By Renee Hartmann
As anyone who has visited a U.S. National Park this summer can attest – peak Chinese tourism season has arrived. With continued strong growth in Chinese tourism worldwide, the summer of 2016 will see more Chinese tourists traveling overseas than ever before.
Despite upticks in Chinese tourism numbers during Chinese New Year and the October National holiday, July and August will see the highest numbers of Chinese traveling overseas. Expectations are that summer 2016 will also see more Chinese individual travelers than ever before, as Chinese tourists increasingly venture out on their own, away from group tours and set itineraries.
Alex Li, of Chinese tour operator CAISSA, agreed that the FIT (Free & Independent Tourists) segment will drive future growth, commenting, “the mix of group travel and FIT is currently about 40% group and 60% FIT. The FIT market is only going to grow in the future.”
As the Chinese tourism market has grown, however, the makeup of the FIT segment has also shifted subtly, as Li indicates: “a majority of Chinese FIT falls into the semi-FIT category. Families, friends, colleagues, club members often travel together in a fully customized small group format. They have 100% control of their hotel, transportation and itinerary. We expect multi-generation family groups will lead the growth, and are also seeing increases in destination weddings, dating trips and other themed travel packages.”
As Chinese tourist characteristics and habits shift, we expect Chinese tourists to increasingly seek off the beaten track destinations, and for tourists to actively pursue in-depth authentic local experiences.
Carol Chen from Chinese Tour Operator Diadema explained, “group packages are increasingly segmented — often with a theme such as wine, private jet, cruise, shopping, hiking, scuba diving and adventure tours.”
The Brexit Effect
The U.K. may see an uptick in Chinese tourism this summer, as Chinese tourists demonstrate increasing interest in the U.K. following the Brexit vote, in an effort take advantage of the plummeting British pound to snap up Burberry Trench Coats and other luxury goods in the U.K.
Since Brexit, China has seen increased Internet searches for U.K. holidays and some local tour operators have reported increased bookings to the U.K., according to Shanghai Daily. Chinese media have also been publishing stories about how to take advantage of a weaker pound and suggesting Chinese consider investing in the real estate market in the U.K..
It remains to be seen whether Brexit signals a long-term trend for Chinese tourists, or simply a temporary bump. Uncertain visa policies in a post-Brexit Europe and complicated VAT policies and customs duty procedures may preclude Chinese tourism companies and tourists from adding the U.K. to their itinerary, or from maintaining a sustainable increase in Chinese tourism to the U.K..
When asked what recommendations she had for destinations to better attract and serve Chinese tourists, Carol Chen from Diadema advised overseas destinations to “develop unique, experience-driven products tailored to the interests of Chinese visitors. These products must be “China Ready,” meaning there are designed and developed specifically for the market.”
As Chinese customers increasingly travel independently and explore new destinations, it is important for destinations and retailers to continually upgrade their Chinese consumer strategies and tactics, and to ensure that they are not relying on outdated methods that ignore the rising number of experienced, young, individual travelers.
CLA recommends the following tactics for destinations to attract, convert and retain young, independent Chinese tourists.
Reaching Chinese Customers:
Create a Chinese website (optimized for mobile)
Audit your presence on Chinese travel forums
Establish a compelling, and interactive presence on Chinese social media platforms
Work with Chinese influencers in China and around the world
Don’t forget about the local Chinese media and community in your market
Tap into local Chinese community for Friends and Family recommendations
Work with Travel Trade to provide unique products and add-ons
Adapting Your Services for Chinese Customers:
Make sure to have Wi-Fi on-site
Create unique, educational products tailored for the market
Ensure on-site language support
Utilize WeChat to augment your in-store/at-destination customer experience, and to add customized services/amenities/information for Chinese customers
Invite FIT customers/students for a complimentary visit and gain valuable feedback and insights
Tailor services for a younger, more international audience
Don’t forget about multi-generational families and kids
Generating Repeat Visitors
Create a loyalty program for Chinese customers
Provide incentivizes for visitors to share content about your store on social media or recommend to a friend
Find creative ways to interact with consumers on-site and generate positive buzz and word of mouth
Provide opportunities for visitors to take photos and share
Monitor your travel forums and respond to questions
Create a CRM system on WeChat to stay in touch
For a full version of China Luxury Advisors’ recent interviews with Chinese tour operators download CLA latest intelligence briefing (http://www.chinaluxuryadvisors.com/download/752/)