Lao Tzu (老子, around B.C. 500), Chinese philosopher who founded philosophical Taoism, once asserted, “a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” More than 2,000 years have passed, but the quote is all the more true for the country’s contemporary travelers. And it has lessons for those who want to win over new Chinese travelers.
In 2016, the number of outbound Chinese travelers reached 135 million, up 6 percent from 2015, while their expenditure grew to US$261 billion, an annual increase of 12 percent. According to the Guardian, for example, 70 percent of foreign UK shopping mall visitors are from China, and on average they spend £2,174, 2.5 times higher than those from other countries. Their spending is likely to be on the upswing for the next few years.
As Chinese travelers continue to head abroad, however, their host countries find it hard to predict and satisfy them. The difficulty is due to the lack of understanding from both sides. The journey that took the Western and Japanese travelers decades to complete, Chinese are catching up only in a few years. In short, Chinese travelers catapulted from near-isolation to embrace the world in more than double quick time.
Like many other aspects of the country, travelers are also fast-evolving so many tourism marketers feel it is challenging to keep pace with their changes.
The old assumptions, for example, Chinese usually travel in large groups preferring high-end shopping, is doomed to fail. Many of them increasingly opt to travel independently, looking for immersive local experience including culinary, culture and social life, while becoming incredibly digitised. This naturally creates a new dimension of consumption. To seize huge opportunities to engage with Chinese travelers, therefore, tourism marketers need to avoid stereotypes and respond to the new needs. Here are four emerging insights to win Chinese travelers.
1. Experiential is the new basic.
Experience is at the forefront of the new Chinese travelers’ minds, shifting their spending composition. The days of buying all sorts of luxury are waning. For them, “I bought this pair of boots from Australia” does not appeal as much as “I went to a small workshop in Australia and made this pair of boots using locally sourced wool”. Statistics also show that spending on dining, hotels, entertainment and leisure activities have grown faster than spending on shopping. In general, today’s outbound Chinese travelers focus on what they “gain” instead of what they “buy”. Marketers therefore need to enhance their offerings of unique experiences that can steal the attention of this potential customers.
2. Provide 'purpose-driven' tours.
Chinese consumers are practical, and they go for outcome and efficiency. “Diving license tour to Korea”, “lung cleansing breaks to New Zealand” and “medical check-up trip to Japan” are good examples of Chinese travelers being purposeful. As long as they do some research and find out how to get a maximum outcome, they are willing to pack and leave in order to accomplish a goal. Therefore, it is important for marketers to leverage this trend and design a purpose-embedded services. They might need to work with other parties like medical agents to cater to Chinese travelers’ specific needs.
3. Design the authentic culture trail.
Chinese travelers are increasingly keen to ‘culturally’ engage with the world. They value experiences connected to local culture and want to be treated as travelers, not tourists. Gone are the days when they join group tours. Increasing number of them choose to step off the tourist track for authentic, off the beaten path experiences. In Italy for example, a new tourism product, the Pilgrims’ Paths, is meant to offer very native experience to them. The Paths consist of routes, once walked by religious pilgrims, that are packed with history. The key is to deliver a well-crafted story about local culture involving history, art, sports, cuisines, the natural environment and ecology.
4. Create services around mobile.
“Being mobile-centric” is another characteristic that one must never overlook. In China, people use mobile platforms such as WeChat and Alipay to shop in stores and online, pay utility bills, order take out, call taxis, make phone calls and text messages. When traveling, they depend even more heavily on mobile, making more than 60% of travel bookings on mobile devices in 2016. These platforms are where people find travel recommendations, look for promotions and share their experiences, in addition to marking reservation. More importantly, all these activities create an organic circulation on a whole new level. Therefore, one should tailor communication to different stages via mobile platforms, to talk to the “always-on” Chinese travelers.
Chinese travelers will only continue widening their horizons and bringing more opportunities into the market, therefore need to be viewed through the lens of accuracy. Those who communicate with empathy and precision can truly win the new Chines travelers.
Wenqi Du is planning manager and Anqi Jiang is senior planner at Geometry Global Shanghai.