A Critical Question For Luxury Brands: What Do Chinese Tourists Want?

Unique Strategies Necessary For Appealing To Discerning Chinese Clientele 

Unique travel experiences and VIP treatment are ways in which luxury companies are successfully catering to Chinese travelers.(China Luxury Network)

Unique travel experiences and VIP treatment are ways in which luxury companies are successfully catering to Chinese travelers. (China Luxury Network)

Chinese tourists are on track to take more than 155 million overseas trips by 2020 and will make 1.7 million arrivals in the United States in 2013.

With luxury brands like Hermès receiving as much as 30 percent of global sales from Chinese customers, it is no wonder that they are one of the most pursued customer segments by luxury brands and hospitality providers.

But despite aggressive courting of Chinese travelers in key gateway cities around the world, few luxury providers actually understand what they want.

Chinese tourists span a broad spectrum of demographics and customer profiles, ranging from senior executives to students, and from first-time travelers to truly global citizens. Although we caution retailers and hospitality providers against making sweeping generalizations about their potential Chinese customers, there are some commonalities that bear watching:

Unique Experiences. Although the most sophisticated Chinese customers are increasingly interested in high-end experiential travel such as spa treatments, golfing, and fine dining, what the broader segment of affluent travelers really wants is access to unique experiences that others cannot obtain. They derive personal pleasure and “face” within their cohort when they are provided a special courtesy that conveys status from a respected brand – the more exclusive, the better.

Founder of top Chinese travel forum and tour operator Lvmama, Mr. Hong Qinghua explains,

Of course business class travel, boutique hotels, Michelin-rated restaurants and private or bespoke services are essential. In addition, the very private and unique experience is the most important. For instance, while others just taste the wine at a French chateau, you have a private chat with its owner; you enjoy a fashion show while others just go shopping in Milan; you learn the insiders’ entrepreneurial culture in Silicon Valley while others walk around the Golden Gate Bridge. These experiences don’t require much money to acquire, but are very exclusive. That’s what the rich group in China is looking forward to.

Special Treatment. Regardless of the customer profile, Chinese customers really want to receive special treatment, in the form of special discounts, offers, tax-rebates, gifts, or amenities that are truly unique and make them feel like VIPs.

Retailers such as the Beverly Center in Los Angeles are taking notice of this need and are offering special offers and discounts to international tourists, including specific offers in Mandarin.

Luxury brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna are providing avenues for tourists to truly experience their unique brand heritage and history by offering Chinese tourists access to their factories, founding-family villas, or behind-the-scenes action at their Milan fashion show. Watch and jewelry brands are increasingly offering private events and trips for their top Chinese clients.

New Destinations. While key gateway cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Paris, London, and Milan continue to draw growing numbers of Chinese tourist arrivals, tourists and business travelers are beginning to seek out unconventional destinations to distinguish themselves from other travelers.

Tour operators in China are beginning to offer “off the beaten path” options for tourists, including trips to the South Pole, U.S. national park tours, and themed vacations such as a “Life of Pi tour” of India.

Ms. Zhang Mei, the founder of Bishan (Wild China), a Chinese adventure tour company,commented:

We will launch the “American Hollywood Disney backstage family tour” this summer. Hollywood and Disneyland are common elements of typical mass-market tours, but this new product will bring clients behind the scenes of the Walt Disney Company to see the cartoon production process backstage. We will also launch an Alaska drifting tour, a California health training camp, and so on. We will also host the Wild America Party with the American embassy this May to promote outdoor trips in the United States.

Trusted Information Sources. Chinese tourists seek authoritative guidance on where to go and what to do during travel. Hong explained, “some [tourists] even have no idea about where to go and what to experience. So what we do is leading or assisting them to enjoy the journey.”

In addition to tour operators and tour guides providing input on travel, most Chinese tourists turn to their peers through extremely active online travel forums, where they exchange detailed information and feedback on specific destinations and experiences.

Brands themselves are increasingly accepted as trusted sources of information, especially in their headquarters or flagship locations, and some are beginning to embrace their new role as “travel curator.” Tourists speak of staff at the Louis Vuitton store in Paris providing them with a printed list of recommended places to shop and eat, and the brand is taking this one step further with the launch of their artist collaboration series of travel books – a smart way to marry international artist culture and travel, while maintaining appropriate brand values.

If retailers and hospitality providers aspire to attract and delight Chinese travelers, they need to listen carefully, to dig deeper into the underlying motivations and preferences of these important potential customers, and develop their own strategies by which to become integral parts of the unique Chinese travel ecosystem.

Want to learn more about your brand’s place in this ecosystem in preparation for summer – the busiest Chinese travel season of the year? Join China Luxury Advisors and Jing Daily for a co-produced “Breakfast Briefing” event on May 14 in New York to learn more about how to attract, convert and retain Chinese tourists.

Sage Brennan is co-founder of China Luxury Advisors, a boutique consultancy that helps luxury brands and retailers to develop China-related strategies, ranging from market entry to social media to attracting, converting, and retaining Chinese tourists.  Sage first visited China in 1987, and has worked in China as a researcher, investor, entrepreneur, journalist, and advisor, with a specialization in digital, mobile, and strategy. Follow China Luxury Advisors on Facebook or Twitter.

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Industry Sectors, Marketing & Branding, Travel