Although the large majority of self-travel booking is done on Chinese platforms and with Chinese travel agents—both online and offline—there is a growing trend of sophisticated Chinese travelers tapping into international platforms for travel arrangements in their destination.
In general, China’s travel landscape is still dominated by offline travel booking or a hybrid of online/offline booking. Market-leading online travel agent Ctrip completes a large percentage of bookings by phone after customers have first used Ctrip’s website to research options and make decisions.
In fact, purely online travel booking as a percentage of the total travel industry in China expanded from just 4.2 percent in 2008 to 6.6 percent in 2012, according to iResearch.
The online travel agent market is dominated by local providers, led by Ctrip. Qunar (the Chinese equivalent to Kayak) also has a massive share of Chinese traveler web traffic and is the top information source for Chinese travelers when self-booking their travel arrangements.
While almost all Chinese tourists use Chinese travel platforms, we have noticed a new trend of savvy, young Chinese travelers starting to book their hotels, rental cars, and even house rentals on international platforms. To provide a better sense of these travelers’ preferences and habits, several individual profiles are included below:
Consumer Profile #1: A 29 year-old woman who works in China’s government came to the U.S. for the first time. She split her time between San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, spending two days in each city as well as taking a bus tour to Los Angeles and Yellowstone National Park. She booked her hotels in the United States from Hotels.com and rented a car herself in Los Angeles. Most of her spending on shopping was on leather accessories from Coach as well as cosmetics products from brands such as La Mer and Estee Lauder. In addition to navigating herself, she visited friends in each city who also guided her.
Consumer Profile #2: A 32 year-old woman from China who owns a boutique PR firm recently visited the United States for three weeks to look for business opportunities. She booked lodging on Airbnb.com and rented her car on Hotwire.com. She remained in Los Angeles most of the time, staying in the San Gabriel Valley due to the proximity to Chinese restaurants, although she did take a day trip to San Diego to visit the zoo. She purchased two iPads for friends and family on her trip, and her favorite store she visited was Victoria’s Secret (which is not present in China).
Consumer Profile #3: A 28 year-old woman from Beijing who has been overseas six times traveled with her boyfriend to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They booked a condo in Hollywood on Airbnb.com and flew to San Fransico, where they also rented a car through Expedia.com. Seventy-five percent of their shopping was for themselves and 25 percent was for gifts for friends and family. Their favorite stores in the United States were Forever XXI, Coach, Dior, and Kate Spade. Their favorite experience was driving on the California coast. They plan to go to Europe on their next trip.
Best Practices for Targeting Chinese Travelers Self-Booking on International Sites
Don’t Neglect Traditional Online Channels: Typically, targeting Chinese tourists entails reaching them through dedicated Chinese channels—both offline and online. But, as independent tourists become more savvy, don’t neglect traditional online channels popular in your home market. Find ways to partner with local tourism providers to cater to Chinese customers.
Increase Brand Visibility in Online and Offline Chinese Travel Guides: Although independent tourists sometimes use local providers to book travel arrangements, they still commonly use Chinese-language travel guides (online and offline) to navigate their way around the city. Ensure that you are represented in these guides and resources.
Many local tourism-booking sites do not actively cater to Chinese tourists, and may not even be aware that a user is Chinese. Find creative ways to provide relevant information to this growing group of travelers who are often just getting accustomed to traveling on their own and are searching for information that is relevant and trustworthy.
Brands that can find these individual tourists and delight them by catering to them in unexpected ways will not only win these new tourists, but will gain a coveted spot in the Chinese travel zeitgeist via active online and offline word of mouth networks.