Two decades ago, a modest 10.5m overseas trips were made by Chinese residents. Fast forward to 2018 and the figure was 149.7m – an astounding increase of 1,326 percent.

In less than 20 years, China has grown from travel minnows to the world’s most powerful outbound market, leapfrogging the US – and leaving it in its wake. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Chinese tourists overseas spent $277.3bn in 2018, up from around $10bn in the year 2000 while this number for America was $144.2bn.

Needless to say, Chinese outbound tourists are an attractive source of growth and revenue for tourism services from every destination of the world.

Since China’s new generation of consumers, namely millennial and GenZ, are digital natives, most of their shopping journey from discovery to purchasing happens online. This means that even though you may not yet have an office in China, you can still promote your country to Chinese tourists through China’s digital channels.

This article will show you how.

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1. Put yourself in the shoes of Chinese customers and understand their buying behaviors

Much has been written about the digital transformation in China and the country’s explosive growth in e-commerce. Less well understood is how Chinese shoppers use the internet—and how their buying experience differs from that of consumers in other markets.

These general observations stay true to all kinds of products and industries including tourism.

To Chinese people, shopping is more like an adventure where they like to spend time discovering and exploring as if they are going to the mall with friends or family.

That’s why China’s shoppers rarely make the e-commerce site their destination. They go online through an array of digital channels to be entertained, to educate themselves, to socialize with friends as well as to discover new products and brands, several times every day.

More importantly, buying opportunities are woven seamlessly into these activities. If Chinese consumers see something they like, they can buy it immediately through embedded purchase links.

Therefore, merchants partner with content providers and key opinion leaders, such as celebrities and experts, to create innovative, engaging online experiences that generate buzz, draw in consumers, and lead to sales through embedded purchase links.

What does it mean for you as a destination marketer?
– How to attract and delight Chinese tourists through an integrated digital marketing strategy?
– How to maximize mobile tourism platforms to generate sales?

2. Social media marketing

Chinese customers use social media to discover new brands and products (45% vs 35% globally), validate the product quality through reviews, comments and feedback (54% vs 47% globally), purchase directly through a social channel (25% vs 15% globally), and write a review about the products or experiences (27% vs 20% globally).

Wechat

Wechat is the most powerful and multi-functional app in China with more than 1 billion users. It’s a messaging app (like Whatsapp), has social newsfeed feature (like Facebook) as well as online payment and links to numerous 3rd party platforms where you can perform different other activities such as food ordering, buying movie tickets, calling a taxi, online shopping… and pay immediately by its online payment tool Wechat Pay all within the app.

1. Set up an official account for your company

There are 3 types of accounts depending on the nature and purpose of your business: Subscription Accounts, Service Accounts and Enterprise Accounts.

Read more about how to set up a Wechat account here:

2. Wechat content marketing

Wechat account is similar to Facebook in the sense that you can engage your customers or attract new ones by providing them with useful contents and receive their reactions such as like, comment, share…

However, your articles, once published by your account, will be sent to your followers’ inbox as a message. This makes Wechat totally different from Facebook newsfeed where fans see a brand’s new post on their newsfeed.

Moreover, content created on Wechat is distributed only to followers and there are no options to boost posts outside of your user base. If users don’t follow your account, they won’t see any of your content.

As a relatively closed social media platform, follower acquisition is tough! Many speculate that nearly 90% of the views on WeChat are only about 10% of the accounts on the platform.

Therefore, the contents you create should be interesting, useful and different enough to maintain and convert the interested audience. It is easy for users to quit following an account if they think the account is not providing any special value.

Tourism is a kind of product which is already exciting and inspiring itself. You can make more use of photos, videos, and story-telling to show how beautiful the destinations are as well as educational articles regarding trips, prices, how to book, how to maximize the experience… I can only see so many content angles you can explore to attract Chinese readers to your destinations.

Kenya Tourism Board’s video received 46,137 views for the week of March 26 to April 1 (59,291 views as of December 27) last year.

The Kenya Tourism Board’s video was a hit on WeChat

Short videos, especially those ranging six to 15 seconds are a popular trend that will be widely used in digital and e-commerce sites for marketing purposes. In the past two years, Tencent, Alibaba, and Toutiao have made huge investments to support short video production.

3. Use WeChat HTML5 Campaigns to Shock, Awe and Engage
HTML5 (H5) Campaigns are a great way to boost customer engagement.

WeChat Official Accounts are capable of hosting pages built with HTML5 to create unique and creative campaigns. Brands can launch H5 campaigns with a variety of creative features, such as voting, games, quizzes, and more! To motivate your audience and encourage participation, it’s good to provide attractive incentives, such as discounts and gifts to go along with the campaign.

However, remember that since WeChat is a closed platform so to promote the campaign you’ll need to encourage sharing, work with KOLs, or invest in WeChat advertising to truly take advantage of the campaign.

Tourism Authority of Thailand – Shanghai Office’s “Leave a comment to win free return tickets to Thailand” campaign received 100,000+ views for the week of November 26 to December 2.

