On October last year, we published an article, How Independent Scandinavian Hotels Can Compete With International Hotel Chains in Attracting Chinese Visitors, written by Cho Wong, managing director, Compass Edge Europe. Since then, we have interviewed Mr. Wong, to add more useful information to interested hoteliers. Find out more about how individual Scandinavian hotels can benefit from a stream of Chinese travelers.
Before the pandemic, outbound travel from China reached record numbers. Now, Chinese travelers are impatiently waiting for borders to open again, and worldwide destinations will once again try to reach these people. But how?
Cho Wong was born in Hong Kong and completed his graduate and post-graduate education in the UK. His first job was to introduce western technology into China. “How things have changed and now China is exporting technology!” he smiles.
Later, he lived in Singapore for 4 years setting up a regional head office for a UK packaging manufacturer, followed by running a Sino-British factory in Kunming, Yunnan Province. His first involvement in the hospitality industry was being the head of a hotel booking agency in early 2000s.
Since the he has stayed in the industry, first with Pegasus Solutions, and subsequently became Managing Director of Supranational Hotels, a hotel representation company which was well known in Scandinavia. At that time Rica Hotels, Arp-Hanson Hotel and Restel Hotels were counted among its membership.
The Compass Edge History
Cho retired in late 2017 but was persuaded by one of his customers Anita Chan, CEO of Compass Edge, to form a partnership in the UK, promoting her GoChina services to hoteliers in Europe. Compass Edge in Hong Kong was founded by Anita Chan in 2008. With an extensive experience from her hotel and hotel representation background (VP of Small Luxury Hotels), Anita and her team’s main business is to represent independent hotels and regional hotel groups in GDS distribution. OTA connectivity, booking engines and so on.
In 2015, Anita realized that the number of Chinese outbound travelers were increasing and yet they could not find much information about hotels in the west. Part of that is due to the Great Firewall which restricts information going in and part of it is due to western hotels not knowing how to market themselves properly inside China.
Anita started offering China Strategy services to overseas hotels and GoChina is the main service including building China-specific websites and hosting them inside China, using Chinese social media and the latest marketing channels there to help hotels build up their brands.
“Naturally, there is a need here in Europe and therefore Anita and I set up Compass Edge Europe to offer the GoChina service to hoteliers here,” says Cho.
Where does the typical Chinese traveler get information on a specific destination?
A specific destination can be known to Chinese travelers via the traditional way such as:
- Travel programs on Chinese Television
- Travel magazines
However, to be effective, it is now mainly through:
- Social media and active engagement with audience by using the two most important social media channels in China, namely Weibo and WeChat and set up accounts there (Visit Britain is a good example); using posts regularly to “sell” the destination
- Gaining traction via KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) talking about their travelling experience and recommending what to see, eat, shop and stay.
In addition, typical Chinese travelers also get information from friends and relatives through their social media posts during and after their trips.
What is most important for the typical individual Chines traveler?
Years ago, it was about visiting well know foreign destinations such as London, Paris and New York. They called it “clocking in”, i.e. posting their selfies using famous landmarks as backdrops. Also shopping!
For seasoned travelers, it is now about experience. This is not just about the hotel stay but also about what they can see and learn when they are there. For example, it is important to know what they can do to enhance themselves (such as learning wine tasting organized by the hotel, preparing cocktails, learning how to cook with the head chefs). For some people, going to less well-known destinations mean meeting less fellow Chinese travelers which they prefer. Hence chasing northern lights in Iceland, cruising in the Antarctic has become popular among the well-offs.
Under the Covid-19 shadows, the most important factor for them now is safety. This includes the hygiene regime offered by hotels (contactless checking-in and out, enhanced room service, social distanced restaurants, good health care system in place in case of need etc.)
What is the best way for a small hotel owner to market a destination to the Chinese market?
The best way is to identify their unique selling points and tell the market about them (why one should visit the place, what you will miss if you don’t, things you can see, smell and feel that cannot be replicated by just looking at photos or videos)!
You are right that a Chinese traveler does not come to stay at a small hotel because he or she loves the hotel (this comes afterwards, hopefully..).
Are there any historical stories about the destination? Any famous people from there? Is the hotel near any World Heritage Sites or UNESCO destinations? Is there a local cuisine, wine, special cooking methods, other unique local activities that visitors will find interesting?
It will be beneficial if hotels can also take part in their local tourism board’s promotion activities targeting China.
How important will you say the Scandinavian market is to Chinese travelers?
Scandinavia is fascinating to the Chinese, especially the story of Father Christmas (a relatively new concept to them), Lapland, the Northern Lights, the midnight sun and so on.
In addition, because of the pollution in China, they long for visiting places famous for clean air and nature.
