How Brands Can Digitally Connect with Chinese Travelers

For many looking to reach the crowded Chinese hospitality market, innovation is the key to standing out. But how can companies create content that is both entertaining and informative? According to a new report, the answer lies in good old-fashioned emotional connection.

Reuter: Intelligence this week released a new study looking at how travel and hospitality brands can master WeChat, build out their digital presence in China and crucially, win Chinese hearts and minds through creative content. The report, produced in partnership with ILTM, analyzes WeChat, along with newer youth-led platforms Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) and Douyin.

According to the report, WeChat remains “the true super-app that does it all,” and for luxury travel brands must be the foundation for success in the Chinese market. In recent months, some have questioned the validity of WeChat when up against newer and rapidly evolving social media platforms like Little Red Book and Douyin. However, as the report notes, WeChat has continued to grow once again this year, seeing an incredible 1.132 billion monthly active users, compared with 1.097 billion in 2018, and 988.6 in 2017. As of 2019, 90 percent of these users access WeChat daily.

Although there are more than 1 million active Mini Programs on WeChat, only 12 of these have more than 1 million daily active users.

However, despite WeChat’s continued growth, its new ventures have seemed slower to pick up speed. For example, WeChat’s Mini Program launch in January 2017 hoped to attract brands that had been seeking out alternative Chinese platforms to market products. Almost two years on, and although there are more than 1 million active Mini Programs on WeChat, only 12 of these have more than 1 million daily active users.

According to Charmaine Lin, GM Client Services at Reuter Communications, “When we hear about ‘connecting with the Chinese consumer,’ it’s usually in relation to the much referenced unique digital eco-system of China. Yet instead, it’s perhaps even more crucial to look at connections of a different kind — emotional connections. Technological capabilities in China are no longer the ‘trend,’ they are the truism: it’s not so helpful to simply hype up new whizz-bang apps and platforms. Rather, the focus should be on how to create the content that will stand out among countless official accounts, that are all asking for views, likes, comments and following.”

So without high-tech bells and whistles, how can brands under such fierce competition connect with Chinese travelers? The report suggests the following key avenues to digital success.

The importance of storytelling

The report breaks down how 12 luxury hospitality brands have implemented emotional storytelling in order to entice Chinese travelers. According to one example, Bvlgari Hotel collaborated with the Chinese actor Hu Bing, to encourage followers to imagine how they would make the most of the Bvlgari experience. The rich content posed suggestions of how, as a guest, the customer could best interact with the service points, prompting them to yearn for the same experience and chance to show off their star lifestyle on their own social media.

The study also hails the importance of “touching consumers’ hearts to speak to a greater good,” suggesting that affluent Chinese consumers are starting to care about sustainable living. The report gives the example of the luxury Melia Hotels that in 2019 built a green hotel with guidance on how to recycle when staying in the hotel, details about their environmentally friendly room features, and how followers can improve their own eco-credentials.

As Chinese travelers seek authentic, planet-friendly experiences, the report demonstrates that luxury travel brands cannot only focus on the capabilities of platforms available in China’s social media landscape, but must provoke connections beyond mere digital, elevating engagement, and making emotional connections.

Authentic, interactive, and user-generated content 

User-generated content offers an exciting opportunity for innovative connections with affluent Chinese consumers, creating a holistic relationship across various social media platforms.

According to Reuter: Intelligence, “On Douyin, users don’t only want to watch, they want to ‘give it a go’ themselves and get involved in whatever’s viral. Similarly, although a luxury brand may want to appear slick, luxurious and on-brand elsewhere, Little Red Book is the place to go under the cover, beneath the surface and behind the scenes. Little Red Book users have seen flashy and slick corporate communications a million times and expect to be able to enter the real world of the brand and product in their own Little Red Book world.”

Despite the hype, the report reminds brands to be wary of how they best use these newer platforms. Little Red Book has a current user-base of over 200 million, 90 percent of which are females born after 1980. To connect with users on Little Red Book, it is important to remain authentic — “Unless you have the budget to have Fan Bing Bing promote your brand, collaborate with influencers that have the ‘girl next door’ angle, and are able to present naturally.”

On Douyin, the short-video format allows young users to create their own content and express themselves. For brands then, Douyin is a place to get a little quirky, a touch wild and captivate young users who expect to be entertained in literally the first couple of seconds.

So despite WeChat still leading the pack, these other new platforms seem to provide an opportunity for brands to explore interactive ways of reaching their target consumers. But, as this report suggests — no matter the digital platform — it is authenticity and emotion that Chinese travelers are really searching for.

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Fashion, Tech