Let’s say you are a tour agency in a foreign country. You don’t have an office in China yet. You aren’t also very willing to invest a great deal of money to set up and run a proper marketing plan just for China market, maybe not yet. You want to test out the water first!
What can you do now and immediately without a lot of cost upfront?
We will show you how. Keep reading!
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1. Build small communities by Wechat Group Chat
Wechat groups are a common way to gather like-minded people in a more private way. Brands big or small are all leveraging private group chats to build trust, interactivity, and community into their brand experience.
Different from Facebook, Wechat group chats are discovered entirely by word-of-mouth or QR code—there is no global search option.
The QR code is automatically disabled once a group reaches 100 members. Once the group grows to that size, users can only join if invited by a friend; groups are capped at 500.
This means that even large group chats have a built-in social filter since anyone who joins the group is likely the friend of at least one other existing group member.
As a result, every group feels like a secret, known only to other members.
As a tour agency, you can utilize Wechat groups in two ways:
- Collect people who are interested in traveling and exploring a certain place/ city/ country. In the groups, you provide a lot of useful information (videos, pictures, articles, flyers, infographics…) about those places. The ultimate purpose is to excite your members and make them want to travel there as soon as possible.
- Your Wechat groups gather the customers who are actually traveling in a place/ city/ country and act as their tour guides. You can help members with airport pickup, drivers, tours, and spa and restaurant reservations.
Ctrip’s virtual tour manager, just one example, was used for 10 million trips in 2017 and 14 million trips in 2018. The group chat dynamic allows you to upsell services and share relevant information in a way that feels communal, rather than commercial.
Ctrip’s virtual tour manager
2. Start seeding on travel forums
Most popular platforms to plan trips, according to a survey conducted by Chinatouriststar in 2018
TripAdvisor is allowed in China, but not as popular as its Chinese counterparts which are Mafengwo and Qyer.
Chinese millennials and Gen Z are taking up traveling as their hobbies. Thanks to the fast economic development that leads to an increase in spending power, Chinese young people are more frequently going out to explore the world.
Social media and mobile usage allow them to upload and share with other people their experiences and opinions. That gives rise to travel forums like Mafengwo and Qyer.
Taking the trend of Free-and-Independent travelers (FIT) rising as an important style of traveling, Mafengwo and Qyer are where people share their advice, tips, trip schedules, and recommendations about places they have been to.
The audience would find a huge amount of in-depth information such as points of interest, prices, recommended hotels/ activities/ weather… to prepare well for their coming trips.
Your potential customers are here to look for information. Your job is to provide them what they need to know to gain trust. Once trust is built in these types of forums, sales would come ultimately.
Try to become an active and useful member with insightful advice; answer questions/ concerns of future tourists. You can also write articles with beautiful pictures and videos to inspire your targeted customers.
It takes time and effort to build authentic trust. However, it is free and will generate for you quality leads and a strong reputation in the long run.
3. Have a proper Chinese website
This is the least investment that you have to make to attract Chinese visitors. A professionally designed website says many things about you.
What will you think of a business without a website?
Chinese customers are very careful in choosing a product, service or a brand. Due to a long history of scam, fraud and unprotected buying, they are now skeptical of new, small and unbranded companies.
Having a website is a minimum requirement to confirm that you are actually a well-established company and not just a random individual who wants to make money in this country.
- Websites in China should be hosted in China or Hongkong to load fast.
- Contents have to be in the local language, which is Mandarin and localized in the way that Chinese people can understand and find interesting. English doesn’t really work in China. However, bilingual languages would be the best.
- Websites should be integrated with Chinese social media such as Wechat, Weibo, Youku…; having a chatbot or a number to contact immediately
- Contact form doesn’t work in China. People want to chat or call which can stimulate response quickly
- UX/ UV is for Chinese’s navigating behaviors
- Online payment methods Wechat Pay and Alipay should be available
- Colorful and professional design that Chinese customers will find attractive
- Websites have to be mobile- responsive since 90% of Chinese Internet users are Mobile users
- Booking functions are available for actions immediately. To Chinese buying mentality, convenience is the utmost importance. If customers have to go to your office to book trips, they would rather get on Ctrip for other options.
Examples AigueMarine Paris.
4. Optimize your website for Baidu
Baidu is the most important search engine in China with nearly 80% of market share. Considering that Chinese people make extensive researches on different digital channels including the search engine to plan their trips if you are invisible on Baidu, you miss a great deal of quality traffic.
Baidu SEO isn’t necessarily costly. It depends on your investment in terms of time, money and effort.
Go for niche and long-tail keywords. They are cheaper and convert better. Write a lot of quality articles (of course in the Chinese language) to rank for those keywords. You can write English articles and get them translated into Chinese to save cost.
Contents on your own website won’t be enough. You need to get on other Baidu’s products such as Baidu Baike, Baidu Zhidao, Baidu Tieba… to gain more visibility.
