimatized to international travel, new locations are quickly gaining ground – Boston and Orlando (theme parks the essential factor here) in the US, and Barcelona, Madrid, Florence, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Amsterdam in Europe.
A cardinal expectation amongst Mandarin speakers is that foreigners won’t comprehend their language. As such, they come prepared; they’ve done their homework and research – often starting upwards of six months out from the departure date. They know the specifics of their daily itineraries well before they set foot in another country, and they have near memorized how to get to and from the airport.
In line with this, a hotelier shouldn’t expect last minute bookings from this group; they complete their reservations at a minimum of one month ahead of time. Free and independent travelers will most likely find your hotel through online resources (and they’ll reserve online, too) whereas groups will book through a travel agent.
As Saunders points out, this behavior can also be leveraged as a value-add. Properties that have staff members who can converse in Mandarin or properly translated pamphlets and websites will make very powerful impressions of these guests. Like many other aspects of our business, it’s all about exceeding expectations.
In fact, any semblance of home you provide will be greatly appreciated. For instance, they aren’t expecting a full buffet catered specifically to their indigenous cuisine, but offering select Chinese breakfast items like noodles, dumplings (bao or jiaozi), tofu, rice porridge (congee) or pancakes (bing) will go a long way towards making such guests feel at ease. And once again, free WiFi rears its bothersome head; given that Mandarin speakers won’t be able to vocalize their inquiries, they’ll need the internet to find answers in their native tongue.
Other in-room ‘gestures of good faith’ include slippers and tea kettles as well as toothbrushes and toothpastes (just imagine how hard it would be to locate these two essential items in a city where you don’t know the local language). Welcome letters in Mandarin, or any other translated materials for that matter, also go a long way as well as dedicated smoking rooms or proper signage to indicate where guests can smoke.
In terms of actual marketing best practices, my conversation with Saunders shifted to the nature of internet usage in China and how its citizens source the web to determine their travel destination. Successful advertising and awareness efforts seem to be shifting away from conventional channels towards those that are peer-reviewed. Think blogs, dedicated travel websites and social networks (which are different from those utilized elsewhere in the world).
Our chat concluded with a discussion of DaoDao.com, an online travel entity owned by TripAdvisor. Saunders warned that the website isn’t getting the traffic needed for critical mass because it didn’t offer expert reviews nor did it allow for users to post to their own personal blogs or syndicate to external addresses. As a surrogate, Saunders advocates the newly launched XiaoYaoDao.cn which specializes in expert reviews for popular destinations like New York City, with a rapidly expanding repertoire of appraisals.
Either way, what’s vital to know here is that if you want to crack the Chinese outbound travel cipher, you must investigate these third party review sites alongside other informal channels.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in eHotelier on Tuesday, December 2, 2014)