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Marketing to Chinese Outbound Tourists: Towards Normalization.

By Pierre Gervois, Founder & Publisher of the STC magazine, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC (New York), keynote speaker and expert about marketing to outbound Chinese tourists.

In 2005, I had the first conversations with executives in luxury hospitality groups about the importance of improving the welcome for their first Chinese guests. I knew they used to receive a very poor quality of service, in large part because of the ignorance of the Chinese culture from the staff of luxury hotels, and also because of the persistence of stereotypes about Chinese travelers.

The General Managers of five star hotels I talked to from 2005 to 2007 told me more or less the same thing “Chinese tourists don’t stay in five star hotels”, and, as a consequence, they did not see the point of investing resources to improve the service for their Chinese guests.

Today, these same hotels advertise in the STC magazine and ask us to define their marketing strategy to attract more of high-spending Chinese guests and offer them the best possible service.

Things have obviously changed over the last ten years.

To better understand the way Chinese outbound tourism has dramatically changed over the last decade, let’s go back fifteen years ago, in the early 2000’s.

I would define three periods to describe the evolution of Chinese outbound tourism:

From 2000 and 2005, most of Chinese outbound travelers were business travelers traveling in official delegations to attend to trade shows and official business meetings in Western Europe and in The United States. At that time, it was nearly impossible for individual Chinese leisure travelers to obtain an independent leisure visa for Europe or the U.S., and the only way to have holidays overseas was to travel in the famous (or infamous) group tours organized by Chinese State-owned outbound travel agencies, in partnership with selected destination management companies in their country of destinations.  Basically, their passports were confiscated by travel agencies during their trip in coaches and low quality hotels, which is not a very enticing way to travel.

Gervois magazine - The new travel magazine for millennials travelers in the United StatesI talked with many of these first Chinese leisure travelers between 2000 and 2005, and they told me how displeased they were by the very poor quality of their travel experience, and how their feelings were hurt by the stereotypes who were widely spread within the travel industry: Chinese tourists were supposed to love to travel in coaches, were allegedly obsessed with discounts, and would prefer to stay in one star hotels. In fact, my Chinese friends were at that time willing to be free to explore a country on their own, were searching high quality – and expensive- travel experiences, and were particularly fond of nice suites in five star hotels. Basically, like a lot of affluent western travelers.  But not of a lot of travel and tourism professional understood and even listened to them at that time.  You were a Chinese tourist?  Then you had to fit in a certain category of negatively stereotyped traveler. Period. In some cases, that was very close to segregation, and surprisingly, very few western travel & tourism professionals realized how painful and sometimes humiliating it was for Chinese leisure travelers.

From 2005 and 2010, The travel and tourism industry started – slowly – to give up on stereotypes concerning Chinese travelers, and at a slower pace to gradually improve the service for Chinese travelers.  Some hotel chains started to offer in-room Chinese tea (It took several years of studies and commissioned researches for hoteliers to take such a simple and inexpensive step), or started to recruit a few Chinese speaking staff members.  But the industry did not yet understood where the core problem was: the structural inability of both the outbound travel agencies (OTA’s) and destination management companies (DMC’s) to understand this massive change in international outbound tourism.  In less than ten years, faster than in any other country in the history of international leisure tourism, a group of outbound travelers was growing at an impressive and never seen rate, from 5 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2010. With old fashioned organizations, Chinese OTA’s could not offer the kind of service that the new generation of Chinese travelers wanted from them: a good understanding of international travel opportunities.  On the other hand, DMC’s in Europe and the U.S. were still stuck in their preconceptions about Chinese leisure travelers and kept offering the same standardized programs (Traveling in coaches from a discount shopping mall to another and sleeping in very low quality hotels), that were by the way never favored by the Chinese travelers themselves.  But their advice was never solicited.  That was before the social media era.

