One of the largest and fastest growing travel markets in the world, China presents a unique opportunity for hotels. With more than 100 million Chinese traveling abroad every year, the market has become the single biggest source of global tourism income. According to GfK, international Chinese tourists spent close to $230 billion in 2015, and this number is expected to grow as the middle class in China continues to grow.
Tapping into this market successfully, however, requires a separate digital marketing strategy. Although China has the largest base of social media users worldwide, its unique government-run Internet means that traditional means of marketing won’t work for the 300 million Chinese people online. In China, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are blocked, as well as sites like Google and YouTube.
In lieu of these sites, the Chinese have built their own robust social media networks populated by hundreds of millions of users. Hotel marketers that want to better appeal to the Chinese market should have a strong understanding of these Chinese social networks, their demographics, and how they function in order to build targeted marketing campaigns for these consumers.
Important social media platforms for Chinese consumers
1. Tencent QQ
Tencent QQ, a messaging platform, commands the biggest base of users. In fact, this network won a world record with more than 200 million users logged in at the same time during one point in July 2014. Members can use a number of services, including email, messaging, payments, blogs, and games. It works on desktops and on mobile devices.
QQ connects directly with Qzone, a social network similar to Facebook. Many Chinese, pan-Asian and global companies use the platform for marketing, from email marketing on QQ to using the brand pages on Qzone to advertising to friends and followers.
WeChat has evolved into more than an ordinary social networking platform. As the name implies, it started out as a social chat system. Today, members can use this platform to conduct varying transactions. People can book taxis and make restaurant and even airline reservations. According to Linkfluence, during the time leading up to the Chinese New Year the platform handled more transactions than PayPal did all year.
WeChat offers online chat and eCommerce on the platform. Numerous large companies use this platform, including Coca-Cola and Mercedes. Both Chinese and international brands can set up mini-sites and offer Loyalty Cards with their own customized promotions. Offering special promotions and discounts can be a good way to increase brand engagement and attract more hotel guests.
3. Sina Weibo
Sometimes this platform has been referred to as China’s Twitter. It does offer microblogging, but users also have the ability to write longer posts with a maximum of 10,000 characters. Users also can share images, videos, and files of several different types. This platform is famous among Chinese social media sites for attracting the most organizations and public figures.
Weibo is most known for the way that it facilitates communication and discussions in China. In fact, this social network might not be the largest, but it is still very large and could be the most active. Typically, this is the first social network suggested for companies that hope to connect with consumers in China. Celebs are particularly popular on that venue, so it may be a good place to conduct influencer marketing for your hotel.
4. Baidu Tieba
Besides hosting online communities in China, Baidu Tieba is also part of Baidu, China’s major search engine. More than 200 million people have accounts with a choice of over eight million different communities, which are organized like forums. Because this social network has a large search engine as a parent company these communities get a LOT of exposure on search.
Brands can use these communities for advertising and reaching out to consumers. However, one of the best ways to use Baidu Tieba is as a source of social intelligence about products, services and even specific brands. It’s important to monitor the Internet for brand mentions and this is a great place to do that with Chinese consumers. Also, Baidu controls Qunar and has 25 percent of CTrip, the two largest Chinese travel sites, according to Bloomberg.
With just over 10 million users, Qyer is a young but quickly growing social platform designed for independent travelers to share their travel tips and experiences with others, almost like an online travel journal. With its extremely loyal following, Qyer has expanded its platform so that users can also book travel through a discount deal app, plan trips with an itinerary assistant, and complete hotel bookings through the website. Travelers are increasingly relying on Qyer’s content to help with their decisionmaking process, and many major companies have taken notice. Qyer’s multi-channel community is ripe for partnerships—Booking.com recently partnered with them to provide cash-back incentives on hotel bookings from the platform.
Even though this Chinese social networking site has been called the Chinese Facebook, its user base really hasn’t expanded much beyond students. Still, RenRen has been around a long time and boosts of 100 million users active each day.
Hotels with programs or packages that may be attractive to younger travelers can connect with that target market here. Considering the demographic, it’s not surprising that Coca-Cola and Budweiser have active accounts. The site is also transitioning into becoming a host for game portals, and some brands have capitalized on this by offering promotional games that allow players to earn points that they can use for special discounts and other deals.
Using Chinese social media sites for hotel marketing
So after all this, how can hotel marketers get started with Chinese social marketing or improve their existing efforts? These are some of the main takeaways to help you begin:
First of all, your hotel should already have a presence on the two largest Chinese travel websites Qunar and Ctrip if you hope to attract Chinese tourism. Remember that these two sites are also heavily affiliated with Baidu and benefit as a result. Partner with a CRS provider that can help you deliver rates and availability to these channels.
Secondly, high expectations from Chinese Internet users mean that it’s only prudent to hire the right help with social media. Any agency you consider needs to have skilled native Chinese-language speakers, relevant social media marketing experience, and a deep understanding of the Chinese market.
And lastly, besides just getting noticed by consumers on social media, it’s important for travel brands to engage the Chinese market by providing amenities and services that they demand. Some examples for hotels could include providing staff and other travel resources in Chinese languages, particularly Mandarin, including typical Chinese dishes on the menu and even courtesies like noodle cookers and complimentary slippers.
The international travel market in China is large and growing. Using Chinese social media can provide many hotel brands with a major boost in business. It’s important to recognize the unique demographics of each social network and also, the unique character of Chinese consumers.