With China re-entering the global tourism economy in 2023, Chinese tourism marketing will be key in helping businesses meet the three years of pent-up demand from Chinese tourists.
After China scrapped its zero COVID policies at the end of 2022, 2023’s Lunar New Year’s holiday marked the first major holiday in three years without pandemic restrictions in China. For Chinese citizens, it represented a return to normalcy for not only domestic travel but also international travel as well. In just the first six days of the 2023 Lunar New Year, China saw double the amount of cross-border trips compared to last year.
Before the pandemic Chinese tourists were the largest source of tourism revenue worldwide. In 2019 alone, they made 170 million trips, contributing 254 billion USD to the global economy. As Chinese tourists once again begin traveling across the world in 2023, what tourism trends can we begin to see? What strategies can businesses in the tourism industry take advantage of the return of Chinese international tourism? Read on to learn more:
Chinese Tourism Trends in 2023
With China opening its borders to international travel, there will be an influx of tourists across the globe due to the pent-up demand for travel from Chinese tourists.
However, the return of Chinese tourists to worldwide destinations will likely be gradual. International flights must build back capacity in Chinese airports following the end of China’s “five-one” policy, which drastically cut down international flights in the country since March 2020 as part of its zero COVID policy.
The majority of the initial wave of cross-border travel out of China will likely be urgent non-leisure trips for business, family reunification, student travel, and healthcare, according to China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI). The full recovery of leisure tourism will likely begin only in the second quarter of 2023.
Top destinations for Chinese tourists
Unsurprisingly, the top destinations for Chinese tourists are neighbouring APAC countries. Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore top the list, with the US, UK, and Australia being the top destinations for long-haul flights, according to Trip.com reservation data.
According to a 2023 analysis from Fitch Ratings, Chinese tourism was a major percentage of international arrivals in many APAC economies in 2019, contributing roughly a third of all tourists for countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea. The three years of pandemic restrictions saw a dramatic downturn in numbers of Chinese tourists worldwide, with 2022 seeing a tenfold decrease in numbers compared to 2019 for most APAC destinations.
As international outbound tourism from China ramps up, Chinese tourism hotspots have gotten busy preparing. The first wave of Chinese tourists in Thailand were greeted by garlands, gift bags, and welcome speeches by cabinet ministers. Sofiatel Sentosa in Singapore introduced Lunar New Year’s packages with hotpot buffets and romantic packages for couples. In Japan, tour bus firm Hato Bus reintroduced its Chinese language tours, which have been put on hold since the pandemic. France’s official embassy Weibo account tweeted that they were ready to welcome Chinese visitors with “open arms”.
How to Market to Chinese Tourists
To successfully market to the new wave of Chinese tourists, businesses need to let go of the stereotype of the tour guide groups filled with Chinese tourists. In the three years of pandemic restrictions, China saw increased domestic tourism, fast-paced digital ecosystem growth, the increased spending power of millennials, and the coming of age of Gen Z digital natives.
What has changed and what should businesses look out for when marketing to Chinese tourists in 2023?
Target Chinese tourists on Chinese social media platforms
For tourism businesses around the world looking to attract more Chinese tourists, it will be increasingly important to understand how to conduct digital marketing campaigns on Chinese social media sites and to understand the differences between China’s top social media platforms.
According to Dragon Trail’s 2022 consumer sentiment report, 69% of Chinese travelers received travel information from social media channels, ranking as the top source of travel information. By contrast, tour guides, embassy official channels, and foreign social media sites contributed only 14%, 18%, and 22% respectively.
In 2023, the top social media platform for tourism related information has become Xiaohongshu. While previously Mafengwo, a social media and travel booking platform, was the incumbent in the niche, Xiaohongshu’s rapid rise during the pandemic has now made it the top platform for travel related content.
As the most used app in China, WeChat is another obvious choice or conducting Chinese tourism marketing operations on. As a super-app, WeChat has created an entire ecosystem within its platform that includes social media, e-commerce, video content, blog posts, and various services. With its e-wallet system of WeChat pay, users can book international flights and hotels without leaving the app, making it feasible to conduct a full tourism marketing campaign just on WeChat.