Around 2008, the first social media networks started to become popular in China.  And yes, I remember the time (somewhere in 2008), where Facebook and Twitter were freely accessible in China. With the launch of Weibo in 2009 and dozens of other Chinese social media networks, Chinese outbound travelers started to post stories about their experiences about their overseas travel, and make comments about hotels (since 2008 with the launch of DaoDao, the Chinese version of TripAdvisor). I frequently read translations in English of comments written in Chinese Mandarin about famous luxury hotels in New York, London or Paris, and the first comments and reviews were incredibly negative. Most of them expressed how the staff of these famous hotels lacked of respect with their first Chinese guests, and did clearly offer them a second-class experience compared to other guests from western countries. I was also surprised to see that nobody in these hotels made the effort to request a translation of comments made by their Chinese guests and analyze them.

From 2008 to 2010, the first travel destinations, travel agencies and hotels started to realize that they needed to communicate properly with Chinese outbound travelers, but very few marketing options existed. China Elite Focus was historically the first digital marketing agency (founded in june 2008 in Shanghai) who was exclusively specialized on digital travel marketing for affluent Chinese outbound travelers, with a unique focus on luxury destinations.  The launch of China Elite Focus was followed by a flurry of creation of other independent digital marketing agencies in China, Europe and the US, and defined all together an entire new marketing category: digital marketing to Chinese outbound travelers. The quick development and the popularity of Chinese social media networks as well as the first digital campaigns to promote international travel to Chinese potential travelers contributed critically to a better connection between travel operators worldwide and the emerging category of young and affluent Chinese first-time outbound travelers.

But access to the information was still a big issue, specifically for high spending travelers: From China, how to know what is the best hotel in New York you absolutely want to stay in? What is the best exclusive golf course in Scotland? How to book a table in the Paris’ finest restaurants?  No curated information was available at that time in Chinese Mandarin.  The existing travel magazines published in China did not had such sophisticated informations, and no website existed. That is the main reason we launched the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine (or the STC magazine) in 2009 as an electronic newsletter and since 2012 as an iPad & iPhone digital publication.

From 2010 to 2015, all the elements of the complex puzzle were in place: a dynamic social media network environment in China, the emergence of digital only Chinese travel agencies using extensively social media, the growing desire of Chinese travelers to discover foreign countries, and the understanding by western travel, tourism and retail companies that, yes, this is it, Chinese travelers are the world’s biggest spenders and the #1 group of Chinese outbound travelers. This is an interesting period where we saw two different categories of Chinese travelers intersecting on different paths. Senior travelers, mostly top executives of large Chinese companies who reward themselves after a life of hard work with a once or twice a year luxury international travel experience, and their children, in their early twenties, who quickly become frequent global travelers (six to ten times a year), and end up spending more than their parents in travel and shopping.

One of the important reason for the exponential growth of Chinese outbound tourism (120 million in 2015) is luxury shopping, and in particular the desire to have a genuine shopping experience. Buying a Gucci bag in Milan, a Louis Vuitton suitcase in Paris or a Tiffany diamond in New York was seen in the early 2010’s as a necessary sign of social status for the young and affluent generation. International luxury brands understood too late this trend and hastily opened too many stores in China in this period, many of them with more sales associates than Chinese customers. (They are now closing stores and start to focus on improving the customer relations at their flagship stores in the US and in Europe for Chinese shoppers.)

GERVOIS magazine Advertising and sponsored content opportunitiesOn January 19, 2012, President Obama issued the “Executive Order #13597” who had a major impact in Chinese outbound travel.  This decision had to major consequences:
First, “to increase nonimmigrant (i.e. tourists) visa processing capacity in China by 40% over the coming year”, meaning allocate more human resources at U.S. consulates in China in order to be able to review and process more leisure visa requests.  Second, “to ensure that 80% of nonimmigrant visa applicants in China are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application”, meaning to allow a much faster process for individual Chinese tourists planning holidays in the U.S..  This rather technical Executive Order created a psychological change in the perception the United States as a  luxury holidays destination by Chinese travelers.  Previously more considered as a business destination, the U.S. were seen as of the beginning of 2012 as a much more “tourist friendly” destination by the Chinese, and they started massively to consider to spend holidays in this country, who appeared as newly opened to them. We saw a surge in requests on Chinese search engines about “travel and holidays in the US” in the first half of 2012, and the U.S. travel and tourism industry operators started to feel the economical benefits of an increased influx of Chinese leisure visitors as early as the summer 2012. (1.5 million Chinese visitors came to the U.S. in 2012, 3.1 million are expected for 2019).