As you may not know, Baidu prioritizes the results from their products than from your own source. Therefore, SEO on Baidu means to work on these platforms as well.
SEO on Baidu takes at least 6 months to gain results. In the meantime, SEM can acquire immediate traffic for your website.
5. Develop a network of resellers and affiliate marketing
There are many tour agencies who are looking for services and products like yours to offer their customers.
If you can find and cooperate with a local partner, that would help a lot. Your local partners understand China market better than you; they also know the taste and preferences of Chinese travelers. They have an available source of customers who may also become your customers.
In general, having a local partner brings a lot of benefits.
However, it is not easy.
- Most of Chinese do not speak English. Even if they can, they always prefer to communicate in their native language
- Most of them do not use emails and prefer to communicate on WeChat
- Google is blocked in China, so they search on Baidu
- Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are blocked in China, so they use WeChat, Weibo, LittleRedBook… (just to name a few)
- TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda, etc. are allowed in China but most are not as highly used as their Chinese equivalents. For instance, Booking.com and Agoda are also not as popular as Ctrip, Qunar, and Alitrip
In China, everything is different. If you want to do business here, you have to adapt to Chinese rules.
Check out this article for more details on how to find a Chinese partner: https://www.marketingtochina.com/how-to-convince-a-chinese-travel-agent-to-partner-with-your-travel-business/
6. Partner with Schools, Clubs, Event companies, Wedding Planners
Travel is a universal activity. Everyone, regardless of age, jobs, characteristics, background… can travel.
Therefore, your potential partners are not only those in the tourism industry.
Chinese millennial love going overseas to take their wedding photos. Then, you can propose cooperation with well-known wedding planners in the mainland to offer discounted tours or customized trips for young couples.
You can also go to schools, company events or any travel club in big cities to offer your products.
However, think of what makes your products and services different compared to others? Are there any other benefits that you can offer to your partners’ customers who you want to target?
Online marketing is very important in China because more than 90% of Chinese people use the Internet everyday. However, actively sourcing for partnerships, trying out offline distribution, promotion events and other offline activities are also necessary.
7. Use Wechat for communication
Always have your Wechat personal account. If your company is not based in China and thus it’s challenging to open a Wechat Official Account, just have a personal account then. It’s free!
In China, friends, partners, colleagues, families… all use Wechat for daily communication.
Use Wechat to expand your network in China. Then, regularly post interesting information on your Wechat moment (similar to Facebook newsfeed).
I have seen many individual agents who use Wechat personal account to sell their services. You just need to have a few satisfied clients; they then will introduce you to their friends by sending them your Wechat contact. Gradually, you would have more clients.
Most of Chinese prefer E-brochures rather than traditional PDF.
E-brochure is an HTML5 Page that introduces your Agency in an interactive and interesting way compared to a static PDF file.
Have a look Here
Prepare a good Wechat E-brochure to introduce your tours. You can send this file to any potential partners and clients. Then they can easily share it to their network if they want.
8. Be a star on Douyin
Douyin is currently the most popular short video platform in China.
Its users are nearly 50% below 24 years old, living in the first and second-tier cities, well educated and wealthy.
Unlike Wechat where your contents can only be seen by the people who you have added or who have followed your Official Account, Douyin brings the right content to the right people using its AI algorithm.
It means that as long as your videos are exciting, they have the chance to go viral. That’s why Douyin is where even ordinary people can become stars by making excellent videos.
On Douyin, you can also be a star and collect a lot of fans who are interested in traveling without spending a lot of money. Just make good videos! 15-second videos about your country, beautiful places, interviews with local people, interesting food… doesn’t sound too complicated, right? The possibilities are unlimited!
Create a Douyin account now! Watch those top videos for inspiration. Douyin has numerous tools, filters, effects and background music for you to make the most amusing videos.
9. List your services on Online Travel Agencies
The key Chinese online agencies include Alitrip (Fliggy), CNCN.com, Ctrip,eLong, Lvmama, LY.com, Qunar.com, and Tuniu.
It is vital to have your tourism service registered on these sites, as well as to consider targeted advertising to reach Chinese tourists.
Ad space on these websites is extremely limited, often taken by big-name hotels and tour services, making it difficult for small businesses to access the paid advertising.
But again, it is vital that you do list your hotel/service to access their online booking features.
Travel agents are still the preferred mode of booking holidays for Chinese tourists, even FITs mostly book through online travel agencies. Collaborating with OTA’s is vital to selling your destination, activity or hotel.
Easy ways to connect with them include trade shows or simply finding the right contact on their respective websites.
Money can make things go faster and easier. However, without a large investment, you can still start doing online marketing in China! It will, however, require time, effort and a lot of patience. But it makes sense, right? Nothing good is easy to achieve.
The good news is that you can totally start marketing your tours now to Chinese people. Don’t let the budget, language and culture barriers discourage you.