With the explosion of Chinese outbound tourism in recent years, destinations, hotels, airlines, and retailers have all been scrambling to market themselves to Chinese travelers successfully. Much of the accepted “wisdom” can be summed up as “Chinese tourists that go abroad want their experiences to be as ‘Chinese’ as possible.”
These kinds of misconceptions have arisen from actually good advice, such as hotel rooms have electric kettles for tea or hot water, that organizations should be active on Wechat, or that providing the option to pay with Alipay or Wechat Pay can encourage consumption.
The need for electric kettles in hotel rooms is primarily because many Chinese prefer to drink hot water and beverages. That’s not to say Chinese travelers are wholly unwilling to drink cold drinks. It’s one preference to keep in mind, but it won’t make or break a Chinese traveler’s experience.
Being present on Wechat is necessary in part because of the ubiquitous nature of the application and its ecosystem. In many ways, it maintains its own “internet-like” space, with its search engine, accounts, group chats, and mini-apps.
Having a Chinese language presence is also essential since many Chinese simply do not have sufficient English language skills to search for relevant information about destinations and services. Fortunately, opening and maintaining a personal Wechat account for basic communication with guests and customers is relatively easy.
Providing the option to pay for goods and services through mobile payment platforms like Wechat Pay or Alipay can also make transactions more accessible for Chinese travelers and increase spending. However, having Alipay or WeChat Pay available is not enough to bring travelers into a store or restaurant.
There is a slew of certification programs and rating schemes that claim to give insight on what Chinese tourists value and their tastes. Some of them include “useful” advice such as Chinese food options for room service and at restaurants or instant noodles and chopsticks in rooms.
The advice sounds helpful at first, but it fundamentally misses the point of what more and more Chinese tourists are looking for in destinations and accommodations. It’s true that older Chinese tourists appreciate more “Chinese” amenities while traveling.
However, as an independent, non-Chinese organization, it is challenging, even with a presence on Chinese social media or with a website in Chinese, to reach these kinds of travelers.
Older Chinese tourists overwhelming utilize package tours if they go abroad. That means that the tour company and tour guides will likely select which hotels the group will stay at, which restaurants they will dine in, and what shops they will have an opportunity to peruse.
Unfortunately, tour companies tend to have relationships with Chinese owned businesses abroad, from which they usually derive some sort of commission for bringing their groups. The nature of Chinese tour travel means that efforts to make any single hotel or restaurant more Chinese friendly will likely be in vain.
Moreover, these certifications will mean little to Chinese travelers if they have no prior knowledge of them.
So who are the travelers that firms need to be marketing to? Independent travelers are the tourists that will be searching for destinations, hotels, and culinary options on their own. Having information available in Chinese is certainly helpful and can give firms an edge, but many of these travelers are better educated than their older counterparts.
That means that just because information in Chinese is not available or plentiful, doesn’t mean that Chinese travelers won’t book rooms at a hotel or want to dine at a restaurant.
Arguably more important than Chinese amenities or Chinese language interfaces and information is “authenticity.” More and more Chinese tourists want to travel to exotic locations to experience local culture and cuisine. It’s a big part of the reason why many higher-income travelers are going to far-flung places like Morocco, Turkey, and Finland.
Unique travel experiences and cultural contact is essential to independent Chinese travelers. Many Chinese tourists have left some destinations disappointed that they had little or no opportunities to experience local culture and cuisine. Lack of Chinese food options or hotel amenities was less of a concern.
Chinese millennial travelers (CMTs) are also becoming an important part of this discussion. They are not yet the dominant force in the Chinese travel market. As they grow older and increase their spending power, their tastes, preferences, and travel interests will come to define the nature of Chinese tourism. These millennial travelers are particularly interested in adventurous experiences, cultures, and trends.
Tailoring travel experiences or amenities to make them more “Chinese” may actually be counterproductive and dissuade younger Chinese tourists from buying goods and services. Making experiences accessible through Chinese language resources and mobile payment options like Wechat Pay or Alipay is key, but maintaining their “authenticity” is just as important.
Independent travel still only makes up 40 percent of total outbound Chinese travel but is an independent firm’s best chance at tapping into the flow of outbound Chinese travel. By centering offerings on concepts like authenticity, experience, and accessibility, businesses can access this lucrative, booming market.