In the last 10 years, there has been a paradigm shift in China’s outbound travel market, now playing a major role in shaping the worldwide digital landscape. China has shifted from a short-haul, group tour market in the early 1980s to the present day’s fast-growing free independent traveler (FIT) market. Today, there are more than 130 million outbound Chinese travelers. These travelers are more sophisticated and not coming from only Tier-1 cities.
As the Chinese middle class continues to grow, McKinsey & Company projects an 18 percent growth in the middle class by 2030. Many of those entering middle to the upper-middle class are young millennials, and according to the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 74 million Chinese students will graduate from college in the next decade.
These millennials are spending more time online and are the most significant source of outbound travel from China. Two-thirds of all outbound travelers are millennials, spending 26 percent of their annual income on travel, this means the number of independent travelers from the market will continue to grow. Today's long-haul travelers are young, crave uniqueness and are digital savvy, which is why more than 75 percent of travel bookings are completed on mobile devices.
The country is comprised of 800 million internet users—one-fifth of all users globally—and mobile capabilities are embedded into many aspects of everyday life. As the younger generation paves the way for digital experiences, digital trends continue to emerge in the market. New applications, reliance on mobile payments, the desire for unique experiences and the expectation of online-to-offline (O2O) capabilities have become the norm, thanks in big part to WeChat-enabled programs.
One of the most significant trends in Chinese consumer marketing is the growth of short videos. While it is essential for destination marketers to continue monitoring established platforms like WeChat and Weibo, it is equally important to understand the rise of new platforms, how to utilize them in your marketing mix and why they are attractive to consumers.
Two platforms to watch in 2019: Xiahongshu and Douyin
Xiahongshu (Red), “…is a combination of Pinterest and Instagram, sprinkled with a dose of Amazon.” (Taobao). Red is the top lifestyle sharing community in China with 160 million registered users—85 percent of those users are female, 65 percent are from Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities and 70 percent of users are born post-1990, serving a key demographic for potential long-haul travelers. The platform started as a way for consumers to share reviews on merchandise bought overseas from fashion to luxury brands. Currently, the platform is primarily used as a product search engine.
Similar to WeChat and Weibo, brands can open official accounts on Red. Brands can connect with consumers by generating brand topics and recommendations, and by collaborating with Red’s network of three million bloggers and influencers. Red has a unique algorithm that promotes top content and are looking to partner with lesser-known destinations to help their audience discover new locations. It is a unique brand-driven platform where 95 percent of the users tag the brands directly on their platform. Destinations looking to drive brand awareness on Red can integrate with hotels, attractions, and shopping locations to develop opportunities and drive destination awareness.
Douyin (Tiktok) is a short-form, mobile video app and is the fastest growing app in China. The app is becoming the world’s most downloaded non-gaming app, according to research company SensorTower, exceeding Facebook, Instagram and YouTube in early 2018. In November, Douyin reported 400 million monthly active users and 200 million daily active users. The primary user base for the app is young and educated—42 percent are 24-30 years old, and more than 40 percent of users have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The platform is highly engaging, with 72 percent of Generation Z users opening the app every day, and 32 percent spending more than an hour per day on the platform.
Similar to Red, brands can create official verified accounts, partnering with influencers as well as travel sites like Qyer and Ctrip. They can participate in a Douyin Challenge, where users compete to get the most views linked to specific hashtags, driving both user-generated content and positive word-of-mouth. Even though international travel brands have yet to use the app, many Chinese tourism commissions and airlines are using Douyin to bring a fresh, youthful appeal to travelers. The app has proven a good point of entry platform for brands to grow awareness.
When planning your marketing strategy, keep in mind:
- The Chinese digital landscape is constantly evolving, and Chinese travelers are looking for new and unique experiences.
- When considering your market strategy, it is important to tailor offerings with new channels and platforms to reach the target demographic.
- Although WeChat and Weibo are mainstays, it is essential to consider and understand new platforms and how to work with them. Both Xiahongshu and Douyin offer new ways to deliver content to connect with younger, engaged audiences.
- Content is king. Creating content in 2019 will be a huge asset for destinations, especially video content.