The travelling habits of the rapidly growing Chinese middle class are a trend that hoteliers have followed with keen interest. After all, the numbers are impressive today and only seem set to rise. Across Asia, China is a major source of visitors to every tourist market, while Thailand is the biggest single outbound destination other than Hong Kong. If your hotel doesn’t already attract Chinese travellers, then taking steps to tap into that particular demographic is probably on your to do list.
There is plenty of information out there describing Chinese visitors – who they are, where they go, why they travel, and what they want. You’ve probably heard that they travel in groups, love shopping, only eat Chinese food, have a high average daily spend, always book through an agent, and travel to boost their social status. But then a new report comes out to say they all book online, are guided by social media, love to experience new cultures, are under 40 years old, go crazy for new experiences, buy luxury goods, and spend very little on accommodation. And it’s probably all true, because with over 120 million outbound travellers for 2015, and more than 200 million forecast for 2020, the Chinese have all those classifications covered and many more besides. Even so, if you want to welcome more Chinese guests in the future, there are a few main points to focus on which will be relevant across the board.
The first step is to promote your property or brand in China. This means your website needs to be translated into Mandarin Chinese, and your online booking system also has to be bilingual. Search engine optimization is also important, but since Google has been blocked in China since 2010, the optimization should be customized instead to the algorithms of the leading Chinese search engine, Baidu. Chinese consumers also show a greater willingness to trust social media rather than professional reviews; that is, they listen to the opinions of people they know. Four of the leading Chinese internet companies, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Sina, collectively known as BATS, control at least eight major social media platforms, which serve as equivalents to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Note that with Sina Weibo you can convey a lot more information in 140 Chinese characters than you can with 140 letters in English. A strategy to engage users on these platforms would be very helpful if you have access to a Chinese social media specialist.
In recent years, more than 70% of Chinese travellers have purchased their hotel accommodation as part of a package through a Chinese travel agent. One way to boost the volume of Chinese guests is therefore to set up a working relationship with a Chinese travel agency or tour operator. That said, there is a growing trend towards more independent travel among the younger Chinese, who are overcoming the language barriers, have fewer security concerns, and want to go off the beaten track. This growing independence is reflected in the growth of online booking sites such as Ctrip, eLong and Kuxun among others. Ensuring that your property is available through these sites is an important consideration.
Once your Chinese guests have booked and arrived, the next step is to keep them happy – because you want their all-important positive social media feedback. Language is once again the key, as visitors prefer to see information about the hotel and its facilities provided in their mother tongue, while access to Chinese newspapers or Chinese TV channels will also make guests feel at home. Providing Chinese menu options at breakfast goes down well, while amenities such as tea and slippers in the room are more important than they might be with western travellers. One other step taken by a number of hotels is to arrange to have Chinese-speaking staff available by phone, if not on the premises, or to make sure staff have access to suitable translation apps which can help to smooth over some of the communication difficulties.
As a further part of making adjustments to fit the tastes and customs of Chinese guests, it is also important for hotels to consider why Chinese travellers might visit their hotel in the first place. No matter how good your hotel might be, it is unlikely that it will be sole attraction for the trip. In reality, your visitors are coming for the destination, and it is the destination which ultimately sells your hotel. For this reason, it is helpful to extend your Chinese language support and promotion to encompass the local attractions, and especially the shopping. Establishing partnerships in the local area with other businesses which would be of interest to visitors, and then promoting the destination as a whole in Chinese can be an effective strategy.
Finally, at the end of your guests’ stay, there is one more thing to think about. Many Chinese travellers do not carry an international credit card, and instead use Chinese online payment systems such as Alipay, or cards provided by UnionPay. If you are able to process these means of payment, your Chinese visitors will appreciate the convenience.
As the Chinese demand for overseas travel continues to grow, the number of sophisticated, independent and worldly travellers will undoubtedly increase, but there will also be significant growth in the number of first-time inexperienced travellers who need all the support and encouragement you can offer. No matter which of these Chinese sectors you choose to target, a clear strategy can bring rewards.