In 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article about the global race for Chinese tourist dollars—and specifically, how Australia was losing that race.
This may be hard to believe, considering the current statistics from Tourism Australia. The 2015 report on China shows what every hotelier knows to be true: Australia is seeing more Chinese tourists than ever. In 2014 there was a sharp increase in visitor arrivals from China (+18% from 2014), as well as the total spend from Chinese visitors (+19% from 2014). These numbers are not isolated. They’ve been climbing sharply since at least 2010.
So why would anybody say Australia losing the battle? Things seem to be going fine. To be honest, things seem to be going great. But as the article points out, it could be going much better. Australia is 1st on the wish list of Chinese tourists, yet 15th on the list of places they actually visit. This is a huge market gap, and golden opportunity for Australian hotels and resorts to build business. It’s estimated that global tourist industries are investing nearly AUD $2 trillion to attract Chinese tourists, and Australia’s slice of the pie could be bigger.
In order to capitalise, hotels need to investigate the reasons behind the market gap. Why is the number of Chinese tourists who want to visit Australia so much higher than the number who actually book tickets and get on a plane?
We know it helps to improve infrastructure around major attractions and cities; but the market gap is also specifically related to the cultural gap between our two countries. Simply put, hotels and resorts need to be asking how they can better attract and welcome Chinese guests.
The logical first step is to think digitally. Social media plays a huge role in Chinese consumerism, while independent marketing efforts are less trusted. Chinese tourists want to know what other Chinese tourists think of a hotel, an attraction, a destination. For Australian hotels, getting your foot in the door is a tough nut to crack without help. There are marketing agencies who specialise know how to use Chinese social media, and this may prove to be a winning investment in the long term.
Rising in the ranks of Chinese search engines is also key. A Chinese-language web site is one way to go about it. Keep in mind that automated translations and “translate this page” buttons do not typically work well between English and Chinese languages. A dedicated version of your web site, professionally translated from the home page right through to the booking gateway, is a far better solution in the long term.
If you’re going to seek out more business from Chinese tourists, you’ll want to make them feel more comfortable when they arrive. No agency can provide marketing as effective as glowing guest reviews on Chinese social media, and this means taking strides to stand out.
Few tourists expect an international visit to feel just like home, but knowing some of cultural principles and traditions can help ease the cultural and languages barriers.
For example, do you know that surnames appear first in China, so that the first name you see should come directly after “Mr” or “Mrs”? Did you know that 4 is an unlucky number in China, or that slippers are an important hotel amenity in China? All large hotel groups do of course know this, but many smaller operators are unaware
This practical guide to serving Chinese visitors goes into more depth about what Chinese people expect from hotels back home, and what could make them more comfortable here. Staff members who are conversational in Mandarin or Cantonese are obviously a huge plus. If you don’t have this luxury, an easy-to-use translation app on a front desk tablet might come through when nothing else works. At the very least, hotels and resorts should provide written materials for Chinese guests, outlining all essential hotel information in a clear and professional way. If hotels can go beyond that, offering special comforts such as flasks of hot water (these are commonly used for cup noodles, tea, and drinking straight), their efforts will be remembered.
Forming a strategy
Chinese tourism could be much bigger in Australia than it currently is, and hotels could be making a lot more money—but there’s no quick and easy solution. Hotels need to think carefully and reach for it. They need to send a message that Chinese tourists will be welcomed, comfortable, and will find whatever help they need. When this is done both virtually and on the ground, new guests will appear and Australia might start leading the race as it should.
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