When it comes to preferences for watching foreign sports, many Chinese fans’ love of basketball is well-known. However, a growing number of wealthy Chinese travelers with a diverse range of interests and demand for new experiences means that there’s expanding Chinese interest in attending sporting events all over the world, from the World Cup to tennis and golf championships, and even NHL games.
That’s why John Cox decided to co-found MVIP, a travel service launched on March 27 that provides moneyed Chinese travelers with tailor-made excursions to the world’s top sporting and entertainment events. MVIP’s services go far beyond scoring prime seats for clients with ultra-luxe accommodations, Mandarin-speaking guides, and special perks such as the opportunity to meet favorite athletes.
The company is an extension of Mailman Group, a social media, technology, and investment agency that handles Chinese social media marketing for teams such as Liverpool FC and Manchester United—connections that don’t hurt when trying to score special access for clients.
In order to learn more about MVIP’s services, changing attitudes among Chinese travelers, and which sports are catching on with China’s jet-set elite, we caught up with Cox for an interview.
What inspired you to launch MVIP?
My co-founder and I are both passionate about sports and attend games whenever possible back in our home countries. It’s a major part of the cultures we grew up with, and we really see that same passion in Chinese fans. We’re also in the fortunate position to work with many of the world’s most beloved sports teams and celebrities through our connections at Mailman Group—and they are all eager to connect with their Chinese fan base. So we decided to create MVIP to bridge the divide between fans in China and these events that take place all over the world. We believe that these experiences can be truly life changing and hope to provide that to as many guests as we can.
Chinese travelers are becoming more and more sophisticated every year and many of them have been to the “must-see” destinations across Europe, the United States, and Australia. There is a shift right now towards more remote experiential destinations such as Africa and Antarctica, and even then there will inevitably be another shift. What qualifies as an experience is something that is continually changing and as human beings, we always desire something new and different; something that we will cherish and tell our friends about that others cannot experience. I think amongst a certain tier of traveler, there is a realization that it’s not about where you went but what you did and how that experience stays with you for the rest of your life. For these travelers, they’re pushing the boundaries by wanting more for themselves out of a trip, not just more destinations or more photos.
Which sports are the most popular among your Chinese clients, and which ones are gaining in popularity?
Basketball and soccer are most popular in part due to their market presence in China and the sheer volume of games which make them accessible to clients with specific travel schedules throughout the year. The NBA and European soccer leagues run most of the year—so if you are traveling, there is always an option to tag in a game.
Golf is definitely a key sport with many clients eager to play the world’s best courses and, when possible, with a professional player or coach. After Li Na’s victory at this year’s Australia Open, we’ve seen a surge in tennis requests for the French Open and Wimbledon with clients requesting opportunities both to see her play and meet her in person. She’s definitely a driving force for tennis in China and with her continued success, we expect more and more of her Chinese fans looking to watch her in action at these tournaments. Golf and tennis are also associated very heavily with the hospitality side of things—unlike a 90-minute soccer match—a golf or tennis tournament is an all-day affair, so is definitely appealing for someone looking for a full-day experience.
For sporting events, do your clients generally have a specific favorite team they’re going to watch, or are they just interested in the sport itself?
Our clients usually have a favorite team or player which is their priority when selecting an experience. That is usually the initial motivation and consideration when evaluating from our range of products. If the timing or location doesn’t work out for them to see their team or player in action, that can definitely impact their level of interest. Most of the time they will reconsider how to plan their travel so that they have a chance to see their preferred team or star. That said, we do have some customers that are interested in sports they’ve never really watched because those are the events available at their time of travel. For example, ice hockey isn’t heavily followed in China but we had guests going to New York and an NHL game was the only major sporting event at that time. Even though they haven’t watched ice hockey before, they were interested in the atmosphere so we arranged for box seats, gourmet food, exclusive souvenirs, a host, and limousine transportation to and from the venue. They had an amazing time and really enjoyed the game!
What does a typical MVIP travel package entail?
At a minimum, we strive for our guests to have an unforgettable time at the experience they’re attending. Typically this could mean a Mandarin-speaking host to accompany them from the time they leave their hotel until they return, premium food and beverage selection at the venue, Champagne welcome, premium seating, opportunities to meet legends and players, behind-the-scenes tours, autographed photos and memorabilia, exclusive gifts and souvenirs, and unique photo opportunities on the court/field/backstage. Overall it depends on the event but at a minimum those are some of the services we provide.
MVIP’s services also go beyond just an Experience package as we can provide the assistance on the full travel itinerary if the client requests it from air travel to hotel bookings, visas, and shopping trips away from the main Experience.
What types of trips do you offer in addition to sports?
Our other key area of focus is entertainment, where we provide access to events such as New York Fashion Week, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, The Grammys, backstage concert access, film premieres, etc. We also pride ourselves on being able to offer guests the opportunity to privately meet celebrities, athletes, and idols. Imagine a round of golf with your favorite athlete or a small dinner with the star of your favorite television show. These events are more challenging to arrange but the experience is truly unforgettable.
Are your clients going on these trips solely for the event, or are they looking for other activities as well?
Our focus is primarily on the event itself but to ensure our guests have an amazing overall trip, we are often requested to provide additional activities on their itinerary. It’s something that we’re happy to do, and we can provide our guests with private city tours, exclusive shopping experiences, fine dining recommendations, [or] tickets to shows. In the event our clients have a request that falls beyond the scope of our expertise, we work with our partners to deliver on as many of their requests as possible. At the end of the day, we’re often involved with many aspects of their trip outside of the event itself.
How are you getting the word out about your company in China?
We have very strong social media platforms in China through our parent company of Mailman Group overall, as we work with the likes of Liverpool Football Club, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur—so we have direct access to soccer and sports fans. We are also working with a lot of partners across membership groups, travel agencies and concierge services to offer tailor-made experiences to their members and clients as well as with a media agency to reach-out to media in the region to showcase the best of our experiences. With our experiences being bespoke to different guests with every trip we are creating a new storyteller of how their journey was and what they experienced. So, as with this uniqueness they want to talk about it and share it with their friends and peers—so word or mouth and referrals travels fast among our target clientele in China.