Luckily, the region is not yet a destination for the mass market which is good news to the host countries as well as the more well-off travelers from China.
Any thoughts about language barriers?
Most independent Chinese travelers speak some English. Also, there are now Apps on their mobile phones acting as interpreters and most Scandinavians can speak English anyway and therefore language barrier is not a problem.
How important is food?
Food is one of the most important enjoyment in life for the Chinese. The four factors forming their travel experience are eat, play, sleep and shop. In the past, they would like to stick with Chinese food but now, especially with the younger generation, they want to experience local food and cuisine. Norwegian salmons, Danish smørrebrød shrimp open sandwiches, Finnish reindeer steak and so on are known to them and they would like to try the real thing.
How can a Scandinavian company be visible on Internet in China?
In order to make sure that it is visible on internet in China, a Scandinavian company will have to do the following:
- Check whether their corporate website is visible in China;
- If so, how about the speed (it takes about 33 seconds to download a European website inside China due to internet filtering by the government there, which is far too long);
- Consider building a China specific website, in Chinese, with a “.cn” domain and have it hosted inside China;
- Set up their Weibo account to start engaging with their target audience;
- If it is useful, set up their WeChat official account as well;
- Consider using other Chinese social media channels and video sharing channels such as DouYin (TickTok) to engage the younger generation.
How does your company help clients in Europe to market their destinations in China?
First of all, we do a check to see whether our potential clients are “visible” inside China.
At the same time, we work with them to pinpoint their USPs, prepare and build their Chinese websites, obtain the “.cn” domains and host their websites on Alibaba cloud for them.
As part of the GoChina package, we set up their Weibo accounts in China. Normally for independent hotels, it may not be cost effective to have a WeChat Official Account. However, if it is a big hotel group or a destination tourism board, a WeChat Account may then be useful.
how individual Scandinavian hotels can benefit from a stream of Chinese travelers
Marketing destinations require commitment in terms of regular posts to engage with the audience, checking on trends and matching the trends with information on destinations such as the most popular events, festivals, food of the season, and anything that can enhance travelers’ experience and their impression of the places.
One important element is to deploy KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) or what we call Influencers in the west). KOLs, and now KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) are very popular and they have a huge number of followers. Their efforts in promoting these destinations by visiting there and filming will be widely noticed and will increase the popularity. Some of them have their own photographers taking pictures of the landscapes, things the KOLs do while they are there, talking with locals and so on.
Last but not least, live streaming is now making a big impact and a well-known local chef cooking a signature dish via on live streaming will no doubt attract attention and following.
In addition, we should not forget the importance of off-line marketing. Taking part in trade shows and exhibitions in China where you can meet potential customers are equally important.
Combination of the above will make sure that the destinations are on top of visitors’ lists during their inspiration and planning phases.
How can a content provider like Daily Scandinavian attract Chinese visitors?
A content provider can consider using the strategies and tactics mentioned above in order to attract Chinese visitors. The beauty of a content provider such as Daily Scandinavian is the vast amount of information and data about various places of interests, things to do, choices of restaurants, hotels accommodation, festivals, changes of seasons. The question is how to communicate all this information to the audience effectively and making sure that they use this provider as one of their preferred channels to search for information.
Having said that, Rome was not built in a day and therefore commitment and continuous efforts are required.
Can you give me any examples of success stories from our region?
Hotel Helka in Helsinki is in a very good location. They provide a 4-star service and yet the room rates are very competitive. However, they have Japanese guests and they would love to attract Chinese guests. Through our join efforts, they have seen good results.
We have also helped Zleep Hotels to test the market.
Why a lot of hotels or destinations fail
Cho Lee would also like to point out why a lot of hotels or destinations fail, even after a lot of money has been spent targeting the Chinese market.
“First, it is not enough to have their websites translated into Chinese and think that people will find them. I mentioned the Great Firewall before. Google is banned in China and Baidu is the number one search engine there.
Second, the layout of these websites may not be the format that the Chinese prefer.
Third, having a Weibo and even a WeChat account does not necessarily mean people will read your posts. There are too many accounts there fighting for eyeballs.
Fourth, branding is everything in China. It needs constant nurturing and therefore posting once a week on social media is not enough. Equally, a period of hyper activities followed by a period of “hibernation” does not help either. Consistency is the name of the game which requires commitment of manpower and resources.”
How individual Scandinavian hotels can benefit from a stream of Chinese travelers credits:
How Individual Scandinavian Hotels Can Benefit from a Stream of Chinese Travelers, Cho Wong, managing director Compass Edge Europe was interviewed by Tor Kjolberg.
All images © Compass Edge Europe, except where stated otherwise.