Washington D.C.’s destination marketing organization (DMO), Destination DC, has made significant strides in beefing up its marketing strategies to reach out to Chinese tourists, including the DMO’s Welcome (欢迎) China program. The city has also rolled out its own CityExperience WeChat mini-program, a platform to find information on destinations directly through WeChat. Now, Destination DC is moving forward with efforts to expand the ability of D.C. businesses to market on the WeChat platform.

Destination DC hopes to expand local businesses’ access to WeChat, and thereby increase available information on Washington D.C. in China

While big multi-national corporations have the resources to research and implement a China-oriented social media platform fully, local businesses can find it hard to know where to start. Once they have a clearer picture of the media landscape in China, even getting ads or promotional information on the “Chinese internet” can be a challenge. One of the most obvious things to do, getting an official WeChat account, can be a real struggle.

WeChat is by far China’s most important social media and messaging app. However, it also has a wide variety of mini-programs, which basically function as “in-app apps.” The platform has a robust and popular mobile payments platform associated with it, WeChat Pay, and can be used for online shopping.

WeChat’s format, functionality, and restrictions for foreign businesses make it challenging for local businesses to use the platform

The platform is different in terms of both functionality and layout compared to “Western” platforms like Facebook or Twitter. This makes it challenging for the uninitiated to understand how to use the platform. These challenges, along with the language barrier and difficulty and cost of setting up an official account on WeChat, makes it nigh impossible for local businesses to utilize the marketing potential of WeChat fully.

Instead, Destination DC aims to utilize its own WeChat resources and expertise to help D.C. businesses market themselves. Destination DC members will now be able to set up their own WeChat accounts instead of making an application directly to WeChat (which can take months). Such an opportunity could prove a real boon to the District’s hotels, entertainment venues, restaurants, and museums.

While smaller hotels and businesses may not be able to produce much content to reach out to potential customers, having even a limited presence in China’s digital space certainly can’t hurt. For museums and entertainment venues, on the other hand, giving Chinese users access to tours or preview video and audio content may be just what they need to garner more customers, and even encourage digital, word-of-mouth marketing to friends and family back home.

Destination DC is also expanding its CityExperience mini-program, which was introduced last year

Of course, Destination DC will be continuing its efforts to market Washington D.C. itself as a destination, including expansion of its CityExperience mini-program. However, these mini-programs are still quite new at this point, with most coming out late last year. It remains to be seen how well they actually drive interest in the United States or other international destinations. Still, given the lack of this kind of information in a curated form on the Chinese internet means there is a niche that the CityExperience platforms could fill.

WeChat, and its owner Tencent, also have a lot riding on the success of the mini-programs as well. The company already has its popular WeChat Pay mobile payments platform and the integral nature of WeChat in the social lives of Chinese consumers is hard to deny. However, Tencent hasn’t fully tapped these core strengths yet to fully integrate itself in the experience of Chinese tourists abroad. The CityExperience mini-programs could help Tencent do just that.

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