Many of China’s 1.4 billion people live in the world’s largest metropolises with multiple hotels and resorts the size of small cities, and brands still deciding what “China Ready” looks like fell out of step with those already strengthening their partnerships with Chinese companies and communicating with these travelers on WeChat or WhatsApp.
Chinese outbound travelers number nearly the entire population of Russia and half that of Brazil, for example, and clamor to see the world from the perspectives of luxury, group or adventure travel, etc. as tourism becomes more encouraged in China and a bursting middle class increasingly has money for leisure trips both foreign and domestic.
Skift talked to dozens of travel CEOs in 2015, from some of the world’s largest booking sites to the biggest hotel players to destination marketing organizations rewriting the playbook for how to get Chinese visitors to their cities sooner and feel more comfortable doing so.
Following are thoughts from 10 of those CEOs reflecting on how China fits into their brand’s strategy and how that market will continue to grow in importance with a new year dawning.
Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor
In China, it is a huge market. It remains a fast growing market. It is super-ultra-competitive and when we look at our efforts to-date, we have to acknowledge ton of hard work by the team, good product, good efforts, but I have to say sort of status quo is not what we’re aiming for here.
We’re not winning in the way that we wish to and so from – the team has – in China has come back and said, ‘hey, here’s a set of things that we need to do differently to succeed in a particular space within the China travel landscape.’ Outbound travel, you can see on the site is a particular highlight of ours and it does in fact resonate with Chinese travelers, because we have a phenomenal amount of international content.
And while we have every hotel you could want to stay in, in China, the strength of us versus the competition for the Chinese traveler we feel it plays to our strengths focusing on the outbound. So, you can see a bunch of that on the site today and I can simply hint that more change to come over the course of the year.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia, Inc.
We have a good partnership with Ctrip as far as powering outbound package inventory. We have a very strong relationship with eLong as well, and we’re working with Qunar in our private label business.
We’re really working with a number of players, we’re really focusing on the outbound Chinese traveler. In China, obviously we had a big investment with eLong, and what we found is that the economics of the domestic Chinese traveler business was less attractive.
Our hotel partners and our air partners want access to that outbound traveler. We can certainly give them access through partnerships. And we’re also building on an organic basis. We launched Expedia China, a hotel-only site. We’ll look to build it organically over a period of time.
CC Zhuang, Qunar
In the past we have very rapidly established [Qunar] as the Chinese top B2C channel for hotel booking. On peak days over the summer our room nights stayed already represented around 10% of China’s total hotel market. With our rapidly expanding scale, now is the right time to start to leverage a merchant model in a strategic deliberate way. After the Ctrip/Elong deal, hotels actually are more coming to us because we are their last alternative channel.
Darren Huston, Priceline Group
I know for sure China is a very dynamic environment and all the big players there, Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, they all have different stakes in the game. What we are proud of is we’ve partnered with Ctrip, which are the other people who really do the hard work. The Ctrip folks know exactly what it takes. That’s why they’re winning because they know that it is at the end of the day about customer service, a great product, about how you balance demand and supply.
By the way, I think Alibaba will play in travel. They’re a huge source of demand. We’ll see where it all ends up. They’ve been with Taobao Travel for awhile. They basically just rebranded it. There’s a lot of work to do and we’re more than willing to work with them, as well, if they’re willing to work with us in how to figure some of this out. It’s just not as easy as setting up a store front and opening up a warehouse and starting to ship stuff. It’s a very different business.
Don Welsh, Choose Chicago
In a really short period of time, we’ve basically been able to elevate China not only against other U.S. cities but other cities around the world. Everybody is competing for China and we’ve succeeded by being in the marketing twice a year, marketing in the Chinese language, inviting media to Chicago in large groups, and working on social media. We also activated some of the university students in the Chicago area, asking them to tweet what a great city it is.
Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization
Taiwan was our largest visitor demographic last year but China will take over soon. Taiwan loves Japan and we see a lot of repeat travelers from this country. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand are really loyal but the Chinese are not, though they’re starting to become more loyal.
Lindsey Ueberroth, Preferred Hotels
Certain markets like China, which were very chain focused, now really like the independent hotel market. All of a sudden there’s demand for independent hotels.
Sebastian Bazin, Accor Hotels
The numbers don’t lie. A lot of it [missed opportunities in the growing Chinese traveler segment] has been visa constraints. Ninety percent of Chinese travelers stay in Asia-Pacific and many of them go to Australia. What we need to do here is to expand the attractiveness of Europe and the U.S. The name of the game is to get your brand as visible as you can in mainland China.
Geoff Ballotti, Wyndham Hotel Group
The Obama Administration [streamlined the visa process]. It had taken it from 60 days to [now] under a week and how big that was and if they were continue to do that — China’s probably not going to be a visa waiver country any time soon — but that would be something huge for us.
Doug Anderson, Carlson Wagonlit Travel
We say that 25% of online bookings will be on mobile on 2017 and I think all of us are underestimating the adoption rate that we’re going to see of mobile in the next couple of years. The curve is pretty steep upward and in some markets like China, for example, we saw that online booking takes over and then mobile gradually replaces it.
This online booking step won’t be relevant in the future, in emerging markets it will go from offline transactions right to mobile because it’s so effective and so pervasive and available to virtually any business traveler because they’re all carrying some kind of smart device in their briefcase.