Chinese tourists spent $230 billion abroad in 2015 with this figure rising to over $250 billion in 2016. Last year over 150 million Chinese ‘middle class’ tourists travelled abroad. This market is growing year on year and shows no signs of slowing down.
The rise in independent Chinese travellers is a key trend that emerged at the start of 2015. The Chinese stereotypically are known to travel in large, loud and organized tour groups but this appears to be changing.
Independent Chinese Travellers
Now we see the growth of independent travellers, not using the large Chinese travel agencies but rather booking their trips on their own. It is important for travel agencies to understand this type of traveller, their priorities and expectations and how they search for information in order to attract them to your services.
With the growth of independent travellers it is clear that travel operators need to offer their services to a more informed consumer who researches online in greater depth. This means you need to up your game and be seen in a positive light on the right platforms to compete.
How do solo travellers research trips?
1) Baidu, the largest Search Engine
Baidu is China’s largest search engine, in-fact 70% of all online research is done via Baidu. They have a real monopoly in China and are the go to website for travel information. Travellers will research packages, flights, hotels, tours and transport based on searching for keywords in Mandarin.
It is important to note that the Chinese in their culture have often been cheated or let down by poorer quality, domestic services at home. They are therefore (and especially the discerning independent traveller) quite sceptical and will research their opportunities thoroughly online before making any decision. The place to be seen and build a reputation is Baidu, followed by the second largest engine ‘Sohu’ who have a 20% market share.
2) Chinese Forums and reputation
The Chinese will look at forums, reviews and others comments on travel forums such as ‘mafengwor’ or ‘qyer’ , these are popular travel based forums where users discuss experiences and post reviews. It is vital to have people speaking about you positively in forums. Unlike in the west, forums in China remain very popular and a ‘go to’ source for information.
The Chinese traveller is strongly influenced by this sentiment, peer to peer reviews and word of mouth are the most effective marketing tools here.
Think of the effect bad reviews on trip advisor have on bookings, it is like this in China but even more important as forum comments appear at the top in the search results. Especially ‘Baidu Tieba’ which is a Q/A style platform launched by Baidu itself, it therefore prioritized and always ranked highly.
3) Social Media in China
The two largest platforms are WeChat and Weibo. WeChat has over 750 million active monthly users whilst Weibo boasts 250 million. Social media for the Chinese is all about ‘branding’, travel services need to be ‘branded’ in an attractive way.
Everyday you see users glued to their smartphones, the average time spent using social networks is an hour per day. The more time spent engaging with WeChat and Weibo the greater the number of interactions, the exposure to content is also greater. WeChat is even known as the ‘WeChat Times’, many travellers research their trips here looking for articles, traveller tips and the best offers.
Users will search through attractive pictures and articles, for travel the Chinese love attractive images of places that they relate to, others holiday pictures are important in their research and will be shared on news feeds.
4) Local travel websites and APPs
This is an often under appreciated area for research. Local travel websites, blogs and smaller apps are used by the inquisitive traveller looking to dig deeper. ‘Travel QQ’ and ‘XiaoQi’ are two such examples, local travel websites come and go, what is popular one month is not the next but it’s important to stay abreast of these market changes.
We have predicted that this year will see the rise of smaller, innovative APPS. ‘Nice’ (akin to Instagram) is important for sharing travel photo’s of destinations which can be linked to agency services if you build a presence and a popular photo feed. Users appreciate quality content and images, this type of aesthetic and visual quality is very important in China.
5) Other Online Media for Travel
‘Sohu Travel’ have developed a strong presence as a reputable site for travel options, especially amongst the independent community of travellers. They can browse trip itineraries and recommendations from others. Story telling is what they are looking for, they need to have a strong impression of what the trip will be like and how they will benefit from the experience.
On this site users can tag the agencies and operators they used, this increases your visibility (for either good or bad), so it is important to have a good reviews and comments on this platform.
So we’ve explored how netziens are researching their trips using a number of different methods but how can you attract them on the Chinese net?
The solutions for travel agencies:
1) SEO on Baidu
SEO is ‘search engine optimization’, it is the most important aspect for marketing a travel agencies services to potential tourists.
The best visibility on Baidu is to be highly ranked in the ‘natural search results’, that is the results after the paid links, ask yourself which serious prospects click on ads? This is achieved over time through backlinks, Mandarin language articles, references, a thorough website audit and via PR.
You need to realize that in China you are invisible, this is a closed system that is very different from the rest of the web. When launching in China you have to start over again, regardless of your profile outside of the country. If you are not visible on Baidu, you will not drive traffic, peak interest and generate leads.
2) A website in Chinese
A clear, quality, well designed and constructed site is essential. It is best to host the site on a Chinese server as Baidu prioritizes your speed and how accessible you are.
You need to represent your services and USP to Chinese travellers in the best way, for this you need to adapt the language for the market, when it comes to Mandarin characters there is no direct translation, content needs to be re-worked.
Websites in China often feature QR codes to scan to link to social media and more content, customer service messaging and content is focused on key Chinese characters. This is especially important when it comes to travel, you need to sell the ideal destination and experience.
Your website is the definition of ‘face’ in China. A very important Chinese concept to understand. First impressions online (especially in an age of instant gratification) are everything, the Chinese appreciate those that keep a top quality ‘face’.
3) SEA (Search Engine Advertising)
Advertising on Search Engines is still very important in China. It may not bring the highest quality of tourist leads but it drives a lot of traffic and a percentage are certainly convertible. This can be PPC (pay per click advertising) or it can be banner adverts on Baidu or Sohu.
4) Social Media
Social media accounts need to be created and you need to be actively engaged with Chinese independent travellers, particularly as they are likely to opt for more ‘pick and mix’ style holidays. They won’t just buy into a single package. This presents opportunity where you can cater and specialize in certain area’s and this needs to be communicated to users on the right platforms. On WeChat you need to attract followers to share content and be visible, Weibo is a more open network where posts can be seen by anyone.
Attracting followers is done through a well designed official account, quality content, active engagement in groups, diving into conversions and benefiting from online influencers..
5) E-PR and Influencers
Influencers are powerful in China, these are figures which have already attracted a large audience who respect their views, in the travel sector the majority of these influencers are themselves independent travellers! This is important, they inspire like-minded people. You can tap into figures who travel by recruiting them to promote your services. It can be costly but is a strong strategy for initial market entry. Example of Independent Chinese Travellers
6) Forum e-reputation
As said earlier, Forums are very popular in China, they appear on the first or second page of search results. Starting to create positive threads and conversations here is important. You also need to minimize negative comments, this can be from Chinese competitors, who in a ruthless market, will resort to aggressive tactics to undermine your reputation. You should enlist specialist help and support to minimize this whilst up-promoting and creating positive posts.
With the growth of independent travellers it is clear that travel agencies can now offer their services to a more informed consumer who researches online more. Here we have explored the searching habits of these travellers and the strategies you can implement to attract them.
About Gentlemen Marketing Agency
We are a specialist digital marketing agency based in Shanghai, China. We are a 100% digital player and can help generate leads in the Chinese market for travel agencies. If you have a project in mind don’t hesitate to contact us for further information.