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how to attract chinese tourists

The ultimate guide to attracting Chinese tourists abroad

In 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 150 million mainland Chinese individuals traveled abroad, contributing to 15% of the world’s total tourism expenditure. Now, as of January 2023, following a three-year lockdown and the pandemic’s lasting impact in China, the nation’s Travel & Tourism sector shows strong signs of a rapid recovery as restrictions are lifted. In 2019, mainland China saw 154.6 million travelers leaving for the entire year. However, by the first half of 2023, this figure stands at 40.3 million, signifying a substantial gap from pre-pandemic levels.

Nevertheless, according to the “2023 Spring Festival Tourism Report” released by Ctrip, the overall travel orders during the 2023 Spring Festival increased by four times compared to the same period in 2022, with outbound travel orders surging by 640%. This is a good signal for the recovery of tourism industry, since the domestic and foreign travel orders ushered in explosive growth that had not been seen for a long time.

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Chinese tourist destinations in 2023: Southeast Asia still being top choice

Based on data from the Chinese online travel platform Fliggy (飞猪) the top three domestic tourist destinations during 2023 Spring Festival were Chengdu, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Homestay bookings on the platform surged by over 260% during the same period, with Dali, Lijiang, Xiamen, Sanya, and Beihai emerging as the most sought-after cities for such accommodations.

With the easing of travel restrictions, both domestic and outbound tourism witnessed a significant resurgence. Outbound travel, in particular, saw substantial growth, with short-distance Southeast Asian destinations being the preferred choice for many Chinese tourists. About 93.9% of these travelers opted for journeys within Asia, favoring cities like Bangkok, Singapore, and Bali as their top cross-border travel spots.

During the Spring Festival, outbound travel air ticket orders spiked significantly. Bali saw a 30-fold increase, while Singapore experienced over an 8-fold increase. Manila, Bangkok, and Phuket witnessed 5-fold, 4-fold, and 3-fold increases, respectively. Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur also saw notable growth.

Chinese travelers’ choices were primarily motivated by their desire to savor local cuisine and embrace authentic local lifestyles, followed by price considerations and destination safety.

How to attract Chinese tourists in 2023

In 2023, it’s anticipated that 110 million Chinese tourists will travel internationally, signifying a robust rebound. Travel volumes are expected to reach two-thirds of the pre-pandemic levels. The surge in tourism from both international and domestic tourists has prompted businesses to take advantage of this opportunity and develop effective marketing strategies to attract new customers.

1. Creating a welcoming home away from home

To effectively attract Chinese tourists abroad, accommodating their preferences and ensuring a comfortable travel experience is crucial. This involves addressing language barriers and implementing a comprehensive localization strategy. Key elements include translating menus and signage into Chinese, providing guidance and warning signs in Chinese, and ensuring the availability of hot water for beverages.

Cultural training for staff, especially in hotels, is essential to guarantee a welcoming and comfortable experience for Chinese visitors. In tourist cities, having sales staff who can communicate in Chinese is advisable, enhancing assistance for Chinese customers. This is particularly beneficial for elderly customers who may not be proficient in English, creating a more comfortable and attentive atmosphere.

how to attract chinese tourists
Image source: Xiaohongshu, Airport signage in Chinese at Riyadh airport, Saudi Arabia

2. Leveraging online platforms

In today’s information age, an increasing number of individuals, particularly the younger generation, seek travel inspiration online and across various social platforms. Among the 1,063 Gen Z travelers surveyed, 52.7% of them sought destination information through social media and short video platforms such as Xiaohongshu, Kuaishou, Weibo, and Bilibili. In contrast, a mere 16.7% of travelers relied on offline agencies for travel information. This data underscores the significant role of digital platforms in shaping the travel choices of the Gen Z demographic. By leveraging these platforms, businesses can effectively share travel content, tips, and exclusive promotions, making them integral components of their travel marketing approach.

Moreover, businesses can establish official accounts on dedicated travel platforms like Mafengwo, specifically designed to cater to the needs of travelers. These platforms serve as prime sources of inspiration, valuable recommendations, and comprehensive travel planning resources for Chinese tourists. Notably, Mafengwo alone boasts an impressive user base of over 130 million registered travelers, underscoring the vast potential for businesses to connect with their target audience.

How to attract Chinese tourists, xiaohongshu
Image source: Xiaohongshu, Posts about what to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

3. Partnering with Chinese KOLs for enhanced tourism marketing

Collaborating with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is an effective strategy to attract Chinese tourists and boost local businesses and brands. KOLs, prominent on social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, build influential connections with their followers, making a significant impact. By partnering with Chinese KOLs in the travel industry, businesses can leverage their influence and credibility to capture the attention of Chinese travelers, sparking interest among both their followers and the younger generation.

Additionally, Dianping (大众点评), similar to the American app Yelp, serves as a significant source of travel information for Chinese tourists. Dianping offers user information, consumer reviews, business deals, discounts, and Online to Offline (O2O) services, such as group purchases, restaurant reservations, food delivery, and electronic membership cards. Businesses and restaurants abroad can join the Dianping platform, providing images and descriptions, to enhance their visibility and attract Chinese customers in the online Chinese market.

dazhong dianping
Image source: Dazhong dianping, Interface of China’s leading review platform

4. Tailoring tourist services for Chinese holidays

Attracting Chinese tourists abroad involves tailoring offers to align with specific Chinese holidays. For countries near China, crafting shorter, accessible travel recommendations that cater to the Chinese preference for quick getaways is wise. For more distant destinations, choosing the right timing and creating a concise travel plan is essential. This is particularly beneficial for working individuals with limited time off who still wish to explore international destinations.

5. Adapting to evolving Chinese traveler preferences in the post-COVID era

COVID-19 has significantly altered Chinese travelers’ preferences and behaviors, resulting in a noticeable shift towards favoring natural, outdoor, and less crowded attractions while decreasing interest in cultural, indoor, and crowded experiences. Understanding these evolving behaviors is crucial for businesses and destinations looking to cater to Chinese tourists. Conducting thorough market research is essential to effectively adapt to changing demands and preferences. For example, the WeChat account of the Swedish Embassy in China promotes city walk tours in Swedish cities, aligning with the trend of city walking that resonates with Chinese travelers seeking immersive, experiential, and culturally enriching journeys.

City walk in sweden
Image source: Wechat, City walk recommendations in Malmo, Goteborg, and Stockholm by the Swedish Embassy in China

6. Welcoming Chinese tourists with WeChat Pay and Alipay

International tourist destinations can enhance their appeal to Chinese travelers by integrating WeChat Pay and Alipay, two of China’s most widely used payment systems. By embracing these platforms, businesses abroad can streamline payment processes for Chinese tourists, ensuring a smoother and more convenient transaction experience.

Chinese tourism: strategies for a strong post-pandemic rebound

  • China’s tourism sector shows signs of rebound following the pandemic, with significant growth during the 2023 Spring Festival.
  • Travel preferences of Chinese tourists are evolving post-COVID, emphasizing outdoor and less crowded attractions. These changes influence marketing strategies for destinations.
  • Leveraging digital platforms, KOL collaborations, and localized services tailored for Chinese holidays are essential for attracting and catering to Chinese tourists.
  • Post-COVID, there’s a shift towards outdoor experiences and less crowded attractions, influencing the marketing approaches of destinations. The trend of city walking, appealing to Chinese travelers seeking immersive experiences, is gaining prominence.
  • Embracing Chinese payment systems like WeChat Pay and Alipay can enhance the convenience for Chinese tourists visiting international destinations.