Thailand’s end-of-year tourism promotions have attracted a lot of attention on WeChat

 

4. KOLs marketing

KOLs are influential personas who have accumulated a large number of followers either on Wechat or other social media who trust and look forward to their contents. Cooperating with influencers doesn’t only grant you access to their audience and thus expand your reach but also enhance your credibility in China.

China is a huge market with multiple types of KOLs. Therefore, even though brands understand the importance of KOL marketing in this country, not all can succeed in using this method. Read our article about how to avoid fake KOLs here.

Visit Korea’s “Say goodbye to 2018, take a quiz with EXO to win new year gifts” campaign received 63,232 views for the week of December 10-16 (100,000+ views as of December 27) last year. South Korean boy bands were the country’s top ambassadors in 2018, securing Visit Korea the 7th and 2nd most-viewed WeChat posts by a tourism destination.

5. Other functions

Wechat is excellent for customer service! Customer service through Wechat is very convenient for your followers since whenever they have a question, they can chat with you immediately and get responded promptly.

You can also create mini-apps in WeChat. Mini apps are basically apps created with Wechat platform so users can access them easily without having to go to an App Store and download them. Your mini-apps will be embedded in your official account so that they are visible and assessable to your followers.

For example, you can make an app to share the safety features of a destination or information that is always changing like weather and so on.

You will also see ads on your Wechat moment. Running ads on Wechat is another way brands can reach out to potential travelers.

Weibo

Weibo is the second-largest social media in China with more than 170 million active users. Personally, I think Weibo is very similar to Facebook in terms of its “open” nature. Information gets to be seen and spreads out more broadly and faster than on Wechat.

For example, you don’t need to be a friend of somebody to see his/ her updates. Similarly, you don’t have to follow an account to read its content. When you search for a certain topic on the platform, your search results are not weighted based on friends.

As a result, a Weibo post can reach more people compared to Wechat.

A top-performing post by a KOL named 呼吸像少年一样的猫 reached 360,000 people and gained 6,000 engagements. In the post, she illustrated in detail how to use OPPO’s phone to document her trip through Turkey, Japan, and Xiamen. In contrast, a top-performing travel post on WeChat reached a little over 100,000 users.

1. Register an account

To start Weibo marketing, the first thing you have to do is to register an official account for your brand. The next step is verification. Verified official accounts can enjoy some privileges like more space for detailed brand information, advanced page customization settings and additional services like mass messaging and their own campaign management platform, etc.

2. Content marketing

Weibo users generally prefer multimedia content, including short videos and live streaming. Weibo Story is also becoming more and more popular.

What matters the most is still the contents themselves. Are they interesting to read/ watch? Are they providing something useful to know? Are they inspiring and emotional enough to impress the audience and push them to take actions?

Given the popularity of multimedia content on Weibo, more and more brands now engage in producing creative short video and doing live streaming.

Creative and distinctive videos that tell intriguing stories stand out and arouse public resonance.

For live streaming, it’s a common practice that brands invite celebrities and KOLs to participate in their special events to attract bigger audiences and get wider exposure.

Multimedia content formats on Weibo: picture collections, short videos, live streaming and Weibo Story (from left to right)

3. Creative campaigns

You can launch all kinds of marketing campaigns on Weibo.

Weibo users participate in campaigns for fun, as a form of social interaction, and for the prizes offered by the advertisers. The most popular ones include lucky draws and Users-Generated-Content collection campaigns. They encourage user interaction, help to attract new followers, increase account exposure and it’s good for word-of-mouth marketing.

On Weibo, the spread of information is effective and efficient. After a user participates in a campaign successfully, they usually share the campaign by creating a new Weibo post. In this way, campaign information is spread rapidly so that more Weibo users learn about the campaign and become participants.

4. KOLs marketing

Weibo, not WeChat, is now Travel Influencers’ destination of choice.

Based on social media content distribution from May 1, 2018, to July 31, 2018, covering more than 30,000 influencers, KOLs are favoring Weibo, followed by smaller rivals Little Red Book and Douyin, with WeChat lagging far behind.

According to ParkLu’s data, the top five influencers’ follower numbers on WeChat are significantly less than those on the other social media, demonstrating a shift in the type of social media platforms used by influencers.

There are many ways to collaborate with KOLs. They can help promote your campaigns, generate positive reviews of your destination, be an ambassador representing your country. You can also sponsor their trips and in return, KOLs would record their experience and share it with their fans.

Tourism New Zealand is a company which has been successful at marketing on Weibo. They hired Huang Lei who is famous for acting, singing, writing screenplays and teaching at the university. He was invited to New Zealand to promote New Zealand as an ideal destination. During his time in New Zealand, he posted on Weibo about his trip. This story got a lot of attention, with half a million likes and more than 1.6 million views. The story even generated the publication of five hundred articles which turned out to be great advertising value to Tourism New Zealand.

Another interesting observation is that despite the huge fan base of top-tier KOLs, the mentions of destinations found on Weibo are mostly contributed by micro-influencers. So, instead of spending a large budget on the top influencers, brands can consider incentivizing smaller KOLs in their social media strategy.