Facilitate cross-border payments for Chinese tourists
While Chinese tourists have mostly forgotten about the hassle of exchanging currency for travel over the past three years, cross-border e-payment technology has been maturing.
As mobile payments are ubiquitous in China while credit cards rarely used, businesses catering to Chinese tourists should ensure they can accept payments other than cash and credit from Chinese tourists. By covering at least one of the main Chinese payment options, Alipay, WeChat Pay, or UnionPay, brick and mortar businesses can make Chinese tourists feel right at home with their spending habits and reduce friction on their transactions.
Today, with so many cross-border payment gateways, it is easy for brick and mortar stores anywhere in the world to accept any of the major payment options used by most Chinese travelers.
Know what Chinese tourists are looking for when they travel
As Chinese millennials gain wealth and Gen Z come of age, demographics of outbound Chinese tourists are shifting, and along with it, attitudes towards travel. Knowing these new trends among Chinese tourists will be important for Chinese tourism marketing worldwide.
Because of their heavier reliance on social media as opposed to tour guides, millennial and Gen Z tourists from China are more independent travelers. They seek local experiences over packaged sightseeing tours with large groups, which appeals mainly to rural and older generations of Chinese tourists. According to Dragon Trail’s 2022 consumer sentiment report, the top two goals of Chinese tourists are to try local foods and experience local life (60.8% and 56.7% respectively).
In addition, with so many media reports of anti-Asian incidents worldwide since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, personal safety has become a priority for Chinese tourists. According to Dragon Trail, there is growing uncertainty as to the safety of overseas destinations across the board, as few Chinese have traveled overseas in the past three years. Marketing campaigns should help assuage these fears to attract Chinese tourists.
Chinese OTA Platforms for Booking Trips and Hotels
Flight and accommodation bookings are a crucial gateway for attracting Chinese tourists. With most overseas OTAs unavailable to Chinese tourists, it is important to understand the OTA ecosystem in China. Here are the top Chinese platforms for trip and hotel bookings:
Trip.com Group (携程旅行网)
Previously known as C-Trip, Trip.com Group is now not only the largest Chinese online travel agency (OTA) but also one of the largest worldwide, after its acquisition of Singapore-based Trip.com in 2017. As a more internationally oriented platform with older, higher income demographics than its competitors, Trip.com provides more overseas content and functionality compared to competitors such as currency exchange and overseas travel guides.
Fliggy (Feizhu 飞猪)
Alibaba owned Fliggy, previously known as Alitrip, grew out of Taobao’s travel booking service in 2014. As the largest competitor for Trip.com in China, its target demographic is millennial travelers. It is well integrated with Alibaba’s ecosystem, accepting payments in Huabei and plugged into Alibaba’s Sesame Credit system.
Out of the three main OTA competitors in China, Qunar is the most domestic travel oriented. It has fewer overseas travel services compared to Fliggy and Trip.com. It is popular for its ability to show price comparisons between different destinations.
Before the rise of Xiaohongshu, Mafengwo was China’s main social media platform for user-generated tourism content. Unlike Xiaohongshu however, Mafengwo also expanded into hotel and flight bookings. Therefore, despite no longer ranking as the top social media platform for tourism, Mafengwo is still an important OTA for Chinese tourists.
With Chinese tourists slowly re-entering the global tourism economy in 2023 after three years, businesses must reorient their marketing towards a new generation of Chinese tourists. Understanding Chinese social media platforms and digital marketing in China will be key to reaching this target market.
Want to learn more about digital marketing to Chinese tourists? HI-COM can help.
HI-COM is a digital marketing agency dedicated to providing China-specific strategy, social media communication and e-commerce marketing services to businesses around the world. Working with more than 100 brands, HI-COM is the go-to partner of companies that want to enter the China market! Contact us for your free consultation today!
HI-COM is a localization and multilingual communication agency dedicated to providing China-specific strategy, social media communication and e-commerce marketing services to businesses around the world. Working with more than 100 brands, HI-COM is the go-to partner of companies that want to enter China market! Contact us for your free consultation today!
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