With the growth of the Chinese middle class and rising disposable incomes travelling internationally on a far greater scale is the next step for China’s increasingly wealthy. The Chinese seek different experiences and for China the USA in many ways represents the ‘Yin’ to their ‘Yang’, it is perceived as a great country to visit. Chinese travellers to the US are increasing by 20% year on year. Strangely, Donald Trump is surprisingly popular and well known in China, the coverage from the American election peaked much interest in the states as a desirable travel destination too.
US travel agencies need to capitalize on this trend. 2017 will be the U.S – China year for tourism as both countries have launched a series of campaigns to boost tourism development. Different states in the U.S. are now investing more in digital marketing activities in China. The facilitation of an easier 10 year tourist visa application process is considerably increasing the number of tourism visa’s applied for.
According to the estimations of Goldman Sachs, the number of Chinese visitors to the U.S. will reach 5 million by 2025. However currently, America is still only attracting less than 3 percent of Chinese tourists despite the growth in tourist numbers. South Korea, Japan and Thailand are receiving far more Chinese tourists, reasons for this include the relatively lower costs and the closer distance but also a lack of quality American travel agencies with a strong and positive online reputation in China.
How do you attract Chinese tourists, the answer is digitally. You need a comprehensive, Chinese specific digital strategy to generate quality leads for your travel agency. The internet is completely in China with state restrictions and censorship leading to domestic, Chinese platforms dominating, it is thus a very different online market place to operate in.
Lead Generation for a US travel agency in China
The Chinese are still attracted by agency curated, group travel but you need to develop your visibility and e-reputation online in China:
E-reputation in forums and on travel websites
The Chinese are strongly influenced by the views of other travellers in forums and travel websites, when they search they will always check these for reviews and comments. You need to develop your e-reputation by up promoting positive comments and starting threads where you can answer questions about travel in America. Your agency needs to be seen as the ‘expert’ in this field. Communication, content and customer service all needs to be in Mandarin Chinese so ensure you recruit Chinese language marketers. QQ and Baidu Tieba are two such influential forums to develop yourself on.
Visibility on Search Engines
Baidu is the largest search engine China with a 70% share of the market but sohu.com is also an important player. You need to develop your marketing strategy here in order to rank highly in the search results based on the optimization of keywords. You need to be a top hit to be taken seriously, without being a search engine result you are practically invisible in China.
The majority of netziens turn to Baidu as their main source of information, they will be searching for keywords and you need to be seen on the first pages of the results.
SEA: (Search Engine Advertising)
Search Engine Paid Advertising on Baidu and Sohu is more effective than on Google, more Chinese tend to click on the paid ad links at the top of the page, ensure you select your keywords carefully, the cost of keywords will vary based on demand, what are your ‘buzz words’? This also is part of how you brand yourself in China.
You can also combine this with Baidu banner ads which are becoming more closely targeted, Baidu’s intelligent system the ‘spider’ records users search information and targets the ads users are exposed to based on their previous online history.
As an initial strategy for your entry into China paid ads are effective as they drive traffic, having said this it can be expensive and it is not a long term, sustainable strategy. You also need to ask yourself, which serious and quality leads will be clicking on the ads? They instead turn to the natural search results.
SEO: (Search Engine Optimization – Natural Search Results)
A comprehensive natural results campaign is the most effective method for generating quality tourist leads. It takes longer to develop but will pay dividends in the long run, it is also a more sustainable investment. Tourists browse the organic search results.
To optimize on Baidu you need to select your keywords in Mandarin and develop a Chinese version of your site that includes Chinese tags and meta descriptions. You also need to start generating Chinese backlinks from other ranked and reputable sites in China. Producing quality, Chinese specific content and PR that will be shared and featured online is thus very important for backlinks. Baidu also rewards original content posted from travel agencies.
Adaption of content and services:
Adapting and tailoring your content to the Chinese market is important. The Chinese strongly desire quality content, if they are attracted by content they will be interested in your agency. For travel in America content is easier to develop; impressive landscapes or cityscapes, Chinese reviews and features of destinations. It needs to all be in Mandarin and featuring Chinese travellers themselves, the Chinese need to feel confident that you can provide for them.
There will likely be a strong language barrier so all customer services need to be conducted in Chinese utilizing Chinese communication methods.
Social Network Marketing:
For US travel agencies developing on social platforms in China is vital. The Chinese are mad for social networks. The primary platform to focus on is WeChat. WeChat boasts 700 million active users. Users spend on average 30 minutes a day browsing content.
On WeChat content and sociality combine. Here you can develop both your visibility and reputation. Create a quality official account which can be customized like a mini-site, here users can browse your packages and attractive promotional content. It also acts as method of communicating with potential leads via WeChat, developing and nurturing these relationships is an effective way to generate leads. The Chinese like social interaction with agencies.
You need to attract followers to your WeChat account by offering promotions and incentives, competitions to win a trip for the family and discounts on your packages, use WeChat as a sales platform in this way to galvanize support. The Chinese often follow official accounts and turn to WeChat for much of their news, we sometimes call it the ‘WeChat Times’. Create stories that involve Chinese travellers and customers to promote further engagement.
Influencers in China are personalities and celebrities on social media that have already attracted a significant online following, they are very influential and can be recruited by your agency to promote your packages to a large audience. They are reputable and their views trusted by followers. Specialist agencies have links to these influencers and can help establish on-going business relationships.
There is an established infrastructure for US agencies in China and huge potential to grow as a Chinese specific service in-line with this developing China-US travel trend.
We can be your specialist partner in China with years of experience working with travel agencies, we know how to reach and attract tourists from China. Please do not hesitate to contact us.