In november 2014, China and the United States negociated a reciprocal agreement to extend the validity of tourists visas up to ten years (multiple entries).  It means that since november 2014, a Chinese tourist with a valid tourist visa to the United States can keep this visa for up to ten years, with multiple entries. That is very close to the “Visa Waiver program” with european tourists, and has strongly encouraged Chinese travelers to choose the U.S. over Western Europe destinations, who do not offer tourists visas with such a long validity for Chinese visitors.

At the end of 2015, We could say that 80% of tourism offices, hotel chains, retailers, and airlines had in place elements for a marketing strategy focused on Chinese tourists, even a modest one. What a change if we compare to 2005, where virtually less than 5% of them had a strategy in place.

Today, what could be the trends for the years to come? The first world that comes to my mind is normalization. For the last fifteen years, travel and tourism marketers considered Chinese tourists as a kind of “exotic” category of international traveler, with all the stereotypes and preconceptions attached. Now that more than 100 million Chinese travelers discover the world every year in virtually every country on the planet, tourism and travel professionals have a much better understanding of what the most important group of tourists really want.  And it’s – how surprising – exactly what Americans and European travelers want when they travel abroad: A carefully curated travel experience, nice hotels, local cultural and food discoveries, and the possibility to choose, alone, what to do during the day. Before starting a marketing campaign focused on Chinese outbound travelers, it’s now time to have the exact same mindset that for a marketing campaign targeted at any other nationality of tourists. And, please, forget about the stereotype of the Chinese traveler allegedly only interested by discounts. They are not. They want quality, sophistication and authenticity.  And they know it doesn’t come cheap.

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Luxury hospitality guru Pierre Gervois on how to cater to Chinese tourists in the U.S.

Watch Pierre Gervois’ exclusive interview for China News

Pierre Gervois - TV interview for China News 2016

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2016 year of U.S. tourism for Chinese tourists boosts travel to NYC

Shanghai Travelers Club - Whyte hotel brooklyn

An article about the Whyte Hotel in Brooklyn published in the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine (March 2016 issue)

If there was just one thing the world’s two largest economies could agree on both wanting, tourism would be it.

China and the United States announced this week in Beijing that 2016 will be the year of mutual tourism promotion, one of the outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States last year.

The focus on tourism between the two countries come as overseas travel booms in China, in fact more Chinese vacation abroad than any other nation. More than 120 million Chinese traveled abroad last year, up 12 percent year on year, and they spent $104.5 dollars, up 16.7 percent over the same period.

“The scale and the speed with which the market grow is quite remarkable,” said Fred Dixon, CEO of NYC & Co., the agency responsible for promoting New York City, the top US destination city for Chinese travelers.

Despite New York being the top destination less than 3 percent of Chinese outbound tourists go to the United States. The Republic of Korea, Japan and Thailand are much more popular choices, partly because of their proximity.

Despite this, Chinese visitors to the United States has been growing at a double digit rate over the past few years.

In 2015, 2.67 million Chinese visited the United States, compared with less than 400,000 in 2007. Goldman Sachs estimates that the number of Chinese visitors will almost double to 5 million by 2025.

This growth prospect has excited tourism players across the States. Many have sent delegations to China and the news about the tourism exchange will no doubt see them double down their promotional efforts.

“New York City is definitely the #1 dream destination in 2016 for Chinese travelers” said Pierre Gervois, Publisher of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine, a luxury travel publication for affluent Chinese travelers planning a trip to the United States. “The attractivity of NYC is extremely stong for all categories of Chinese travelers, from Chinese  real estate investors to students. We now publish more than 30% of our editorial content about NYC, per request from our readers”, Gervois added.

