We had the pleasure to have an interview with Mr Pierre Gervois, CEO of the publishing company China Elite Focus and Publisher of the Chinese luxury travel magazines “Luxury Hotels of America” and “Niuyue Mag”. Mr Gervois, the leading marketing expert for U.S. hotels and CVB’s has answered to our questions about the art of promoting the United States as a tourist destination in China.
How do Chinese tourists choose their leisure destinations?
PG: They massively (more than 80%) search and find their leisure destinations through the Internet and more precisely, independent travel and tour- ism related websites, social media networks, and blogs. China’s most popular online travel agencies and booking engines, such as the very well made ctrip.com, are used for the technical part of the airline ticket purchasing and hotel booking, but beyond that, the choice of destination and hotel is made on influential, independent, travel and tourism websites and blogs. Word-of-mouth has an incredible influence in the choice of a leisure destination, a hotel brand, or the planning of a shopping experience. As most of the young generation of Chinese travellers are first-time travellers (and probably the first persons in their family to experience an overseas leisure trip since their parents and grandparents have probably not ever had this chance), they have no personal or familial emotional connection with foreign destinations, hotel brands, or cultural or entertainment activities. They need to learn from what other people say and write to forge their opinions before they gradually acquire the personal experience of a world traveller.
Why choose to go first to New York or Los Angeles? Why choose shopping sessions at Saks Fifth Avenue or at South Coast Plaza? Why choose to spend a day at Universal Studios Hollywood? The answers to these questions can be found on an incredibly active network of hundreds of independent travel blogs, mostly hosted on China’s most popular social media networks such as Weibo (a very successful mix of Twitter and Facebook) or blogging platforms such as Dian Dian and Douban (very similar to tumblr.com). Endorsement by one or several of these independent travel blogs is worth more than the thousands spent on advertising banners in big, official, online travel agencies. In a digital media environment saturated by direct advertisement—specifically in travel and tourism—genuine and independent endorsement by key opinion leaders is critical.
How can U.S. industries work with the network of Chinese outbound travel agencies?
PG: One of the biggest issues that U.S. hotels and destination management companies have to deal with is the relative weakness of the network of official, state-owned, Chinese outbound travel agencies in terms of their ability to advise their clients in choosing a specific leisure destination. One of the main reasons is the lack of training and expertise of Chinese travel agents who have very little experience in international travel themselves, and therefore, the lack of confidence of the new generation of Chinese travellers in the ability of their local travel agents to advise them in choosing a destination or a specific kind of hotel overseas. Things are slowly changing as the National Tour Association (NTA) has developed programs to invite Chinese travel agents to participate in familiarization tours to the U.S., but these initiatives remain isolated and can influence only a fraction of all Chinese travel agents. It’s important to consider that the highly professional net- work of U.S. inbound travel agencies have very few counterparts in China with the same levels of professionalism and expertise.
From a U.S. perspective, what are the differences between Western Europe inbound tourists and Chinese inbound tourists?
PG: There is a world of difference: European inbound travellers have been exposed to U.S. brands for decades, and associate them with values such as freedom, independence, lifestyle, and quality. Most European tourists have in their subconscious minds the stories of their fathers or grand- fathers about the GI’s coming to liberate Europe, bringing with them new products and new values; they may also recall the American movies they watched during their childhoods. When visiting the U.S., they have a deep emotional connection with the country.
For Chinese tourists, this emotional connection is non-existent; fifteen years ago, the concept of a leisure trip to the western world was unthinkable. Moreover, until recently very few American products were available in China, and American movies were not available in Chinese cinemas. The U.S. travel and tourism industry must understand that very specific marketing and promotion campaigns are needed to attract Chinese tourists; these require very different strategies from what has been done in the past with Western European markets. The new generation of Chinese tourists sees the U.S. differently than a British or an Italian tourist would see it, and it must be translated into the marketing campaigns undertaken by hotels, retailers, or entertainment parks targeting Chinese visitors.