In January, China’s tourism industry was preparing for the year’s busiest and most lucrative vacation period; the Lunar New Year. Next, it was locked down and facing severe economic hardship. By February, the industry was in turmoil, revenue had fallen 80 percent as hotel occupancy plummeted to 7 percent, attractions remained closed, and most flight routes remained grounded.
Today, China’s trillion dollar tourism sector is hitting pre-COVID-19 numbers. What was behind this remarkable recovery? Government policy led the way with stringent quarantine enforcement and extensive testing. But the strategies and innovations of tourism industry stakeholders have also been vital.
On the back of a webinar alongside China travel experts, Dragon Trail Interactive, we highlight the ways in which overseas tourism brands can learn from China’s recovery.
Live streaming meets e-commerce
No digital trend has emerged with greater force in 2020 than live streaming integrated with e-commerce. Video platforms such as Kuaishou, Bilibili, and Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) had long made live streaming popular as a form of entertainment. China’s tourism industry leaned into the practice and allowed viewers to purchase special deals directly through the broadcasts.
Case in point
Ctrip is China’s largest online travel agency (OTA) and when it acts the industry often follows. So it has proved with the live streams hosted by co-founder James Liang. His range of costumes — Han dynasty robes, blacktie, an elephant outfit — have garnered a cult online following to match the cut-price hotel, car rental, and flight deals on offer. The first live stream generated $1.4 million, the second $2.9 million, the third $3.9 million.
“It was a watershed moment that kicked off a huge trend of tourism related live streaming, the willingness of Ctrip to take risks injected much needed cash flow into the industry” Sienna Parulis-Cook, Dragon Trail Interactive, Associate Director of Communications
As China’s domestic travel market showed signs of life in mid-March, hotels and airlines worked with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and major brands to launch generous promotions — often via live stream. From Marriott’s eat your room rate to China Eastern all you can fly scheme, these offerings sought to normalize and incentivize travel at a time of great uncertainty.
Case in point
The luxury resort on China’s tropical island province of Hainan partnered with Ctrip for its live stream debut and offered a range of package discounts. One of their most popular promotions involved paying the airfare for guests who stayed for a certain number of nights.
“Take a leap of faith, there have been a lot of creative promotions, these help get people used to things they have not been used to doing under lockdown.” Sienna Parulis-Cook, Dragon Trail Interactive, Associate Director of Communications
For destinations, attracting potential visitors requires tapping a range of engagement tools; short promotional videos, live streams, KOL endorsements, fan competitions, and collaborations with stakeholders across China’s tourism industry. The more points of contact with audiences the better.
Case in point
Dongcheng District, Beijing
Home to the Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, and some of the best preserved hutongs, Dongcheng began a promotion drive in April. It started with live streams before launching a promotion page on Ctrip with 40 local tourism businesses and hosting a KOL trip. Most recently, it has held an art competition for Chinese university students and a short-video competition, both offered prize giveaways.
“Dongcheng has carried out a long term promotion beginning when things were locked down. It has managed to promote its aesthetic successfully which is `East meets West and old meets new destination.” Sienna Parulis-Cook, Dragon Trail Interactive, Associate Director of Communications