How Travel Brands are Winning over New Chinese Travelers

30 Jul 2015|Added Value China

With China now the largest source of outbound travelers globally, how can destinations and travel brands reach more Chinese independent travelers?

Destinations are constantly looking for new ways in which to reach the booming Chinese travel market. With so many new customers to attract destination marketers, hoteliers, air¬lines, and travel agencies, must consistently innovate to stay relevant and ahead of their competitors.
There are of course many areas to consider when it comes to marketing your destination – online/offline marketing, events, sales promotions, and so on. Effectively positioning your destination so it’s more appealing to Chinese travelers is a challenge that marketers struggle with on a daily basis, and one area which is often overlooked in this regard is culture. To really understand what your destination represents in China, it is important to look deep into Chinese culture to identify the underlying, subconscious ideas that shape the consumer perceptions of your destination in this market. These cultural trends will resonate across the travel spectrum from hotels to airlines and attractions to resorts and can help brands to ensure their leisure experiences are relevant to Chinese travelers & tourists alike.

Why is culture important when it comes to marketing a destination in China?
Great brands connect with culture and evolve accordingly. Coca Cola, the biggest brand on the planet, has reinvented itself for every generation by staying in touch with culture and becoming part of the cultural conversation. To understand what Chinese consumers think about your destination it is important to look into culture (history, language, brand communications, etc.), to explore the unique meanings that your country has in the minds of Chinese consumers. Initial research may give you an idea where the perceptions of your destination, be it positive or negative, in China come from, and where they might be headed. Explore everything that represents your destination, especially visually, in China, from history to people and art, to understand why and how your destination is being talked about in China, and identify fresh ways it is being represented in culture.

There may be many possible interpretations of your destination in China – beautiful, safe and friendly, a place of adventure, of relaxation – but meanings are produced within a specific culture, and vary across markets. How people think of your destination in Europe may vary greatly to how it’s perceived within the minds of Chinese travelers. To answer these questions a cultural analysis can help to truly understand where the ideas about your destination come from and how they are expressed in China today.

Understanding Chinese culture is the key to attracting more Chinese independent travelers
It is important to first explore the visual and textual examples of the ways in which the meaning of your destination has been illustrated in history and at the same time also look at ways in which this meaning is being used in modern culture. Take the example of Russia. If you study the history with China, the perceptions of Russia are based on a polarized past of extremely positive or extremely negative image. But what do Chinese consumers actually think about Russia today? On the other hand, if you look at Switzerland, you can see that ‘Swiss-ness’ is very closely linked to heritage and Premium-ness (mainly because of the Swiss watch).

Semiotics is the key to unlocking cultural insights into Chinese travelers?
Semiotics is a new but established marketing and branding methodology that goes deep into analyzing branding communications and culture. It examines meanings that consumers cannot articulate and helps conduct detailed, accurate analyses reaching great depths of insight. Semiotics is one of the most important techniques used to “de-code” the ways your destination is being talked about through culture in China. Some examples include:

“Russian-ness” = the world’s most beautiful women
In a cultural context Russian beauty (fair skin, tall nose, big eyes, slander body) is perceived as a feminine ideal in China. Fashion shows, magazine covers and high end event often use Russian models. Due to the extensive media coverage and promotion of Russian beauty in China, it has become a mainstream form of Russianness expression

“Switzerland-ness” = Utopian country
Switzerland has been considered as an utopian country with unpolluted environment, well-established social welfare and slow pace of life. Compared with the Chinese busy and unhealthy urban life, living in Switzerland means health, balance and harmony. To some extent, Switzerland is considered a dreamland, an ideal place for most Chinese, representing undisturbed historical continuity.

“New Zealand-ness” = Adventurous Exploration & Nature
New Zealandness is about natural beauty untouched by man. If a Chinese traveller ventures to these pastures its’ a sign of affluence and globalization. New Zealand is also about extreme freshness and purity – a country with uncontaminated nature.

Culturally-tapped travel brands are winning the race for the new Chinese tourists
In the historical context, the current codes/perception of your destination may seem to be either extremely positive…….or extremely negative. And that is likely to drive a polarized, ‘black or white’ consumers’ perception of your country. In culture, meanings evolve and follow a residual, dominant and emergent pattern. Understanding the cultural relevance of the codes allows brands to predict where the future is going. The codes of your destination also follow a culturally relevant flow.

  • Some of them are residual – outdated, no longer keeping up with mainstream culture.
  • Some are dominant – everywhere, mainstream reflecting what consumers see and know about your destination.
  • And some emergent – fresh, reflecting sprouts of cultural change and new forms of expressions of your destination, but not yet mainstream.

A better understanding of Chinese culture will help you as a destination or a travel brand to stand out from the crowd. It is important to be more forward thinking, to research the key shifts in the meaning of your destination in China and take these findings to help innovate your marketing strategies and spot potential growth opportunities. The future of travel marketing lies in cultural insights and will help you to guide both the current and future perceptions of your destination or brand and reach the rapidly growing number of Chinese tourists.

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T: +86 (21) 3612 6666


Image credits: Unplash

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