Given that China is now the world’s most valuable tourist market, last year’s announcement by Chancellor George Osborne that Great Britain is to streamline the process of visa applications for Chinese tourists was perhaps not surprisingly broadly welcomed by all those involved in the UK tourism industry.
The benefits of this long overdue announcement work both ways: the Chinese love all things British - so much so that they even took the trouble to build ‘Thames Town’, about 20 miles from central Shanghai. And thanks to Mr.Osborne’s announcement, they can now experience the real thing!
But how can those involved in the tourism sector attract more visitors from this colossal market? Well, having a Chinese language section on your website is a good start, not least because practically all Chinese cannot read or understand English.
Next, make it easy for prospective customers to contact you by telephone, by means of a local telephone number. All calls must be answered in Mandarin, and possibly Cantonese – depending on where in China the caller is located.
Whilst the Chinese do not share our love affair with email, it is important that you can be reached by other means, such as instant messaging and contact forms. Agents that are deployed to answer inbound calls can also be tasked with making outbound ones on your behalf.
The Chinese do, however, share our love affair with social media – albeit with altogether different platforms. A Facebook or Twitter campaign aimed at winning more business from China is therefore an exercise in futility. The good news is that specialist agencies exist who will take your existing social media channels, then screen and translate all material into Chinese, and then help spread the word about your offering to Chinese social networks such as Sina Weibo, Tencent QQ Weibo and RenRen.
As for search, Baidu is their Google – but all listings need to be vetted beforehand.
When deciding on your pricing, avoid the number 4 if possible. The Chinese are a superstitious people, and this number is associated with bad luck. The number 8, on the other hand, is associated with good luck, so bear this in mind when setting your pricing.
When it comes to receiving payments, don’t be surprised if your new customers want to pay you in cash. For online and telephone bookings, it is important that they can pay you using UnionPay, the only domestic bank card organization in the People's Republic of China.
When your Chinese visitors arrive it is important to treat them with courtesy and respect. For them, travelling is an honour and they expect to be treated with respect when they get here.
Whilst their fondness of all things luxury is well known, those in the lower to middle end of the market need not worry. Some stay at budget hotels, only to end up spending thousands of pounds shopping for branded consumer goods which are cheaper for them than in mainland China.
If your offering is a quintessentially British one, then milk it for all its worth – Brand Britain sells well to this vast receptive audience.
If you operate tours, try and include Bicester Village in Oxfordshire on your itinerary if possible. Their ‘Chic Outlet Shopping’ centre is proving to be a hit with Chinese tourists with Yuan to burn.
Given the expected number of tourists from China, those that spend a little time, money, and effort to increase their visibility to Chinese visitors today can expect dividends both immediately and in the years to come.