How to market to Chinese tourists using WeChat and Weibo

It’s no secret how outbound tourism numbers from China are rapidly rising. With more of the country’s vast population becoming “middle class”, travel abroad is becoming more and more affordable to a larger number of people. The number of trips taken by Chinese people to international destinations is set to rise 10% this year to 86 million (China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, 2017). Furthermore, outbound travel from China is predicted to become a $458 billion market within the next three years (WorldBank, 2017).

These huge numbers offer a significant opportunity for destinations and tour companies that can appeal to and tap into this vast market. But for destinations without a firm foothold in the Chinese market, it can be difficult to know how to market to this relatively new and unique group of travellers – and where to start.

Chinese social media marketing is a good starting point for travel destinations. There are two main social platforms that any destination or travel company must master to appeal to the masses – WeChat and Weibo. WeChat is the most widely used social network in China, with one billion monthly users; Weibo comes second with 340 million.

Targeted marketing and understanding Chinese travellers

Building reputation via word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways to appeal to travellers. However, in a country with a population of 1.38 billion – almost a fifth of the world’s population – it is more difficult to build word of mouth organically. It is essential that those marketing to Chinese tourists take necessary steps to narrow down their audiences. A blanket approach in China will not work; in a country that spans almost 10 million square kilometres, the needs of so many diverse groups of travellers will vary dramatically.

Travel companies should take the time to understand the particular demographics of the visitors that are likely to be attracted to their hotel or destination. Brands should then invest in understanding the shopping and booking habits of these consumers.

Know the Chinese calendar

Like any country, China has its peak travel times; Chinese New Year, Summertime and October Golden Week are the most popular times for Chinese people to travel abroad, so any social media marketing campaigns should aim to reach travellers as they are planning their holidays for these periods. A 2016 study by WorldPay found that more than nine out of ten Chinese travellers booked their holidays within three months of travel; therefore, social media marketing campaigns should start around four months before each peak travel period to catch people during their “inspiration” phase, in time for them to book.

Focus on trust

Trust is important in any culture, but in China it is particularly important for brands looking to break into the market. Part of the reason China is a challenge for many companies is that Chinese people tend to opt for brands that are familiar and that they trust. Foreign brands may invoke uncertainty and ambiguity; therefore, for travel companies looking to appeal to the Chinese tourist, it is essential to focus on building a rapport with individual people and invest the time in creating memorable campaigns that have relevance, longevity and meaning.

KOL(Key Opinion Leader) marketing can also be a good way to market to Chinese tourists via social networks. This can help to associate your brand with an influence that is known and trusted and can help to initiate word of mouth.

Develop your content on WeChat and Weibo

Travel brands that want to capture the hearts of the Chinese traveller need to do more than just setting up official accounts on WeChat and Weibo. Once the social accounts have been set up, you then need to focus on developing a content strategy to build followers. This involves a huge investment in creating a regular flow of useful, interesting, emotional content; a successful social media content plan on WeChat or Weibo provides the opportunity to interact with followers on an individual basis – essential to building trust.

Create experiences for your WeChat or Weibo followers

Chinese travellers of all age groups value being able to interact with their favourite consumer brands. There is an older generation of consumers that has been the first to experience middle class wealth; these consumers are focused on buying material things to show off their wealth. However, the younger generation – which is now becoming more accustomed to this wealth – is more motivated by brands that can offer new experiences. Therefore, travel brands that are looking to appeal to this digitally savvy generation should focus on using WeChat and Weibo to create new types of interactions. Think competitions to win an experience like no other, or a campaign that is based on unique interactions. Brands need to be clever to appeal to this group of consumers – but a simple, original idea has the potential to carry itself far and wide through these vastly used sites.

Narrow it down using WeChat and Weibo advertising

Once you have a solid understanding of what specific groups of Chinese travellers you are targeting, you can use WeChat and Weibo advertising to narrow down your target audience in China. Through WeChat and Weibo advertising, advertisers are able to target specific types of people, based on aspects such as their age, region and interests. These targeting methods can be used to drastically narrow down the travellers your ad reaches. For example, when you have created your campaign or ad, you can opt for it to reach people living in cities that have direct flights to your destination, or for it to reach those that have stated an interest in your particular type of destination, or people with the average age of those visiting your destination. Due to the vast amounts of data WeChat and Weibo have on each of their members, you can choose to broaden or narrow down your campaign as much as you want.

There may be many complexities in entering the Chinese market, but with more than 25 percent of Chinese consumers using WeChat or Weibo to interact with Western brands, companies have a real opportunity to tap into this dynamic marketplace. We are experts in helping Western brands navigate this complex audience and start building their reputations among Chinese travellers. So get in touch with us today to get your Chinese social media marketing campaign underway in time for the next big holiday season.