Editor's note: Campaign Asia-Pacific has received messages raising questions about the authenticity of the report covered in this article, due to a Mailman client relationship that was not made clear in the report. We have reached out to Mailman for a response and will update this article as necessary.
In 2015, between 100 and 140 million Chinese people travelled out of the country, according to various statistical sources.
"We saw many [tourism] entities shifting their focus away from traditional trade programs to online, where they can create direct-to-FIT (free independent traveller) marketing programs across many digital platforms," said Andrew Collins, group CEO of Mailman.
To encourage bookings, tourism boards and bureaus used Weibo, WeChat and Lofter (a photo-sharing platform similar to Tumblr).
Social media accounts for 90 percent of all initial brand impressions, said Collins, and is therefore the first point of contact for tourism boards when marketing to Chinese consumers.
When assessed on five key components, including social media, to determine an effective digital presence in China, Brand USA came out on top.
Brand USA is the only tourism board with an official presence on every social channel, stated the report, with a total of 650,339 Sina Weibo followers
gathered from 20 different hashtagged pages managing and leading discussions on a variety of travel interests.
On Sina Weibo, hashtags have their own separate pages that can be owned by brands to track a separate set of followers, views and comments. A popular hashtag was #route66, with more than 33 million views. It also has the most popular account on Lofter with 70,000 followers.
In second place, Japan's JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization) had the most influential social-media accounts for the surveyed period, with 443,000 total views. The country's success was largely attributed to a strong set of consistent topics that saw a steady level of impressions, averaging more than 9,000 per post, stated the report.
Here's the flip side. In China, fake engagement via zombie followers is commonplace, and can be detected through abnormal repost rates and identical comments. Austria, Canada, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK were all found to have fake engagement, according to Mailman's Passport 2016
Singapore Tourism Board, for example, established its accounts in 2011, but they are now completely inactive and devoid of real fans.
Despite being in fourth place and having one of the oldest tourism accounts since 2009, Hong Kong Tourism Board may have neglected the problem of fake fans out of its 1.8 million on Sina Weibo.
The data for this report, the first of its kind, was collected over the period of September to November 2015.