Around the world, the travel industry is in turmoil. The World Travel and Tourism Council has predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a global loss of 75 million jobs and more than $2.1 trillion in revenue this year, and that’s without mentioning the many airlines, hotel chains, and operators who may not recover from the unprecedented challenges ahead.
China, however, is on a different trajectory. Though the country has faced significant battles in recent months, Chinese businesses are now beginning to reopen their doors after an 11-week lockdown, and the country’s tourism industry is ready and waiting with open arms.
According to data from Beijing-based Analysys, China’s tourism industry lost more than 10 billion yuan a day ($1.4 billion) during the outbreak, with 80% of domestic bookings cancelled.
Ctrip, one of the nation’s biggest travel booking websites, has lowered its growth forecasts for the year and predicts net revenue will plummet by as much as 50% by the end of 2020.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As China now gets to grips with life post-lockdown, the country’s biggest players in tourism are working flat-out to persuade consumers to part with their cash and start travelling. We’ve rounded up some of the techniques they’re trying…
Even before the Chinese government announced it was lifting some of its lockdown and quarantine restrictions, companies began to reinvent their products to maintain cashflow in these challenging times. One of the biggest drives was “preselling” experiences and hotels, allowing consumers to pay in advance for an open-ended vacation at a discounted price.
High-end hotels, for example, began offering two-night hotel packages for just 2,000 yuan - down from the usual RRP of 5,000 yuan. Customers could purchase the deal and exchange the voucher for a break before the end of the year. They could even split the deal to enjoy two one-night stays if they preferred. This flexibility is unheard of in the hospitality industry and grew in popularity overnight, helping customers score a deal, and hoteliers stay afloat.
On Ctrip, airlines, hotels, and travel operators offered advance sale prices with discounts to entice customers during these challenging times. Discounts ranged anywhere from 10% up to 75% off of the usual retail price, and though the idea was to preserve some cash flow, the promotions have also helped to restore popularity and allowed companies to maintain brand awareness and relevance in a time when most consumers wouldn’t be thinking about travel.
Domestic tourism on the up
Not unexpectedly, domestic tourism will skyrocket this year, with Analysys forecasting that domestic tourism in China will make up 60% of all trips in 2020, up from 47% in 2019. With large parts of the world closing their borders and airlines shutting up shop temporarily, it’s little wonder why consumers are making the decision to travel locally. Not only have millions endured strict lockdowns, but Chinese New Year was celebrated behind closed doors, and in many cases without friends and family, making trips an even greater celebration than usual.
For Western firms that rely on China’s outbound tourism market, adapting your strategy right now is essential. The more you can hammer home the benefits of your hotel, attraction, or experience, the more likely consumers are to invest in your brand and purchase a presale.
Remember that not all Chinese tourists want to shop; some tourists place importance on the travel experience; immersing themselves into local culture; experimenting with exotic foods. Create a well-rounded marketing campaign as soon as possible to build brand awareness, drive more consumers to your WeChat channels, and where possible, sell them products.
According to data from a Ctrip survey, 78% of Chinese consumers said they’d be willing to travel in the near future, despite some predicting the coronavirus would have the reverse effect on the travel industry, with citizens preferring to stay at home to spend time with their families and return to a normal state of affairs. Travel agency Qunar added that searches for China’s May 1 holiday grew 76%, demonstrating an appetite for travel in the weeks ahead.
Tapping into consumer behaviour is essential when promoting your tourism brand.
Though Chinese travellers cannot jump on a plane and visit you overnight, they can be inspired by your photography and video content, share your brand with their friends, and add you to their “travel bucket list” for when restrictions are lifted.
Note that many Chinese consumers will have faced significant financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus, and won’t have the disposable income to travel right now. By drip-feeding quality content and “selling the dream” of your venue over social networking sites like WeChat and Weibo, you can be the first choice when they’re ready to travel.
Transparency and contactless tours
The coronavirus will have a lasting effect on our attitude towards personal hygiene and safety, and working to alleviate the risks will make your tourism product more attractive.
In response, Chinese tourism brands are adapting their strategies, with Qunar monitoring each step of users’ journeys and alerting users to reported cases of COVID-19 in hotels, tourist spots, and on flights that may have been taken to protect customers and their brand.
Ctrip, on the other hand, has begun implementing “contactless tours” - users can book trips and experiences online, scan a QR code to gain admission, and stream audio guides rather than rely on a real guide to show them around a scenic spot. Implementing such technology into your venue, as we did for RRS Discovery in Dundee, will futureproof your attraction.
Digital still essential
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining a digital presence during these challenging times. From day one of the outbreak through to the reopening of tourist spots, museums, art galleries, hotels, and airlines have maintained their activities on social media sites like WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin. Although most have adapted their messaging to be supportive and non-promotional, their efforts still resulted in increased brand awareness.
Though we can take some confidence in the speed at which China has begun reopening its tourist attractions, Western companies must also be realistic about the timeline closer to home. Focusing on Chinese digital marketing and piggybacking off of influencers and their growing audiences will allow you to presell your packages and experiences and keep your Chinese customer base strong, even when international tourists cannot physically visit you.
If you’re looking for support navigating the Chinese market during these exceptional times, reach out to Zudu China on 01382 690080 or click here to send us a message.