Capturing China: The Power of WeChat | Fox Communications

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Fox Quarterly Summer 2016

Capturing China: Harnessing the power of WeChat

China is the market of the future for the tourism world. Kept under wraps for generations and only over the last 5-10 years able to venture outside its borders, the pent up demand is staggering and we are just beginning to see the results of a convergence between a thirst to experience the world and digital media.

What is also staggering is that despite the murmurings of economic malaise, the sheer scale of the country and the wealth that is generated is driving an outbound tourism market that is changing in demographics as rapidly as it is growing.

Over 100 million mainland Chinese travelled last year – and this is only increasing. By 2020 the number is expected to top 200 million, a rise of 100 million travellers in four years, according to CLSA, one Asia’s leading independent brokerage and investment groups. Indeed, the tourism world as we know it is changing. Never before has there been such a volume of travellers from one market that is poised to dominate the global tourism landscape.

And if that is not enough, the nature of the Chinese traveller is changing too. The flag waving tour groups that are packaged up to the hilt, offering hotels very little in terms of revenue except for cut prized low season rates and often some upset guests, are moving aside in favour of the independent traveller.

This is the new generation, digitally saavy, moneyed and with aspirations and desires to travel the world. According to Gfk market research, 109 million Chinese travelled outbound in 2015. Of those, 50% were aged 15-29 years old, while over a third (37%) were aged between 30-44 years old.

Yes, the Millennials are coming. The size of this group will change the face of travel and tourism worldwide, offering new challenges and opportunities to the hotel industry. This is a group who love freedom. They are very different from their parents. They are less price sensitive and more driven by experiences – and cultural engagement rates high on the list, rather than just time spent shopping.

Seven out of 10 travellers in this bracket are what Gfk data research calls “white collar” executives who have professional jobs. They are looking for adventure, bragging rights and above all a new way to see the world – not in groups but as individuals, through personalized travel experiences.

The question is how to reach them. A look around a table at a restaurant in Shanghai to see everyone on their phones provides plenty of insight. Digital media influences their entire lives – from paying bills, to booking taxis to finding our new cool things to do and places to travel. China has more than 620 million internet users and more than 80% have mobile devices. This above all is shaping tourism as China becomes increasingly infatuated with booking their trips on Internet mobile.

According to the Center of Network Internet and information in China, 53% of Chinese tourists travelling abroad used mobile apps to book their trips online (hotels, flight ticket, attractions ticket).

The adoption of Chinese travellers to digital media has been nothing short if incredible. There are some clear reasons for it too led principally by the issue of trust. The new generation of travellers that are driving the outbound market simply do not have faith in old media, suspicious of the controls and self censorship it has undergone for years. What they do trust however and what greatly influences their decisions regarding what do to and where to do are their friends and peers.

This is where WeChat as a social media tool comes in and its rise in the market has been stunning. Launched just five years ago usage in China alone has skyrocketed to 438,000,000 active monthly users on the mainland.

This is also due to the fact that a number of the other social platforms are banned in China. There’s no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LINE, Pinterest, Snapchat. Even Dropbox is unavailable. Instead its all about WeChat which dominates the landscape – offering a comprehensive eco-system of social media covering off all the key features offered by other platforms and including a few others – like the ability to pay – a function used by travelers booking tickets, hotels and tours.

The most popular destinations for Chinese outbound travelers are close to home in Asia with South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Thailand lead the list. In Thailand for example, the tourism industry has been revolutionized by Chinese travellers. Only two years ago numbers were still small, but eight million arrivals in 2015 and an expected 16 million this year has led the Chinese market to produce more that half the numbers of arrivals to Thailand a year.

The most interesting part is the role that WeChat has had to influence travel – a fact being seen directly as the independent travelers now outnumber the tour groups. Smart hotels and resort have quickly embraced the new channel and are setting up accounts through registered companies in China with WeChat quota – and offering a show window and an experience for users to understand their brand and importantly destination – and showing the market and prospective customer that they care about them, understand their needs (such as offering short personalized destination itineraries) and know how to communicate with them in Chinese on the platform they know, trust and respect.

The experience through WeChat continues even after booking and at the resort – and it can be used as a virtual concierge – a way to speak to guests, offer them help and suggest special deals and experiences at the resort. The fallacy of the Chinese not spending on property is incorrect with this group. They are moneyed and are happy to pay for new experiences – which can be as much a candle lit dinner for two on the beach, with a chef serving at table side – as it can be diving in the Similan Islands.

The key is to set up a service account. Once this is done users need to clearly see it. There are a number of techniques to do this but not better than engaging bloggers is the most effective. There are bloggers with millions of qualified followers. The trick is to know them, know how to invite them and to take care of them to write about your hotel or hotel group.

And good news for the UK, Europe is next. There are increasing numbers of Chinese travelers going to France, Germany and the UK, where, according to a recent report in The Guardian there were more than 200,000 arrivals in 2015 a rise of 37%. This is just the start is Asia’s experience is anything to go by. And this is a huge opportunity for hotels and resorts in the UK and throughout Europe.

The key tool is WeChat. Weibo is another but it is not half as popular and the focus should really be on WeChat so the industry can start a conversation with Chinese travellers – the Millennials – and come with them on their journeys, influence their decisions, offer fantastic value and experience through detailed itineraries and above all understand their needs, in their language.

There has perhaps never been a greater or clearer opportunity for hotels and resorts in the travel and tourism industry so attract high spending, sophisticated travellers.

Summer 2016

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