A quick glance at the crowds in airports, hotels, shopping centers, and tourist destinations is enough to confirm the growing trend of individual Chinese tourists traveling independently around the world.
A recent report by travel intelligence company Skift delves into the topic of individual travelers, and says that “the vast majority of China’s independent tourists—74.4 percent—are between the ages of 25 and 44.”
Hotels.com published a survey that said that more than 60 percent of Chinese outbound tourists prefer to travel individually, rather than as part of a group.
Despite the mounting evidence of newfound independence, the group travel market is not going away, although it is clearly evolving—we are already seeing big changes in the management of Chinese group tours, sizes of tour groups, and prices and exclusivity of tour groups. Some of these developments are results of China’s new tourism laws, while some reflect changes in customer demand.
We expect to see healthy growth in 2014 in both group travel and individual travel to the United States, Europe, and other long-haul destinations from China.
In order to better understand the individual Chinese consumer, China Luxury Advisors will publish a series of columns for Jing Daily profiling different types of independent Chinese travelers and highlighting best practices for reaching these important customers.
Visiting Friends and Family
One of the most common types of individual Chinese travelers is one who is visiting friends and family on the trip. This eases much of the logistical and language challenges for the visitor and makes them more confident and comfortable in traveling alone in a foreign country.
Friends and family living overseas spans a range from second- or third-generation Chinese immigrants who are well entrenched into the local community to recent immigrants who have been purchasing real estate and emigrating or partially emigrating in the past few years as China’s wealth and mobility has rapidly increased for Chinese citizens. Below are two examples of recent visitors in this category:
Consumer profile: A 26 year-old woman from Beijing recently made her third trip overseas, staying in a friend’s apartment and having friends drive her around while she was in town. She visited San Francisco, Seattle, and LA during her trip, and her favorite activities were visiting museums and shopping with friends. While shopping she purchased Kenneth Cole, Henri Bendel, Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch. Eighty percent of her shopping was for herself, and 20 percent was for gifts. She used Baidu to search for information and shared her experiences through Weibo and WeChat. She is hoping to go to Puerto Rico and Hawaii on her next trips.
Consumer profile: A 25 year-old woman from Shanghai recently visited friends in the United States. This was her fourth trip overseas and her friends “took care of everything” while she was in town, driving her and providing a place to stay. She visited Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Boston. While traveling, her favorite activities were shopping, traveling with friends, taking pictures, and sharing her travel experiences on WeChat. The top brands she bought were Hermès and Chanel, and 70 percent of her purchases were for herself and 30 percent for gifts for friends and family back home. On her next trip, she hopes to visit Alaska.
Best Practices for Targeting Travelers Visiting Friends and Family
Target local Chinese populations: The most influential source of information for Chinese travelers visiting friends and family is, naturally, their friends and family. It is important for luxury brands to build relationships with local Chinese communities and find ways to reach this audience in creative and meaningful ways. Brands should also make efforts to identify the make-up of their local Chinese population—understanding the nuances between Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and mainland consumers and getting a sense for how long ago they emigrated. In general, recent immigrants (and partial immigrants) from Mainland China tend to be the most affluent and influential with Mainland Chinese travelers.
Social Media: Independent travelers are typically very active on social media during, throughout and after their trip. Sharing photos and experiences is very common among independent travelers and is a central aspect of their experience and enjoyment along the way. Find ways for your brand, location or attraction to be featured in their photos and as a central part of their experience. Online word of mouth is one of the strongest influences for Chinese travelers.
Digital Presence: In addition to social media, independent travelers will be searching for activities, tips and accounts from fellow travelers through both traditional Internet search (which is primarily on Baidu.com, not Google) as well as through the myriad of Chinese travel forums (similar to Trip Advisor). Make sure you have a strategy to address the many options available on the Chinese internet and have adapted your tactics to account for different platforms and usage patterns in China.
Chinese travelers visiting friends and family have two primary sources of information: the Internet (almost exclusively using China-based platforms) and word-of-mouth from friends and family and others who have previously visited. Brands often overlook these informal channels of communication and miss opportunities to be part of this very valuable conversation.
Brands that provide unique experiential opportunities, cute/memorable photo ops and special treatment or limited edition/hard to find products provide critical opportunities to join this highly influential conversation both online and offline.
These approaches require creativity and flexibility in thinking about customer interactions and experiences—but provide significant returns in building buzz and loyalty among Chinese customers.
Renee Hartmann 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. Renee has been focused on the China market since 2000, with a specialty in understanding and selling to the emerging Chinese consumer. She has worked as a brand owner, retail operator, consumer researcher, public relations specialist and market entry strategist in China. Follow China Luxury Advisors on Facebook and Twitter.