Chinese travel to the United States is on the rise—and analysts expect that growth rates will continue to accelerate. As of 2014, the number of Chinese tourists was more than triple 2004 levels, and China's outbound travel market is expected to reach 200 million people within five years, according to one report. And these travelers are bringing their checkbooks: Chinese travelers spent $102 billion overseas in 2012.
So who are these travelers? When researchers from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics studied trends among China's growing population of outbound travelers, the following patterns came to light in the report:
Chinese outbound travelers are hungry for new knowledge, experiences, culture, and shopping.
The ratio of male to female travelers is balanced.
65 percent of Chinese outbound travelers are aged 25 to 44. Tourists aged 45 and above represented only 15 percent of all outbound travelers, with seniors being generally unwilling due to cultural and health factors.
Discretionary income is increasing rapidly.
Chinese travelers are sophisticated, fully independent, and willing to deal with locals—even when facing language barriers. They rely on the Internet and social networking as major sources of information and are likely to be reading blogs when traveling, and rely on friends and family for travel advice.
And though they're coming over in spades (the United States ranking second to France as a top travel destination for Chinese citizens), you'll have to put in a little effort to attract them to your tour or activity. Here's a guide to help you along.
Create a website in Chinese
As the Nanjing study found, Chinese citizens rely on the Internet and social networking for their information. So the best way to attract Chinese travelers: create a website (or optimize your current site) for a Chinese audience.
For planning purposes, you'll want to imagine the costs to be similar to the development of a new website—your budget can vary from $5,000 to $100,000+, depending on the website features that you want to build.
Approach this website development project as a completely new initiative for your company, because you're creating it for a completely different audience. (If you're a small merchant and simply looking to translate your website to Chinese, you should expect to pay between $2,000 to $3,000.) In addition to hiring a translator, seek out a consultant to understands Chinese culture and customs. Talent marketplaces like UpWork and Skillbridge can help you get started to find consultants at rates ranging from $30 to $150+ an hour, depending on expertise and experience.
While being high-up on a Google search is vital in the U.S., China has Baidu, the country's top search engine. (You can find a detailed guide to ranking on Baidu here.) At a minimum, you'll want to:
Design and localize your website for a Chinese audience.
Use a keyword research tool to understand search patterns and buying intent, and hire a native speaker to analyze the data.
Optimize title tags and meta descriptions so that your website is easily found.
And if you don't have the resources to create a Chinese website?
You can still make your business appealing to potential Chinese customers by incorporating the following into your business—and website:
A Chinese flag, next to an American flag, outside your office.
A bilingual tour guide, or part-time on-call bilingual tour guide.
An option that allows travelers to book a Chinese speaking tour guide online and in your office.
A Chinese meal as part of your existing menu.
Just as you would welcome a guest at home, find subtle ways to show your Chinese customer base that you're available and that you care. They'll notice and appreciate the extra attention—even if your web and marketing presence aren't perfect.
Be present on Chinese social networks
In China, Facebook and Twitter aren't the social networks of choice. Instead, Chinese audiences are using Weibo and WeChat. 550 million Chinese citizens are on these platforms, which represent a powerful way for tour operators to connect with prospective travelers.
Chinese consumers rely on WeChat and Weibo to conduct research and learn about products and services. Just as you would with your U.S. consumers, you'll want to provide offers, promotions, and valuable content to keep your audiences engaged. Make your brand known, and give value. Your Chinese language consultant can help you identify areas of opportunity and offers worth providing. You can even run sponsored ad campaigns on WeChat and Weibo. But, keep in mind, WeChat's newly launched ad platform is generating mixed feedback—some users have expressed discontent seeing ads.
In general, the best practices for reaching American consumers hold true for reaching Chinese audiences:
Set up a compelling web page and presence. On Weibo, for instance, you use an existing template or theme to power your page.
Post engaging content, like blog posts and videos.
Monitor your posts, and always reply to comments.
Feel free to engage with followers directly.
Join conversations—on Weibo, you can use hashtags like you would on Twitter.
Make it easy for audiences to engage with your brand.
Share engaging, interactive content.
Distribute valuable offers.
Monitor conversations and interests.
Share photos related to your company, to generate excitement about your travel experience.
Develop messaging that aligns with travelers' interests
Chinese travelers are often coming to the U.S. to celebrate major life events. A high proportion of newly married 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings are looking for unique honeymoon experiences. Other Chinese jet setters are coming to the United States to tour American universities, with ivy league schools being top destinations.
Consider working with travel planners, agents, or organizations that are serving a high proportion of Chinese travelers. If there's a local university with a concentration of international students from China, for instance, you may want to create some custom programs for visiting families—or even prospective students.
Start by researching organizations in your area and researching whether they have formal programs in place for Chinese visitors. If you're thinking about partnering with a university, for instance, start by contacting on-campus programs for international students to learn what opportunities there may be. Once you finalize a handful of campaigns to pursue, take the following steps to execute your idea:
Hire a Chinese marketing or design freelancer or agency to create brochures or flyers to place in local Chinese travel agencies. You can use websites like UpWork or Skillbridge to start.
Reach out to local MBA program with a high concentration of Chinese international students. Ask these students if they might be willing to consult on a project for your company.
The market opportunity
The thought of marketing to a completely new customer base overseas may feel daunting, but Chinese travel presents a market opportunity that you cannot afford to ignore.
Develop messaging around your Chinese customers, and strive to reach them before they've decided to visit your city. Small and simple steps will carry you far in this fast-growing and highly opportunistic market. Keep your ears open, talk to local and cultural experts, and get ready to learn—this audience is waiting to hear from you.
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