Mobile is increasingly important for the Chinese outbound market and local experiences are starting to replace the bucket list.
Or so says a panel of pundits and executives from the industry in China.
In a session focusing on Asia at ITB in Berlin this week, China Travel News co-founder and CEO Charlie Li pointed out that despite the noise surrounding the volumes, less than 5% of the adult population have a passport.
In other words, this is a large and as yet untapped market.
This was taken on further by Dr Wolfgang Arlt of research house COTRI, who noted:
“When people talk about ‘the Chinese traveller’, it is misleading. We are talking about the top 5% of the country.”
This 5% comprises educated millennials as well as the older generation who are starting to see the benefits of the country’s economic growth over the past twenty years or so and are ‘money rich’ and ‘time rich’.
With most of its customers aged between 26 and 35 years old and educated to graduate level, Alibaba-run Alitrip has a deep insight into the preferences of the millennials.
Sherri Wu, its chief strategy officer and head of international business development, shared that this group has moved beyond pre-packaged tours and are now looking at independent, localised experiences.
The bias towards millennials for Alitrip is reflected in the fact that 70% of the bookings on its marketplace platforms come from mobile.
Messaging platforms are inextricably linked with mobile, and China is leading the way in commercialising these platforms. But it’s not all about selling.
Joseph Xia, vice president of ecommerce for Jin Jiang International, said that his business was using WeChat ‘to connect with millennials, not to sell to them’. Xia also advised destinations to populate their WeChat presence with rich content as a way to attract outbound travellers.
Wu chimed in that destination marketers needed to be aware of this, among other, idiosyncrasies of Chinese travellers.
“Also, Chinese travellers do not like email as much as they do SMS, so there is a reason your email campaign hasn’t worked. Also, Chinese people prefer longer web pages more than other markets, so you need to think about that.”
So, while Chinese travellers like to have a localised experience, John Zhong, head of international hotels at Ctrip, stressed the importance of making sure that these are presented in a Chinese-friendly way.
He referenced Ctrip’s preferred hotel programme, where Ctrip – China’s biggest OTA – vets hotels and ranks their Chinese-friendliness. Hotels which participate in this programme, he said, are able to achieve a higher daily rate than others on its books.
Ctrip also flew the flag for the globalisation strategy of Chinese travel businesses. He talked about “the Ctrip family”, which includes Qunar and eLong, among others, as a source for Chinese outbound travel.
But he was also keen to stress the fact that Priceline Group – the world’s largest OTA – owns more than 12% of Ctrip and that Ctrip recently invested in MakeMyTrip – India’s biggest OTA.
The mobile-centric pincer movement of the Chinese market – localised experiences for travellers in the context of a global expansion by its businesses – is unlikely to be derailed by the economy’s relatively weak performance of late.
As Dr Arlt pointed out:
“Chinese people will not stop becoming rich, they will just get rich a bit more slowly.”
NB: China mobile travel image via Shutterstock.