5. Customer service

More than just a social space to share stories and photos, Weibo has become the go-to platform for dissatisfied Chinese travelers to post their complaints,

While a National Smart Travel Service Platform survey found that the majority of Chinese travelers are satisfied with their experiences, there were 380,000 travel-related complaints on Weibo (garnering 1.3 billion total views) in the first half of 2018, and the majority of the complaints were in relation to outbound travel, along with airlines and hotels, according to a national White Paper released collectively by People’s Daily, Beijing News, and Sina in August 2018.

It is extremely important that travel companies can be notified in time and address the complaints on the platform before they go viral.

In September, one Weibo user posted a complaint about a group tour in Thailand, claiming the guide sold misrepresented products that cost tour customers a total of $24,450 (RMB 170,000). The user tagged multiple government tourism authorities, but none responded publicly.

Similar to how companies have opened dedicated customer service accounts on Twitter to handle complaints, it would be beneficial for travel industry players to establish a customer service strategy on Chinese social media.

A Weibo user’s complaint about products purchased on a tour in Thailand tagged multiple government agencies

Little Red Book and Douyin

Little Red Book and Douyin are increasingly popular for the tourism industry for their highly-visual and searchable user-generated content.

Little Red Book, born as a mix of Instagram and Yelp, started as a tool for consumers to access overseas products through first-hand pictures, recommendations, and reviews; it now has more outbound travel destination recommendations – a natural progression from its pure luxury product content.


While users rely on Little Red Book for trusted content, Douyin is a space to show off creativity. The short-video app allows users to put their own spin on the destination they’ve visited by creating 15-second music videos. The content appears much more attractive than usual pictures or articles.

3. Online reputation management

Peer reviews are highly influential in China. Due to a history of scams and frauds, Chinese consumers trust the opinions of their peers even more than those of brands or media. It gives rise to the development of forums where users of particular interests gather together to discuss, share, learn… about any topic.

Forums for travelers provide a great source of information for Chinese people to plan their future trips. Chinese users heavily use these online travel forums to discuss travel options and to seek advice and views.

That’s why this is where you have to get on to gain exposure, promote your country, influence people’s choices as well as manage what people are talking about you.

MAFENGWO

MaFengWo is a social-media-travel platform in China where users come to share or read detailed travel guides, reviews, tips and all kinds of information regarding a destination such as hotels, activities, weather, shopping, places of interest, and more.

Founded in 2006, MaFengWo has helped 120,000,000 travelers monthly and is considered as the “Travel Bible” of the young generation.

Companies can create and publish useful articles about their destinations, or cooperate with KOLs to do it. These articles should be incredibly detailed, including pictures and instructions on how to make the most of a trip in the area the article focuses on.

Beside the travel-focused contents, there is a Q&A forum for further discussion and interaction. Companies can look for related questions of users to answer them, or start the discussion themselves to learn what users actually think.

Furthermore, user negative reviews are also usually seen on this platform and attract a lot of attention. People always want to avoid the most mistakes or bad experiences as possible for their overseas trips. Therefore, it is your job to regulate these reviews related to your destinations so that future tourists won’t be negatively influenced.

QYER

Qyer is a robust online community which has evolved into a “one-stop outbound travel platform” for Chinese. Its products now include everything a traveler needs, from a travel community to a big data-based trip planning tool, to an e-commerce platform.

Qyer aims at making oversea traveling more convenient and cost-effective for the Chinese.

Similar to Mafengwo, Qyer is valuable in its user-generated contents. There are numerous super detailed articles about traveling in various destinations; and themed articles, such as family trips, dedicated photography trips, and cruises. Different destinations are divided by continent — Asia, Europe, Africa, and so on.

QYER sees more than 6000 new articles added to it every day by its traveler users.

Mafengwo.cn puts more effort into domestic traveling, while Qyer mainly focuses on traveling abroad. There is even a viral saying among the users: “Choose Mafengwo in-bound, Qyer out-bound”

As you are targeting outbound Chinese tourists, Qyer is an utmost important place to build your e-reputation.

4. Visibility on Baidu ensures highly targeted traffic to your website

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, you can’t afford to miss out Baidu in your integrated marketing campaigns.

If a user can’t find anything about your company at all it can come up as a red flag, potentially costing you your business.

SEO on Baidu
– The first step is to make a Baidu audit for your website. Is your website hosted in China? Does your website have content written in natural Chinese language? Is it optimized for related keywords which Chinese people use to search for your destination?… and a million things need checking to see if your website is optimized for SEO Baidu.
– Secondly, build your website authority with quality keyword-optimized contents. Good content is the most important when it comes to SEO.
– Thirdly, 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.

SEM on Baidu
SEO on Baidu takes at least 6 months to gain results. In the meantime, SEM can acquire immediate traffic for your website. Baidu ads system is in Chinese language, so you may need the support from a specialized agency to set up and run ads as well as to monitor them and report to you.

5. 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. For smaller and more niche tourism service providers who don’t have the budget to compete for advertising space against large players, there are other specialist agencies which are worth considering for highly targeted 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. By working together, you are ensuring your brand is in the best possible place for it to be marketing to Chinese tourists.