In the present day, it’s not far-fetched to believe that an event destination is only as good as its ability to cater to large Chinese groups. A particularly good case study is Melbourne, a city that’s had its fair share of success stories from China.
“China represents the top visitor market for incentive groups and this is increasing year on year,” says Karen Bolinger, CEO for Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB). “It’s important that the city’s visitor services and attractions have cultural awareness of this lucrative group.”
Speaking my language
Steps taken to make sure the city is ready for large Chinese groups include marketing collateral and sales fact sheets in Chinese languages, Chinese welcome kits, Chinese newspapers, specialised menu items, on-site Chinese signage and WeChat accounts.
But aside from language requirements, Chinese delegates want the same things
as everyone else––bespoke experiences by way of choose-your-own-adventure style itineraries, immersive travel, overnight stays in regional areas, programs with hands-on educational elements such as meeting a cheesemaker, and integration of social media into the programs.
“[They] want to get involved in activities rather than just see them, such as making wine or gin, street art workshops, and paddock-to-plate experiences such as meeting farmers and producers to harvest their own grapes for a personal bottle of wine,” says Bolinger.
Internally, some of MCB’s China-ready initiatives have included Mandarin-speaking customer service and sales and marketing teams, in-market trips for further understanding and research, and in-house training programs for all new staff to understand cultural requirements.
“Staff have participated in a Chinese cultural understanding ‘Check-in to China’ program delivered by Destination Melbourne, which provides a six-month experience in cultural understanding, language classes and professional development, including a 10-day study trip to Greater China,” adds Bolinger.
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), Australia’s biggest events space, is constantly on its toes to engage with the needs of Chinese groups.
In 2017, the centre hosted 3,000 Perfect China delegates. The annual event’s gala dinner saw 9,600 plates served in a 90-minute timeframe, the fastest in MCEC’s dinner history.
Two months later, the venue also hosted the International Dragon Awards annual meeting, which brought in 5,500 Chinese insurance specialists to Melbourne for a five-day convention.
Peter King, chief executive at MCEC, says: “For both events, MCEC’s team worked closely with the event organisers in the lead up to the event, utilising translators where necessary to ensure the event exceeded expectations.”
“To overcome language barriers, MCEC provided the customers with images of all food items and table settings during planning and, on the day of the event, customised Mandarin signage and Chinese-speaking MCEC employees were allocated to VIP tables.”
Meanwhile, Visit Victoria works closely with Tourism Australia to increase visitations to the state. Eventually, MCB hopes that this will result in more direct air connectivity between China and Melbourne. Also in 2017, direct flights were launched between Melbourne and Shenzhen and Zhengzhou, with additional daily routes connecting Hong Kong.
Some of the most popular activities among Chinese groups are getting up-close with native Australian wildlife including koalas and kangaroos, going on street art tours and workshops, visiting wineries, and attending food tours and cooking lessons.
MCB’s Bolinger says that some sites Chinese visitors particularly enjoy in the state of Victoria are Phillip Island Wildlife Park, home to the famous ‘penguin parade’, experiencing life during Victoria’s Gold Rush Era at Sovereign Hill where delegates can pan for real gold, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, Chadstone Fashion Capital, and Queen Victoria Market.
Hands-on experiences include hot air balloon rides over the Yarra Valley wine region, which includes a champagne breakfast after the flight. Also high on the list is a paella masterclass at Yarra River, where groups of up to 600 can learn to make the dish overlooking the city skyline.
“MCB recognises the importance of thousands of Chinese delegates visiting Melbourne and regional Victoria annually, and has worked closely with its industry partners to curate a variety of programs to welcome Chinese visitors, ensuring their needs, culture and customs are reflected
in the services offered during their visit to Melbourne,” she says.