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News Article

What can Europe do to attract Chinese tourists? New report

Is social media the marketing key for China?

The shift in economic power to Asia, and the rise of China as one of the largest and most important outbound tourism markets has been one of the big travel and tourism stories over the last few years. In Australia and New Zealand the Chinese market has now become the biggest by economic value although not by numbers, and China is now also the key market for much of Asia. But the rest of the world is also seeking to attract more Chinese tourists, and a new report commissioned by Hilton Hotels and written by the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) identifies current advantages and disadvantages of Europe for Chinese outbound travel and tourism (COTT).

The report finds that COTT generated an estimated 3 million visitor trips to Europe in 2010, with the largest number of Chinese travellers visiting Italy, France and Germany. The number of Chinese outbound tourists visiting Europe is expected to grow to 4.5 million by 2015 and around 8.6 million by 2020, giving the European travel industry potential income of more than €2 billion, based on an average spend of €234 per night.

The report finds that that COTT generated an estimated 3 million visitor trips to Europe in 2010, with the largest number of Chinese travellers visiting Italy, France and Germany.

It identified that a growing number of first-time Chinese tourists are choosing to travel independently, rather than with traditional tour groups. Second- and third-time travellers, who feel comfortable travelling alone or in small groups of family or friends, are further fuelling this trend. These travellers enjoy the freedom to select venues and attractions that cater to their individual interests instead of feeling bound by tour group schedules, and may also be drawn to smaller locations that are typically not considered by tour group operators.

Sandie Dawe, chief executive, VisitBritain said: "Chinese visitor numbers to the UK have been steadily rising over the last few years, but we can clearly do more to attract an even greater number. China has a rich cultural heritage of its own and according to the latest Nations Brand Index, now has a far better understanding of British culture, our people and what they can experience when they are here. We must build on this and ensure the industry develops products that meet the needs, tastes and desires of Chinese travellers."

This shift in travel behaviours has major implications for the way in which the tourism industry will need to market to outbound Chinese tourists. This consumer base has a very high Internet penetration rate of 36.2 percent nationally, and Internet usage is more than double this figure in the large cities. More than 318 million access the Internet regularly and the average Internet user spends 18.7 hours per week online. Before departing, Chinese travellers will look online for information about destinations, hotels, and transport offerings, and are more likely to get their information through social media rather than official company websites. Online video sharing sites that offer videos of tourist destinations and traveller-generated blogs and microblogs are very popular and influential in the decision-making process for Chinese travellers.

Kevin Latham, senior lecturer, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and author of the report said: "Social media is quick, influential and popular, and the travel industry has to take social media seriously. Used appropriately, the marketing potential is enormous and opens up opportunities for players at all levels. The key is attracting Chinese travellers to your venue, and if they love the experience, they will likely talk about it on social networking sites, which could result in huge visitor numbers."

In addition to large companies, niche offerings also have vast opportunities with this form of communication. Chinese travellers will search for venues and packages that suit their lifestyles and interests, which could result in high demand for bespoke packages catering to Chinese tastes such as whisky tasting tours in Scotland and vineyard tours in France, Italy, the UK and Germany. Earlier this year, Hilton introduced Hilton Huanying, a programme taking its name from the Chinese word for welcome. Participating hotels provide Chinese speaking staff, traditional Chinese breakfast items and a range of in-room amenities including slippers, a welcome letter in Chinese, Chinese television programming and Chinese tea.

But in an article in eTurbonews, Trevor Lee, Managing Director of TravConsult, which specializes in international customer service and tourism development, says that even these elementary steps to becoming "China ready" need to be implemented carefully and correctly to avoid offending Chinese tourists and losing business and market share to competitors.

Lee said: "Written Chinese language comes in two basic formats - traditional and simplified - with simplified being standard in Mainland China, a fact known by most tourism professionals. However, simplified Chinese has a different linguistic style in Hong Kong and Singapore to that in Mainland China, so the person engaged to do the translations must have the skills and knowledge to translate in the style of Mainland China."

TravConsult's General Manager Lilly Choi-Lee adds; "If you want a happy and satisfied Chinese tourist and customer, provide them with good Chinese food at least once every day and the rest of their travel should go smoothly."

The SOAS report says that Chinese language will become a norm for tourist information provision in Europe alongside Japanese, Arabic and other European languages, and that a more nuanced understanding of the cultural and social backgrounds of Chinese tourists as well as the operational aspects and latest trends and developments in Chinese tourism will be seen as fundamental across the sector. Among destinations already addressing the Chinese market, the report says that the Roman baths in Bath, England, recently won an award in Beijing for its Chinese language website, while the British Museum and Louvre also offer full Chinese language versions of their websites.

To view a summary and full version [free registration required] of the 'How The Rise in Chinese Tourism will Change the Face of the European Travel Industry' report, visit See the further reading list below for a selection of papers on catering to Chinese tourists from the Leisure Tourism Database.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 24 October 2011
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism