Foreign hotel brands are failing when it comes to marketing to China.

I have recently done some research into how hotels in SE Asia, Europe and the United states are managing their Chinese market through digital channels and I was shocked by what I discovered.  I'm not sure if it is because of prejudice, fear or just seeing the Chinese language and throwing into the 'too hard' basket, but what I have found is that on the whole, overseas destinations are doing a pretty dismal job at marketing to the right target audiences in the mainland - and failing to engage, address issues and follow up with their guests which could be costing companies millions of dollars in potential revenue.

Over recent years, Chinese tourists in some places have received their fair share of bad press.  From zero dollar tour scams, buffet madness, hygiene horrors and in-flight mayhem - some people after seeing these kinds of things might think that they want to avoid the Chinese market all together.

It would be crazy to ignore the Chinese market however - and right now we are at a point where the China travel market is undergoing huge changes, and the horror stories of the 'Ugly Chinese Tourist' in the coming years will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Right now, the population of China is around 1.41 billion people and 72% of those are between 15 to 64 years old.

By the end of 2021, it's estimated that over 240 million Chinese citizens will hold passports, and while only two years ago almost 70% of Chinese travelers traveled in groups, by the end of 2021, over 60% of travelers will be upwardly mobile Fully Independent Travelers or F.I.T's.

You need to forget the horror images that you may have seen of Chinese tourists in the past and start to see the reality that is emerging.

A recent study showed that the average Chinese tourist on a 3 day holiday package will spend around USD$1,300 on shopping, dining and traveling around - this doesn't include the cost of their accomodation. In comparison, the average US tourist will spend around USD$500 on these same things while on a comparable trip.

Wait - it gets better.  Right now, there are a total of 324 billionaires in China with an accumulated wealth estimated at around USD$981 Billion dollars. That puts them in second place in the world on the Billionaire totem pole with the US being number one with 670 billionaires - holding an accumulative wealth of $311 Billion Dollars.

The next country to come close to China is Germany with 114 Billionaires.

Affluent Chinese Travelers

Despite what you might hear from some media outlets, the wealth in China continues to grow and with it is a new, young, educated and cashed up generation looking to explore the world and make their mark.

In 2017, 1 in 10 Chinese travelers would have fallen into the 'affluent' tourist category and each of these travelers spent on average, 5 times more than the average Chinese traveler abroad.  As this number continues to grow, now is the time for hotels and other travel related companies to really focus on their China Digital strategy.

The good news is that Chinese travelers are smart, digitally savvy and know what they want when it comes to travel.  Less and less are traveling in groups, and more and more are making decisions based on their own research and referrals from people that they trust.

The bad news is that all of those digital strategies that you are using right now - Facebook, Google, Analytics, re-targeting audiences, pixels and cookie tracking is all useless when it comes to marketing to the Chinese market.

Hotels on the Whole Are Failing to Engage

From over 10,000 hotel reviews that we studied, over 98% of properties failed to respond and engage with the guests leaving responses.  Of those that did respond, many of them just used boiler plate cut and paste responses which risked making them look worse than not having engaged at all. Google translate is not enough.

Chinese digital channels are amazingly abundant and advanced, but work very differently to digital channels outside of the mainland.  People who try to approach these channels in the same way that they manage social media through facebook and instagram etc. end up failing and losing a lot of cash in the meantime.

Targeting the Right Audience

If you really want to stake your claim digitally in China and target the audience that you want and need, you need to be ready to invest a little bit of time first in learning about what makes the market tick - the language, the culture, interaction and engagement channels and very importantly - the cost.

Every part of China is different and depending on who and where you're targeting, you will need to tweak your strategy.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

We will be doing a series on Digital Marketing China - both online and face to face workshops to help hotels and other businesses outside of China better utilise digital channels in China to achieve marketing goals.

Leave a comment below to let us know how you are engaging with the Chinese market.