120 million travelers from China went overseas in 2015, according to statistics from the China National Administration of Tourism. This number puts China at the top of the list of countries of origin for international travelers around the world.
As one of the largest growing demographics of international tourists, Chinese travelers spent $194 billion last year, making them a huge source of potential revenue for hotels. Their most popular travel destinations are in Asia, including Thailand, Japan, and Singapore, but the United States also made the list of their favorite countries to visit.
The popularity of the US as a travel destination for Chinese nationals has grown so fast that, for the first time, the US was voted the top destination for Chinese tourists in 2015. Visitors to the US spend an average of $4,500 per trip, but for Chinese visitors, the figure is a whopping $7,200, the largest for visitors from any country (U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.)
According to Vivian Hong, president of Travel Zoo Inc., the importance of Chinese visitors for the US travel industry might have an impact on federal travel policies, like creating a simpler application process for US visas. “Such a simple change would result in more Chinese heading to the US for vacations despite the distance,” she says.
China: the largest social media landscape
The Chinese have shown a ravenous appetite for social media. China’s mobile users hit 1.3 billion in 2015 and smartphones accounted for 913 million (68%) of the mobile connections in the world’s second-largest economy. This figure represents people shopping, sharing, searching or writing comments on social media and online review sites.
Last year, 44% of Asia-Pacific leisure travelers used social media platforms for suggestions and inspiration for travel destinations—more than double the percentage who did the same in the US (18%) and EMEA (14%). In China, Weibo and Wechat are the most popular digital platforms for sharing photos, videos, and brand experiences from vacations, reinforcing that social media tools have a large influence on Chinese travel choices.
Ctrip (a travel website often described as “the Chinese TripAdvisor”) is currently the second largest online travel agency (OTA) in the world with a market capitalization of more than $21 billion, according to Nasdaq, surpassing Expedia’s $17 billion.
The activity of Chinese travelers on sites like Agoda, Qunar and eLong represents a great opportunity for hotels in the US to build a stronger social media presence in the largest foreign travel market in the world.
“Beijing Meets Seattle”
A movie released in China in March 2012 also called “Finding Mr. Right” was an instant blockbuster, becoming one of the highest-grossing domestic films. The movie follows a pregnant woman as she travels from Beijing to Seattle in search of true love and U.S. citizenship for her baby.
For John Boesche of Visit Seattle, a private, nonprofit travel marketing organization serving Seattle and King County, “China is now Seattle’s #1 overseas market, surpassing Japan and the UK two years ago.” Other private enterprises have also identified the importance of the Chinese travelers to Seattle, as Delta Air Lines, Hainan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines have all increase their quantity of flights, according to Mr. Boesche.
He also commented, “Chinese visitors do an incredible job of exploring many of Seattle’s key attractions and points of interests. Places like Pike Place Market, the Boeing Tour, Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and, EMP Museum are commonly visited by the Chinese market.
“As the market matures, Chinese visitors have begun to explore more than the key attractions. Regional points of interest, like Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and Woodinville Wine Country are also becoming popular,” added Mr. Boesche.
Leveraging the boom on the West Coast and beyond
In the case of Seattle, some hoteliers have done a great job learning from the Chinese market, while others are just beginning to provide specialized amenities and services. The Pan Pacific Seattle is a great example; the hotel has provided in-room amenities (like jasmine tea) and a Chinese breakfast option. It also has a Mandarin-speaking staff program, which ensures that Chinese travelers have Mandarin-speaking support available 24/7, says Mr. Boesche.
However, these initiatives are not taking place only in the Pacific Northwest. Some hotel chains have also implemented in-house services tailored to Chinese expectations. Hilton hotels, for example, offer their Chinese guests Mandarin-language staff and in-room amenities such as jasmine tea, slippers, and Mandarin television channels.
The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) also caters to the Chinese traveler, as it launched its “Zhou Dao’ China Ready Program in 2015. “This program offers translation services, Chinese menus, and acceptance of China UnionPay cards. Implementing services like these ensures that Chinese guest feels ‘at home’ even when they are on the road,” explains David Becker, CEO for Attract China, a marketing organization based in Beijing that markets and promotes destinations around the world to Chinese tourists.
The US has set the strategic goal of welcoming 100 million Chinese visitors per year by 2021. In 2015, Chinese were the largest source of tourism dollars in the US, spending $30 billion. Moreover, 2016 has been designated the US-China Tourism Year, which has sustained the growth of Chinese visitors to the USA’s national parks, large and small cities, and other great American tourism assets. Chinese tourists are expected to spend US$85 million per year in America by 2021, added Mr. Becker.
Where to start?
There is no secret recipe, but building a presence online in the Chinese social media landscape is key to attracting the valuable Chinese traveler demographic, and it is just the beginning. Robin Chung, Senior Data Manager at Revinate says, “It is imperative that US hotels maintain a presence on Chinese travel websites if they want to attract Chinese guests. Chinese internet users primarily (if not exclusively) use Chinese travel sites for many reasons including language and the ability to book hotels directly on sites such as Ctrip, Agoda, and eLong.”
The Seattle hotels’ case can be a great example to follow for hotels, not only in the Pacific Northwest but all over the United States. Initiatives like monitoring social media references in Mandarin, having Chinese-speaking staff members available, and building a strong email database of Chinese guests, are all ways to help hotels strengthen their presence in the Chinese social media landscape.
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