Not every hotel is born equal. By nature, international hotel chains have the resources and experience to target outbound travelers from China. Most of these chains are already operating properties inside China, establishing their brands and they have big budget marketing teams to promote their overseas properties. Read how independent Scandinavian hotels can compete with international hotel chains in attracting Chinese visitors.
Having said that, it does not mean independent hotels should give up competing for a share of the potential. In fact, 55% outbound independent Chinese travellers prefer to stay at independent hotels to enjoy a unique local experience. The challenge for us is to give independent hotels the confidence to attack the market, show them why the China market is different, how to market effectively, and how to retain guests’ interest pre-visit and post-visit.
1. Potential of the China outbound market
According to COTRI (China Outbound Tourism Research Institute) based in Germany, there were 170 million border-crossings from Mainland China, out of which 74.5 million went to Great China (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan), and 95.5 million travelled overseas.
The misconception of the potential is spending power. All marketeers are aiming for the huge population of 1.4 billion Chinese. The old saying “if each one of them spends $1 on my product, I will be a very rich man” is misleading. In reality, according to the Chinese Premier, there are 0.6 billion Chinese with a monthly income below Rmb1,000 (U$500). The spending power focuses on citizens from the first tier and second tier cities.
Therefore, we have to show hotels that their marketing activities should be focused on these cities and do not fall into the misleading concept that China is one huge market. In fact, there are over 35 markets inside China. Each of these have GDPs similar to a nation. For example, the city of Chengdu (not far from where you can find pandas) has a similar GDP to that of Norway! For an independent hotel, it is not possible to target all these areas. We always advise them to focus on southern China, the Pearl River area including Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
2. Marketing in China is a totally different ballgame
When we speak to hoteliers, a common misconception is that they believe they have ticked the box with their website translated into Chinese (similar to what they have done for the French, Spanish and German markets).
However, Google may be blocked in China (like TLS 1.3 and ESNI) which means a hotel website may not even get through the Great Firewall of China. In terms of the content, the Chinese audience may be looking for something that western hotels tend not to focus on their websites.
We advise our hotel partners that they need a China focused website (totally independent of their corporate one), have it structured with content provided in the Chinese way and have the website hosted inside China in order to overcome the barriers mentioned above.
A hotel’s marketing personnel will typically say the usual means of digital marketing such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube have all been deployed. Again, for the majority of the Chinese audience who do not use VPNs to tunnel through the Great Firewall, they will not be able to see hotel’s activities on these western platforms because they are banned.
China has its own online marketing platforms that hotels must use in order to reach potential travelers.
Most people will have heard of WeChat, which is a Super App and a complete ecosystem when it comes to affecting the daily life of Chinese. The situation is different in the west.
However, because WeChat is a closed system, instead we advise our hotels and help them set up Weibo accounts and we run these accounts for them instead. Weibo is an open platform and any posts by hotels will reach a wider audience.
Apart from WeChat and Weibo, popular social media sites such as Little Red Book, Bilibili, Mafengwo,Tick-Tok (Duo Yin) should also be utilised and we handhold our hotels through this maze of an unfamiliar landscape.
3. Every Step of the Way
According to our own research, a typical young traveller goes through the following phases from inspiration, planning, validation, booking, staying and sharing.
Each of these steps require marketing focus in the appropriate channels.
Potential travelers are inspired by emotional connections from social media posts (40%), friends and relatives (33%), and by KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) 22%
Young Chinese use Mafengwo, Little Red Book, Ctrip and Weibo as their main online platforms to plan overseas trips
72% Chinese will search and review short-listed hotels’ websites to validate information
84% young Chinese book overseas hotels via Ctrip, Mafengwo, offline agencies etc., and only 16% indicates they will book direct on hotels’ official websites
This is when they share their experience instantly to inspire their friends and relatives
After sharing, the top three platforms they will share their experience are WeChat, Weibo and Little Red Book
4. Reaching out to independent hotels in Scandinavia
Our team has been sharing the knowledge above with hotels at trade shows, seminars (both online and offline), giving keynote speeches at HSMAI events and so on.
We have also engaged highly respected veteran hoteliers to promote our services to independent hotels in the area. We also aim to expand the network further.
I have found it particularly useful in using LinkedIn to communicate with like-minded colleagues in the industry.
In addition, we have set up a FaceBook group called “ChinaReadyHotels” where we share articles and news on China Outbound with members. All hoteliers are welcome to join the group.
Through our efforts we are being recognized as the go-to people when independent hotels and smaller hotel groups wanting to be successful in tapping into this market.
These efforts have brought us the following awards recently:
** Seven Stars Luxury Hospitality & Lifestyle Award Winner 2019
** CTW Silver Award Winner at ITB China 2019
** Winner of Top Travel & Hospitality Solutions Provider 2018 & 2019
In addition, we have co-founded the LN Hotel Alliance with China Southern Airlines (biggest in China), LN Hotel Group (one of the biggest hotel group in China) and GZL Travel Services (the biggest tour operators and facilitators in China). This Alliance enables us and our hotels tap into over 46 million Chinese frequent travelers.
5. Feedback from our hotel partners
Here is an example from one of our hotels in Finland:
“I have a very positive experience with Compass Edge. I now appreciate the complexity of the Chinese outbound market. For us the GoChina service is very cost effective and we have very good exposure via Chinese social media, engagement with KOLs and from our localized website. The icing on the cake is our membership with the LN Global Hotel Alliance where we can target their 46+ million loyalty members.” Joni Hakkarinen, VP Sales & Marketing, Naantali Spa Hotel & Resort
6. The effect of Covid-19
While we are all struggling in the western world, China is the first to have recovered from the pandemic.
During the last October 1st Golden Week Holiday, 637 million trips were made domestically and tourism had recovered to 79% of the level set in the same period in 2019.
Chinese travelers are ready to travel abroad again as soon as the borders are re-open. However, emphasis will change and as hoteliers, we need to pay attention to:
a) Communicating hotel’s preventive measures to guests (hygiene regime);
b) Be flexible on the guest’ travelling plan (non-refundable advanced booking rate is out);
c) Offer online check-in/check-out
d) Improve in-room entertainment
e) Provide reasonably priced F&B room service
f) Ramp up room service menu
g) Rearrange restaurant seating to facilitate social distancing
At this challenging time, a lot of hotels are thinking short-term which is understandable. However, building a hotel’s brand in China takes time and continuous efforts. Branding is everything there. If we cut off communications and promotional posts on Chinese social media platforms and on hotel’s own Chinese websites, people will soon forget them. They may conclude that these hotels are not interested in their business anymore.
To us, this “quieter time” is the best time to reach out to the target audience and maintain progress made before the pandemic.
These travelers will be desperate to travel the world when the it is deemed safe to do so and when airline capacities return.
Will they choose your hotel?
How Independent Scandinavian Hotels Can Compete With International Hotel Chains in Attracting Chinese Visitors is written exclusively for Daily Scandinavian by Cho Wong, Managing Director Compass Edge Europe. Cho is a seasoned practitioner in international business, hospitality services and digital marketing in China. Currently, Cho is the MD of Compass-Edge Europe, offering support and advice to hoteliers in the region to attract Chinese independent travelers. Prior to that, Cho was the MD of Supranational Hotels, a well-known GDS distribution company based in London.
All illustrations © Compass Edge Europe