Travel brands and
destinations are vying for the attention of Chinese travelers - already a
massive market with an estimated 130.5 million outbound trips made in 2017 and
projections of 10% growth annually for the next several years.
But capturing the
attention and interest of these active - and primarily affluent - travelers
requires a different strategy than what is traditionally used in the West.
For one, mobile is the dominant information interface. EMarketer predicts adults in
China will spend two hours and 39 minutes per day on a mobile device this year,
up more than 11% over 2017 and for the first time eclipsing time spent watching
their phones, however, Chinese consumers are not using the platforms most
common in the West: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all banned, and Baidu -
not Google - is the dominant online search tool, controlling about 80% of all
searches to Google’s 10%.
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consumers are using is WeChat. The Tencent-owned platform is an all-encompassing
app for its one billion monthly active users, providing services such as instant
messaging, photo sharing, shopping and travel research, booking and payments.
To get a deeper understanding of WeChat and how travel brands can use it to
reach the lucrative Chinese outbound travel market, PhocusWire spoke to Reene Ho-Phang,
founder and managing director at BrandStory, a tourism marketing agency that manages campaigns targeted at outbound tourists from China and throughout Asia.
start by explaining the mobile market in China?
become one of the world’s largest travel source markets. Therefore everyone is
excited about the market, and it’s a market where almost every travel brand is
There are a couple of interesting trends that are arising from the
market. The digitization of China was very rapid, and so if you look at the infrastructure
of China, the digitization superseded the physical infrastructure. The majority
of the population is on mobile phones, and the digital infrastructure is rather
get around their daily life without a wallet, without cash money or credit
cards. There’s no need for that. All you need is your mobile phone, and you can
utilize it for hiring a taxi, ordering food for lunch, booking travel, rating a
restaurant, conducting shopping, watching TV, paying your utilities and your
In China, there
are also tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Tier 3 cities might be a really mountainous
area - you may not have the roads, the hospitals, other physical structural amenities,
but everyone has a mobile phone and you can reach people across the nation
through the mobile network.
In some tier 2 and tier 3 cities, the family may not
have a television, but it does not matter. They can watch anything on
telephone. In some cities, you would see people first have TV screens and then
mobile, but here the digitization happened so fast, we skipped that.
has about one billion active monthly users. Why has it become the dominant
really powerful, multipurpose messaging platform. It became something the
Chinese people love with the primary objective of having your own circle of
friends. In China it’s very important to feel exclusive and like you are part
of a network. That started the popularity of WeChat.
WeChat doesn’t exist in isolation. It exists as part of your total campaign.
Reene Ho-Phang - BrandStory
share photos, words, but another very popular function is the wallet. It’s right
next to the social messaging - it’s within easy reach. And within the wallet
you find many other brands have mini programs, and you can reach them easily.
For example, you can go to the wallet and reach out to your favorite shopping
mall and make a purchase. And in your wallet you can search for a merchant or a
car rental company or a taxi and you can book it right away. You can look for a
government agency where you are paying bills or utilities. It became so
convenient and became integrated into Chinese consumers’ everyday lives.
WeChat being used for travel and tourism marketing?
brands can reach consumers in various ways utilizing WeChat. There is no one
best way. It depends on the business you are conducting. For example, they
can have a subscription account. Now in China people don’t like to look at
newsletters on email anymore. Instead of email, they can look at their
subscriptions and something like a newsletter is delivered to WeChat for the
brands you subscribe to.
Some of the
brands we handle are Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Hawaii Tourism China and also the Capital Region USA, which is Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. For these
clients, we do an updated newsletter every week about the latest travel attractions
news. Where in other markets you would do an e-newsletter, here it’s a WeChat
magazine that is delivered to your account because you subscribe for it.
enriched - it can be videos, it can be text. It really looks like a magazine.
How else is
it being used?
function is that an organization can also provide customer service through their
business network - like a hotline where customers can ask questions about, for
example, a destination, when is the best time to go.
This isn’t just about making the content look good on a small, vertical screen; it’s about experimenting with flexible, portable content structure and experiences.
Reene Ho-Phang - BrandStory
You can also
create mini apps in WeChat. Instead of relying let’s say on Android or iOS where
you have to download the apps, now in WeChat you can create the app. Let’s say
you decide to have an app to share the safety features of a destination or
information that is always changing like weather and so on.
You can also create
campaigns within WeChat. You will see native advertising, so that is another
way brands can reach out to potential travelers.
doesn’t exist in isolation. It exists as part of your total campaign. For
example the WeChat QR code is displayed at Hawaii events and on collaterals, maps
for Chinese consumers to quickly scan and enter to get the subscription.
suggestions do you have for brands that want to engage Chinese consumers via
I think some
of the most effective strategies are based around creative content marketing
strategies and delivering content that potential travelers want and creating
interesting formats to deliver that information. This isn’t just about making
the content look good on a small, vertical screen; it’s about
experimenting with flexible,
portable content structure
and experiences like interactive games.
For example: Hawaii, as you know, is a spectacular destination, but it is facing huge competition
from other Asian islands. There is a need to differentiate it. So we created a
campaign to position Hawaii as the diamond of all islands, a cut above.
of a diamond captures the consumers’ imagination and desire. We worked with China’s
number-one diamond boutique brand [Chow Tai Fook], and we jointly created a
treasure hunt WeChat game so you can go to different islands of Hawaii and find
the treasure - the diamond hidden in each island. It’s very engaging and they
can learn about each island, and it’s beautiful and it had great diamond prizes.
initiative is a joint marketing effort with the number-one diamond boutique of China.
They have about 2,000 stores. Their WeChat account has millions of customers.
So we are tapping a new customer base.
videos, especially those ranging six to 15 seconds are a popular trend that will
be widely used on digital and e-commerce sites for marketing purposes. In the past
two years, Tencent, Alibaba and Toutiao have made huge investments to support
short video production.
is also used for payments?
A very high
percentage of travel purchases happen on the mobile phone. They can utilize WeChat
Pay. Let’s say you are an airline. You can choose to create an app on WeChat, and in your app you offer the options of ticket purchase with WeChat Pay. You
can also offer a customer service page for questions and so on.
options. To operate successfully is to understand your target audience and
anticipate their needs and make it so enjoyable and seamless for them to make
you seen as Western brands try to understand and adapt to marketing via WeChat?
It’s a quite
steep learning curve, because the technology is fast disrupting previous
business models, whether it’s the business model of an online travel platform
or a travel agency or media.
because the consumer habits are rapidly evolving. China is an interesting
market because when something is popular, it goes viral rapidly, and because of the
population size it reaches a critical mass very quickly, making it highly
What do you
see happening in the next few years with marketing on WeChat?
tastes are changing: Consumers want even more tailored itineraries, not one-size-fits-all. What we are seeing in the market now is the travel platforms
that can offer customization will be the new winners.
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