Many people have predicted that the 21st century will be the Chinese century. Just weeks ago it was predicted by the media company IHS that the Chinese economy will overtake the United States in 2024, making it the world's largest. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, what can be said for certain is that the worlds most populace nation will have an increasing political and economic role to play during the coming decades.
China tourism growing
As the nation grows in importance, so is its significance as a source of tourism increase in concurrence. China has already grown to become the world’s number one source tourism market, with an annual spend of over $102 billion on travel abroad. Chinese travellers seek out a variety of destinations, from the Pacific, Europe and the Americas to the Middle East and North African region.
With this in mind, the European cross-country train service Eurostar has recently targeted Chinese tourists to Europe with a campaign on Weibo. This particular name is not particularly well known in the West, but it is a massively significant site, as it is a popular social media platform in China, with around 150 million monthly users; roughly half the population of the United States.
The Eurostar start campaign is part of a growing trend whereby travel businesses attempt to encourage their customers to interact with the business and brand via social media platforms. Thus, this initiative, which particularly targets Chinese students in Europe, is part of a wider campaign being run by the train operator entitled ‘Eurostar Stories’. The campaign is centred around the three key destinations for Eurostar of London, Paris and Brussels.
Eurostar Stories campaign
Chinese students are invited by ‘Eurostar Stories’ to submit ten second videos about the selected cities in order to communicate their feelings about them. The train operator will then select the best ten clips, and each of the video makers will be given professional assistance in order to expand the clip into a fully-scripted, professionally shot, and commercially directed one-minute short movie.
Once complete, these professional quality films will then be released into the public domain via the ‘Eurostar Stories’ website. Subsequently, Eurostar website visitors will be encouraged to vote regarding which video is the best, and that the ultimate winner will receive free Eurostar tickets.
This is not the first time that Eurostar has implemented an initiative aimed at European travellers and social sharing. Previously, the company ran a campaign aimed at pushing its crowdsourced videos across a variety of social media feeds. The campaign in question was particularly focused on the crowdsourcing platform eYeka, and represented another attempt by Eurostar to create an emotional connection between the brand and its customers, establishing a real community feeling, as well as broadening its social media reach and content.
Destinations compete for Chinese travellers
With China having a growing middle-class of relatively affluent citizens with significant disposable income, destinations are also reaching out to Chinese tourists. European destinations are particularly targeting Chinese visitors, with the European Union recently deciding to lower visa criteria for travellers from the huge East Asian nation. In return, China has also announced that it will make visa delivery for foreign travellers both easier and quicker.
A particular example of a European destination that has embraced China is Visit Britain. This NTO which represents the United Kingdom launched a ‘China Welcome’ campaign back in Spring 2014, with the initiative intended to attract a raft of Chinese visitors to the British Isles. The Visit Britain campaign has worked closely with UK businesses in order to assist them with the challenging process of catering for Chinese travellers' needs, which involves the program of raising cultural awareness and encouraging guides to be trained to speak Mandarin.
While both travel companies and destinations alike will naturally wish to tap into this potentially fertile Chinese marketplace, understanding the social media market in China is essential for success. Simply employing the critical Western social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will not reap much reward, as Chinese people utilise their own unique social media platforms.
The instant messaging app WeChat (355 million monthly active users), the aforementioned microblogging site Weibo (157 million active monthly users) and the chat site QQ (808 million monthly active users) are the most popular social media services in China.
In accordance with this, some tourist boards are already using the Weibo channel to attract Chinese tourists. Notably, Visit California has recently recruited the Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan to be an ambassador of this popular sunshine spot. The actress is followed by no less than 21 million fans on Weibo, and posted updates and photographs to the site during her trip to California, which was organised by Visit California themselves.
Attracting Chinese visitors offers a simply vast market to any travel business or destination, simply because the Chinese public numbers 1.3 billion citizens. While similar social media-driven campaigns and projects can pay dividends in the East Asian marketplace, it is important for NTOs and destinations to understand the Chinese market in order to create a sort of community feel which has continually achieved success in the Western world.
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