Becoming (more than) ‘China ready’ – Taking your destination brand to China

Place branding

Every tourist authority, from New Zealand’s South Island to Paris is aware of the potential from ever-increasing numbers of Chinese tourists. Globally, China is the number one source market and the United Nations World Travel Organisation estimates that 100 million Chinese will travel internationally by 2015

Tourist authorities seem to be convinced that the thing to do is to organise 3-day workshops for tourist and business operators, who will sit in a conference centre listening to talks on cultural nuances and occasionally practicing how to greet Chinese guests.

Yes, the Chinese look for destinations that have Mandarin speaking staff, that pay attention to detail in terms of things like awareness of Chinese culture, special discounts and gifts; the little touches are incredibly important. However, convincing hoteliers to provide Chinese Breakfast options and to make sure they offer room 888 to their Chinese customers is not enough for a destination brand to succeed. It needs to listen to the aspirations and preferences of the Chinese in order to develop a coherent strategy and become a ‘go to’ destination.

Destination brands need to be wary of tailoring their offering to the profile of Chinese travellers from 20 years ago when almost every Chinese tourist was a first time international traveller on a multi-country group tour. Nowadays, far from one uniform mass, the Chinese International Tourism Market is rapidly segmenting; group tours are still popular but there is also a healthy appetite for independent travel and many younger Chinese travellers as well as those at the luxury end of the market are increasingly looking for unique, authentic differentiating experiences off the beaten-track.

Visit Scotland, the Scottish tourist authority has taken advantage of this growing trend; running events in China promoting far-flung Highland distilleries and Island golf courses while also catering to the around-Britain tour groups. They have gone further than just organizing workshops, setting up a Chinese website, using brand ambassadors in China and targeted social media campaigns, leveraging cultural and business attributes to great effect. Visit Scotland have taken Brand Scotland to China, generating significant levels of interest, increased traveller numbers from 7,000 in 2005 to 28,000 in 2012 and increased spending (Chinese visitors to Scotland now spend on average a staggering $1,163 per stay).

Communication is key. It doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t go and tell people what you are doing. Prospective Chinese visitors often make decisions on where to travel based on social media and travel forums. Employing a Mandarin speaker to interact with users on these platforms will enable you to engage with your target audience in the places where they make decisions in a genuine and meaningful way. The digital experience of your brand is just as important as the physical experience and your online presence should be carefully curated to properly showcase your offering.

Everyone wants a bigger slice of the Chinese tourist pie. Some destination brands will nail a Mandarin sign above their door and wait for the visitors to arrive. Yes, they may be “China ready”, but the truly successful destination brands will seek to understand who Chinese travellers are and how they make travel decisions. They will look at the competition to find out what makes them different and express their offer accordingly and in a clear, authentic and coherent way.

Once they have done this, they need to pack their digital bags and take their brand to China.