Courting China’s wired travellers

Cindy Choo, regional account director of Reuter Communications, rounds up the top travel apps and platforms in use in China, and how best to target the Chinese luxury traveller

With a completely unique digital playground, travel and hospitality brands need to engage with their affluent Chinese customers according to their app-based, mobile preference.

Players in the hospitality or travel sector should already realise the importance of Chinese travellers – Chinese tourists made 130 million overseas trips in 2017, with total spending amounting to US$115 billion, according to a report from China Tourism Academy, and the number is projected to jump to 390 million in the next decade.

Life in China is digital, and it’s mobile. If you’ve visited China then you would have noticed that everything is paid for via mobile phones. WeChat Pay logos are popping up in many airports around the world. Research from Neilson shows 65 per cent of Chinese tourists use mobile payments while travelling overseas, compared with only 11 per cent of non-Chinese tourists; 90 per cent of Chinese tourists use mobile payment overseas when given the option.

A survey in 2017 revealed that 95 per cent of millennials had not bought print media in the last year. China is the global leader in proximity mobile payment adoption, accounting for 61.2 per cent of the worldwide user base in 2018.

When planning, booking and reviewing their travel, Chinese consumers seldom browse websites or the Internet, let alone print – they live on apps alone. And in China’s singular world of travel apps, who are the key players engaging Chinese luxury travellers in sales, marketing, reviews and content platforms?

Booking Platforms
Ctrip and HH Travel (High to Heart)
As China’s biggest OTA, Ctrip not only offers the most choices at the best prices, but also produces content in collaboration with travel key opinion leaders (KOLs). HH Travel, a luxury travel agency owned by Ctrip, books packages for wealthy clients via their own app and WeChat mini-programme. It serves approximately 10,000 customers each year, who typically fly business or first class, spend an average of RMB100,000  (US$14,639) per person, per trip on accommodation, and favour exotic destinations like the North and South Poles.

8 Continents
8 Continents Travel is one of the leading ultra-luxury travel agencies in China. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Shanghai with offices in Beijing and Chengdu, 8 Continents provides customised worldwide travel for HNWI clients, from honeymoons and tours to adventurous destinations such as the Antarctica.

TuNiu is the largest booking platform in China. While it’s not luxury-specific, its sheer size means that all forms of travel bookings take place there. Founded in 2006, TuNiu’s sheer size makes it one of the strongest places to be seen.

Review Apps
XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book)
Launched in 2012 as a community for users to share recommendations of fashion and beauty products from overseas, XiaoHongShu shot to popularity to reach 70 million users at the end of 2017.

XiaoHongShu works very well as a place where sharing a love of products is the sole purpose. It is viewed as a ‘safe place’ for users, who do not like the ‘open’ nature of Weibo or want to refrain from appearing overly showy on WeChat.

The app now also includes travel reviews published by KOLs, angling at the user-base of females aged 18 to 35; i.e. millennials.

MaFengWo is a travel review app with over 120 million users, with its gross merchandising revenue valued at four billion  renminbi according to analysis company Qianfan. Its success comes from a neat blend of KOL blogs, user-generated reviews and a Q&A section where tourism bureaus and businesses can get involved, as well as peer-to-peer responses.

The reviews and information go beyond hotel reviews, offering guidance on shopping, visas, insurance, with integrated booking into any form of travel service, ticket and so on.

In the blog section, Feng Show, there are approximately 5,000 contributors, with daily editorial picks highlighted. Users can comment on favourite posts. While not luxury specific, the opportunities for engagement on MaFengWo are vast and the savviest travel and hospitality people are wise to this – Tourism Australia just signed a strategic partnership agreement with MaFengWo in August.

FeiZhu (Fliggy)
While it’s categorically not a luxury app, the user base is high due to Fliggy being a booking and review-based app. Fliggy used to be called AliTravel, but it was rebranded a few years ago. The app’s ownership under Alibaba gives it easy reference to Taobao, prompting travel shopping.

With 10 million daily active users, the overall mass popularity is clear. While it’s not specifically for luxury travel, Fliggy has been making waves in the travel world with a number of headlining partnerships. It is collaborating with Singapore Airlines on the carrier’s Krisflyer mileage points programme, and has entered into several partnerships with NTOs such as Dubai Tourism. With support from the Alibaba Group, Fliggy is definitely one to watch as it continues to strengthen.

Comparing the various options for content and commerce, WeChat is still the leader of the China digital landscape.

Anyone who lives in China will understand that WeChat is still first – first for daily usage of your consumer, but also first for any brand, destination or bureau to build a robust foundation. Think Google + Facebook + Instagram + your credit card = WeChat.

WeChat is the first place that travellers will share their holiday photos, experiences and reviews; the app that they will use to pay with and plug into your CRM and join your loyalty programme on; and the channel for them to speak to your customer service. All these are within WeChat, as should be your content via an official account to begin with, followed by a mini-program eventually. Build a rock-solid WeChat offering and the possibilities are endless for your luxury Chinese traveller.

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