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At the start of spring each year, millions of Chinese travelers return home to pay respect to ancestors in an extended holiday known as Qingming Festival. This year’s travel numbers make for stark reading. Despite a relaxation of travel restriction across much of China, numbers dropped by more than 60 percent year-on-year with subsequent spending falling by 80 percent.

Against this backdrop, Alarice, a China-focused social media agency, delivered a webinar outlining the state of disruption, potential trends for tourism recovery, and strategies to attract Chinese tourists in the coming year.

Here, Jing Travel offers four key takeaways.

Pre-Sale Travel Packages

From online travel service providers to hotel chains and major tourist destinations, China’s tourism industry is embracing pre-sale products with money back guarantees.

The travel section of China’s largest group-deal platform, Meituan-Dianping, has worked with 20,000 hotels and more than 3,200 travel destinations to create “No-Worry Living” packages. In these uncertain and health-centric times, such deals encourage travel suppliers to be transparent about adopted hygiene measures and offer financial security to Chinese travelers.

Although digitally enacted, successful initiatives harness the social side of China’s media landscape. Group buying and purchases made through private traffic — content that users discover within their friend circle — continue to grow in popularity with upscale chain New Century Hotel Group revealing 30 percent of sales were generated through user shares.

Despite the appeal of generating short-term revenue and tying up future business, Alarice’s Sylvie Xie offered caution, “You need to realize that the reason customers are willing to buy [pre-sale packages] is because they are able to unsubscribe and get refunds at any time”.

Live Streams and Virtual Reality

On March 23, Ctrip’s executive chairman, Liang Jianzhang, live streamed from inside Atlantis Hotel in Sanya, Hainan province. Backgrounded by schools of passing fish, his underwater hotel room stands as one of China’s most expensive and well-beyond the reach of most watching — the travel deals he was tuning in to announce, however, were not. Within an hour Ctrip had sold 10 million travel products.

The initiative was achieved in partnership with short-video platform Douyin, which has also supported similar efforts by cultural destinations such as Beijing’s Forbidden City and Hangzhou’s Zhejiang Museum.

Online travel agent eLong has also begun embracing using video content to engage potential travelers. The province of Ningxia, in north central China, has been an early partner in eLong’s “City Alliance” program which uses VR and high-definition videos to offers users at home “a rich and colorful audio and video browsing experience from home,” as Xie described it.

Ctrip

Ctrip is collaborating with live streamers to offer enticing products through Douyin. Image: Ctrip’s Douyin account.

The booking habits of Chinese travelers may be shifting, but when it comes to stepping out into the world, the trend of daka (打卡), whereby people announce their presence at popular destinations with social media posts, endures. Indeed, making light of the preceding months of quarantine by “checking-in” to unspectacular local restaurants has become something of a trend.

Hygiene is a Top Priority

For the immediate future, health and safety will be the top priority for Chinese travelers. When it comes to hotels and destinations, travelers want to know what measures are being implemented before making reservations.

In China, beyond clearly stating cleanliness measures, hotels are taking innovative steps to ensure the safety of workers and guests. This includes contactless self-check-in/out systems and the use of robots capable of delivering basic services.

This transparency starts while browsing, as Alarice’s Wendy Chen offered during the webinar, “Users can check the anti-epidemic commitments [of destinations] as well as the latest disinfectant status. Also, qualified hotels will have a specific sign on their homepage [showing a high-level of hygiene].”

Robot

Contactless check-in could become the norm for Chinese hotels. Image: Jeffro Luo Zhihu Account.

Shift from Group to Independent Travel

In 2017, group travel comprised 70 percent of the Chinese market. By 2019, this had fallen to 55 percent, a downward trend that coronavirus will likely accelerate. Older travelers, those born in the 1960s and 70s, are unlikely to make ambitious travel plans and younger generations, already overwhelmingly drawn to independent travel, are likely to become the dominant market force.

Conclusion

While the outlook for outbound Chinese travel across 2020 remains bleak, there are steps that will increase the attractiveness of your destination once the rebound begins.

First, be transparent about the hygiene measures your organization is adopting. Second, embrace the total digitization of China’s travel ecosystem. Third, target efforts at Free Independent Travelers.

As Wendy Chen concluded, “Is tourism in for a great rebound? My answer is yes, but I don’t know when it will be and how big it will be.”

Edited by Richard Whiddington

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