Georgia is chipping away at its long-term goal to tap into the Chinese market in greater numbers by working with CrowdRiff, a Toronto-based firm with a self-described “quirky and diverse crew” which works with a number of destinations in using visual media to promote their brands and products.
In a recent piece by CrowdRiff’s Sandra Rzasa, one gets an idea of how Georgia has begun to make and secure its niche as a USA destination for the now and future.
In 2008, a year after the Chinese government gave the U.S. Approved Destination Status—it allowed U.S. tourism businesses and DMOs to market and promote leisure tourism in China—the Georgia Department of Economic Development created the Greater China Region Initiative. This took place at roughly the same time that Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines to begin direct flights to and from Atlanta and a gateway city in China. The mandate of the Initiative was to increase economic opportunities with the Chinese market and named Stella Xu as its director.
The effort stalled a little when Delta stopped the under-producing route within a year and, after trying again, stopped them again. Now, Delta is scheduled to begin non-stop flights between Atlanta and Shanghai on July 20.
“We started hosting conferences to bring Chinese buyers and tour operators to Atlanta for business meetings as well as to experience our city,” says Xu. For much of the past decade, however, leisure tourism as a priority stayed in the shadow of efforts to attract Chinese business and trade to Georgia.
“As of this moment, our leisure travel is still a very small percentage; a majority are business travelers coming for trade shows, as well as students and their families,” Xu explains. “Hopefully, with the direct flight, we can bring more leisure travelers.”
Now, after years of focusing on developing key relations with Chinese businesses, and with the direct flight soon to be reinstated, the Georgia Department of Economic Development has taken proactive steps to show prospective Chinese leisure travelers what southern hospitality is all about.
One such step was its sponsorship this past March of the Active America China Summit, a trade show sponsored by the NAJ Group (publisher of the INBOUND Report) that brought more than 50 Chinese tour operators to Atlanta to meet with U.S. travel suppliers and DMOS—many of them from Georgia.
Highlighting key American Icons in Marketing Materials to Appeal to Chinese Tourists: When it comes to the state’s overall tourism marketing strategy, Xu notes that it’s all about showcasing the sounds, smells, tastes and hospitality of southern culture, highlighting how it differs from America’s coastal cities. While much of the marketing materials produced for the Chinese market follow along the same themes, Xu says it’s her job to tailor Georgia’s marketing materials and visitor’s guides to appeal to travelers from the region.
“We look at the overall strategy and then we pick and choose things that we think will resonate with the Chinese, mostly culturally-centered,” said Xu, explaining that there’s extra emphasis on quintessential Americana, like World of Coca-Cola, Stone Mountain or the state’s many movie sets from iconic American films like Forrest Gump.
Many Chinese tourists are also familiar with classic novels like Gone with the Wind, and they are intrigued by Georgia and the South described in the novel, which Explore Georgia tries to bring out in their marketing.
“We add a special touch, and wording language and the style of the pictures for what the Chinese would like to see,” she added. “We tend to choose content that Chinese people do not get to experience in China on brochures and branding materials.” For example, this page of Explore Georgia’s 2018 Chinese visitor guide, set against a stunning photo of Georgian wetland, explores different places in a traveler can experience the wonders of the state’s unique natural terrain.
Another page in their visitor guide is an exposé on Georgia’s rich music and film culture. Here they tie back international American culture icons, like James Brown and R.E.M., to the state where they originated. This page also reveals filming locations of well-known movies, such as The Hunger Games, that took place in Georgia.
Xu notes that this strategy extends from the visitor’s guides to the website to the social media campaigns and blog posts that the tourism department creates in Mandarin for the Chinese market.
Helping tourism partners to prepare for accommodating Chinese travelers
Essential to facilitating the flow of tourism from China is ensuring that visitors have all the resources and amenities they have come to expect from major American cities, such as tour guides that speak their language and hotels that are accustomed to hosting Chinese guests.
“We help the tour operators to develop marketing collateral and to hear their concerns, their feedback, what they’re looking for, what their clients are looking for,” Xu points out, explaining that their goals extend beyond getting travelers to Georgia, but then also making sure they have a great experience in their state. That means supporting “our partners, like the CVBs, hotels, retail stores and everyone who wants to attract visitors, we help them become China-ready.”
Result—Explore Georgia’s Targeted Efforts See Consistent Yearly Growth in Chinese Visitors: Since its creation 10 years ago the Greater China Region Initiative—which recently hired its second full-time employee—has seen the number of Chinese visitors gradually increase over time.
“When I joined the department in 2008, China was not on the top 10 international visitors list,” Xu tells us. Today the country is fifth behind Canada, the U.K., Germany and India. “For the past four years the number of Chinese visitors has increased every year by twenty or thirty percent, as well as their spending power.”
Xu’s overarching advice when it comes to engaging with the Chinese market is to put in the time to facilitate connections and deeper relationships, both online and in person. “The Chinese market is a relationship-driven market, so you have to be there all the time and establish relationships and make friends with people,” she said. “It takes a long time to do that.”
It may be a while before they can compete with America’s major states, concludes Xu, but Georgia is becoming recognized to the Chinese market as a gateway to the southeast and a perfect starting point for a second or third visit to the country.