Last week, Jing Travel discussed how different destinations in the United States are engaging, and not engaging, with Chinese tourists online through Wechat and Chinese language websites and promotional materials. Ultimately, there are few destinations in the United States that have really taken the initiative to engage directly with Chinese consumers digitally. However, major metropolitan areas are making strides to reach customers directly through Wechat, a platform that most Chinese consumers already know and understand. The new Wechat CityExperience Mini-Program, launched through partnerships with Tourism Australia, VisitBritain, and Dubai Tourism, is one of the more ambitious destination marketing efforts.
These are just the latest of Wechat’s mini-program guide offering. In November, Destination DC and Wechat launched a similar CityExperience mini-program.
These mini-programs serve as destination guides for London, Dubai, and Sydney. The guide features interactive maps of the city using Bing Maps, which is usable in China, with points of interest marked. These points include landmarks, but also restaurants and luxury retailers. The points have photos displayed at the bottom and by sliding the photo to the center, the location of a store or eatery is highlighted on the map.
Tapping on the photo pulls up a page with an overview of the location, with hours and contact information. If a user wants to find the nearest outlet for buying luxury cosmetics or clothing, they merely need to select the shopping tab and locate the closest outlet to their location on the map.
At its core, Wechat is a messaging and social media app. However, the app is quickly transforming into a fully-fledged ecosystem, more akin to a full operating system than to a messaging app. It’s this ecosystem that allows brands and destinations to create a curated piece of software that can be delivered to Chinese consumers without the need to worry about reaching end users through an app store. This is especially important for reaching Android users, as the Google Play Store is unavailable in China.
Chinese free independent travelers (FITs) are the clear target with this effort. They tend to eschew tour groups and tourism packages and instead opt to use online resources to plan their trips. Given that FITs are more digitally driven than other Chinese travel demographics, Wechat is the ideal platform to reach them.
In many ways, the use of Wechat makes the CityExperience mini-program an ideal platform to help guide Chinese tourists. Often, Chinese language resources for destinations, even major ones, are harder to use and have less information than compared to Google Maps. However, it also allows destinations to control their offerings and promote sightseeing and retail to offer a more tailored tourism experience.
In the long-term, this may allow VisitBritain or Tourism Australia to create an entire, customized travel guide for significant destinations around their respective countries.
The biggest potential hurdle for such programs has less to do with the quality of the mini-programs as tourism resources and more to do with promotion. Hopefully, partnering with Wechat will give these mini-programs more prominence and Wechat will actively promote them on the platform. Advertising on Wechat’s Moments, which is similar to Facebook’s newsfeed, is often prohibetively expensive and doesn’t have access to the same resources. Wechat’s involvement may help facilitate this process.
All in all, it would help these destinations and tourism organizations promote themselves, while at the same further help Wechat establish itself and its companion products, like Wechat Pay, as integral parts of the tourism experience for Chinese travelers. This is especially important for millennial FIT travelers, who are quickly becoming a dominant force in the outbound Chinese tourism industry.
Of course, all of this depends on whether users respond enthusiastically enough to the new Wechat mini-programs. However, having a tailored Chinese language resource will undoubtedly help encourage potential tourists on the fence about travel or about making purchases while abroad.