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BUSINESS ADVICE: Attracting Chinese travellers

Theresa May has relaxed the visa rules to make it significantly easier for Chinese visitors to gain entry to the UK, which means the market currently valued at up to £1.4bn annually will grow significantly. It will most likely be the hospitality and retail sectors that benefit most.

To get an idea of the value of the Chinese tourist sector you only have to consider that the average spend per person/visit in London’s luxury department store, Harrods, is £3,500. The Chinese travel market is in fact the largest in the world – according to statisticss revealed at the Expedia Partners Conference in Las Vegas last year (attended by Hotel Owner editor, Michael Northcott), there are 100 million outbound visits made by the Chinese population annually, and this is set to continue growing as the emerging middle class burgeons.

But for those that own and manage hotels the difference between recognising the value of Chinese tourists and the reality of selling to, and serving the audience may seem daunting. However, there are relatively straightforward steps that can be implemented to quickly establish a long term high-spending customer base from the Far East.

THE TYPES OF VISITOR

The Chinese tourist market is formed of two sections. Those that buy tour packages, and those that travel independently. Until recently the latter were a small minority, but now numbers are growing fast, but more importantly they are big spenders and they have yet to establish hotels of choice in the UK.

Because there is such little awareness of hotel options among Chinese visitors it provides a chance to establish particular properties as hotels of choice for the long term by creating known ‘bases’ that are Chinese-friendly.

So everyone is playing on a level field, and it is not difficult for hoteliers to quickly implement a strategy that reaches out to Chinese tourists, engage them effectively and then serve them in the way they want. And it does not have to involve Mandarin-speaking ability.

AWARENESS

First and most obviously, it is important to make the audience aware of who you are, where you are and the benefits of the property and surrounding area. The Chinese use social media far more than their counterparts in the UK, thus social media marketing is hugely powerful in China. Nearly 40 percent of all spending decisions in China are made as a direct result of social media, and using it in marketing can quickly pay for itself 10 times over.

Its use by any UK hotel will stand out because it is extremely rarely used, and consequently it will be noticed greatly. A survey this summer of more than 100 central London hotels found that none had accounts on the all important WeChat social media platform (a bit like WhatsApp in the UK).

Having a good Mandarin website is also important. This is because of the high use of the web in researching purchases. The silver surfers that so heavily influenced changes to the UK travel sector pale into significance compared to Chinese consumers.

A web presence within the Great Chinese Firewall is essential, and any good UK based Chinese web developer will register the appropriate domain within the Chinese wall. Any domain outside the wall will not show up in searches.

It is not necessary to have pages and pages of information in Mandarin on websites in order to attract tourist consumers. Highlighting selling points and emphasising a warm welcome are the key factors. It will successfully draw target consumers.

SMART SEARCH-ENGINE OPTIMISATION

Search engine optimisation (SEO) will create significant standout for any UK hotel in the Chinese travel marketplace. This is because there is very little word search competition for key phrases like ‘Edinburgh city centre hotel’ or ‘Cotswold hotel’. Investment in SEO goes a very long way. A specialist agency is needed for this activity, but again it pays for itself quickly.

Preparing to serve Chinese guests does not have to involve Mandarin speaking skills to be effective. It should begin by guests seeing a welcome sign in Mandarin. Greeting tourists in a dignified way and the simple use of the phrase, ‘Nee how’ – hello – helps enormously. But to truly have an impact, Chinese cultural training for staff is recommended.

Mandarin point of sale should be used, and preferably a small dedicated display area created. A Mandarin brochure and menus are important, but better still touch pads using Mandarin are easy to use and can be easily updated. Fixing them to a wall or supplying them to staff breaks through the language barrier very effectively.

Adding a China Union Pay (CUP) credit card facility to existing card payment options is hugely appreciated. This allows for direct payment from Chinese accounts, which saves tourists money. CUP signage on the outside of the property, or in reception makes tourists feel wanted. Obtaining a CUP facility is relatively straightforward and can be enabled through UK high street banks.

There is no question that preparation for Chinese tourists takes time and effort. But the rewards are significant and long term, plus there is an increasing selection of useful and practical help available, including complete fixed price preparation packages.

The to do list for targeting Chinese tourists:

Internet

Essential key actions

  • Create a Mandarin micro website.
  • Use search engine optimisation and social media to draw attention and sell benefits

Additional options

  • Targeted online advertising
  • Create a dedicated Chinese app

In the hotel

Essential key actions

  • Welcome sign in Mandarin
  • Mandarin brochure, menus, or touch pads
  • CUP facility
  • Basic cultural and etiquette training for staff

Additional options

  • Comprehensive cultural and etiquette training for staff
  • In the case of premium pricing and ultra high net worth customers, employ Mandarin speaking staff.

Arnold Ma is director of digital marketing Qumin, the UK’s only full Chinese digital marketing agency. This feature first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Hotel Owner.

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