While most delegates to the NAJ Group’s recent Active America China (AAC) Summit in Atlanta were already aware of the singular importance of mobile/digital marketing, they were not quite aware to hear Lian Liu tell them that operators and travel companies in China are beginning to forgo the website—deemed by nearly everyone to be the foundation of e-marketing—and interact with potential customers and clients using smartphone platforms, especially WeChat.
While Liu’s opening remark, “The mobile phone is at the core of e-commerce in China,” did not surprise the delegates who attended AAC, few had heard its dimensions described in the way that Liu, managing director of Hippo International, a globally connecting marketing firm and formerly a marketing executive at New York City & Company, presented it.
Some Dimensions—a Preface: One of the reasons that Chinese are more acclimated to smartphone use is that the generation(s) before today never really had access to desktop computers and towers or to large laptop computers. For most, the cell phone/smartphone was and is the only computer they have used. And to illustrate the breadth of use, consider WeChat. The WeChat app was released in 2011 by Tencent (China’s largest technology company) and has grown to the point that there are more than 900 million daily active users. The average number of messages sent on WeChat is near 40 billion.
Subscribers use WeChat to book travel, manicure appointments, to order meals and delivery of packages, to pay bills and … to chat—as many delegates were during AAC.
For traveler consumers from China, there is a tendency to go to the meta-search engines (Kayak, Skyscanner—which is owned by Ctrip—and Baidu) and to other sites; Ctrip is the dominant online travel agency.
The Chinese Traveler—a Statistical Palette: Liu showed AAC delegates a series of charts and tables that helped to assay the Chinese travel market. First presented were the following numbers:
—67 percent: the number of travelers surveyed who have traveled more than once in the past 12 months.
—55 percent: the percentage of travelers who name Japan as the most popular destination for China’s international travelers (followed by Hong Kong at 35 percent and South Korea at 27 percent).
—82 percent: the percentage of Chinese travelers who user their smartphones abroad.
—73 percent: the percentage of traveling Chinese smartphone users who make shopping-related searches.
—2.3: the average number of destinations visited by Chinese travelers
—$2,449: the average spend of outbound travelers from China’s Tier 2 cities, which have become the growth engine for international outbound tourists (vs. $2,330 spend from travelers from Tier 1 cities)
—220 million: the number of seniors in China, who now comprise a quarter (24 percent) of all Chinese outbound travelers.
The Chinese Traveler—Trends: The principal takeaway that one had from this part of Liu’s presentation was that there are definitely some substantive changes in the way in which the Chinese are traveling vs. the way they were traveling a decade ago. Some of Liu’s observations included the following”
—A now-established trend is that of student travelers to bring family members with them when they go to register for school (there are more students from China than from any other country now studying in the U.S.); families will often visit a student son, daughter or relative when they are attending school. The favorite destinations for students are Los Angeles, New York San Francisco, Miami and Boston,
—For China market researchers, it is now the era of big data, as China’s UnionPay (it now has 900 million card holders vs. 100 million Visa cardholders) has a treasure lode of spend data that is available, at a cost, to analyze.
—Millennials will drive 55 percent of expansion in China’s consumption spending over the next five years.
—FITs also have a growing appetite for a holistic experiential vacation and are willing to pay more to stay at upscale hotels and at high-end restaurants.
Changing Role of the Travel Agent: In just one year, from 2015 to 2016, data show that Chinese travelers are, more and more, planning their vacations on their own—with their smartphones—as shown by the following survey results. The following table helps to underscore Lu’s assertion that “the mobile phone is at the core of e-commerce in China.”
Curating for Operators and Agents (and Consumers): Nowadays, with tour operators and agents having joined consumers in displaying and/or searching for information on screen displays that are only 4-5½ inches, how does a travel seller curate content? Liu told delegates that there are four ways one can differentiate its product from that of other travel sites and WeChat displays:
- Curate with content uniqueness. She pointed a New York City client. She and her team studied all tour providers in the NYC area and added an exclamation point to its name, making its material makes the company stand out in searches.
- Curate the product. Travel sellers have to get to the essence of their product in as few words, characters or images as possible.
- Curate by consumer preferences. Does your research show what travel consumers want? Make your content trigger the move along the path to purchase (by consumer or wholesale travel buyers), using words and characters that research shows that they are interested in.
- Curate by brand. Have a brand that registers with consumers, operators and agents? Then make your content all about the brand.
Asked by one delegate how travel sellers make their business appointments at trade shows, Liu recommended that they present their information as a “gathering of services”—that is, showing the operator what you can do for the operator’s groups. And second, give your information a context: show how it configures into an itinerary and fits into a program that uses other products. Don’t promote just one product because no single product is really stands (or sells) alone.