Travel agencies and tourism promoters say a more powerful boost to Chinese tourists inflow to the US is visa relaxation. In November 2014, the two countries extended visa validity for tourists from one to 10 years.

This policy has pushed up the share of Chinese travelling to the United States purely for leisure. Data compiled by various popular destination cities in the United States show that for Chinese visitors, leisure travelers have begun to outnumber business travelers in many places.

Gervois magazine - The new travel magazine for millennials travelers in the United States“The 10 year visa extension is really a game changer,” Dixon said, adding that the relaxation has paved the way for more Chinese to visit the United States for pure leisure and on their own, instead of on business trips or organized group tours.

Chinese online travel service provider Ctrip also reported a surge in US visa application through its platform between January to August last year following the visa relaxation.

With more tourists heading to American shores on their own, tourism promoters say they are reviewing their messages here in China. While travel agencies are still valuable partners, they have begun to engage with prospective travellers directly.

“In the very beginning our work was very much about working closely with the trade on the group side, but now we are seeing a move toward independent travel,” Dixon said.

That shift led promoters to prioritize their online presence, as websites, social media and apps have become prime channels for information and planning.

More than 259 million Chinese booked their travel online last year, of which 80 percent did so on their mobile devices, according to China Internet Network Information Center.

The demographics are changing too. China’s outbound travel boom is fueled mostly by a new generation of travelers. 67 percent of China’s overseas tourists in 2014 were born after 1980s, data compiled by Goldman Sachs show.

All these changes impact travel decisions. Promoters say group travelers want to see iconic sites and things they have seen on TV and in the movies. But reaching out to the new generation of savvy Chinese outbound travelers takes more than that.

The appeal for them, Dixon said, lies beneath the surface, in lesser known communities, parks and museums that add more personal character to their travel experience.

“This is an exciting time,” he said. “You don’t often see a market emerge the way China has. And we probably won’t see anything like this again.”

“Retaurants for hipsters in Brooklyn & boutique hotels in former industrial buildings are now packed with Chinese travelers: This is the future” concluded Pierre Gervois

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More content about luxury travel to the United States in 2016 in the prestigious Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine

Shanghai Travelers' Club magazine coversThe Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine, the Chinese language publication read by China’s Elite global travelers has disclosed its much anticipated 2016 Editorial calendar yesterday. And clearly, Affluent Chinese travelers love the United States! According to Pierre Gervois, the New York City based Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of this publication “The new generation of Chinese business travelers have clearly chosen the United States as their strategic country for their business browth. We have seen in the past two years a very strong interest from Chinese corporations – and wealthy Chinese invividuals- to invest in the United States. The more they come to the U.S. for business, the more they tend to come back with their family for a U.S. luxury leisure experience”

It’s no more just about luxury shopping: Philanthropy and real estate investment are also hot topics. The January 2016 issue will have “Philanthropy in America” as its main feature. “Many Chinese CEO’s residing in the U.S. are willing to create their own philanthropic foundations in America, as they used to do in China. We’ll publish stories to help them to understand how to create a charity organization with all the necessary partners: banks, wealth management advisors & attorneys” added Pierre Gervois.

Driving a vintage 1960 Cadillac on Road 66 is also part of a true luxury American experience. (You can also rent a brand new Cadillac SUV). The march 2016 issue will feature a “Luxury road trip to America” story. Ralph Lauren ripped Jeans, Louis Vuitton beaten up keepall bag, vintage Rolex, Room 101 skull necklace, a motel with neon signs, this is America.

After the success of the September 2015 men’s fashion issue “The Gentleman Traveler”, The September 2016 issue will also feature a Men’s fashion special edition, with in depth stories about America’s best fashion designers. “Having a tailor made business suit made in USA makes a statement for Chinese global business executives” said Tyron Cutner, the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine Men’s Fashion Editor.

Real Estate is probably the hottest topic for Chinese travelers. They invested $22Billion in real estate last year (including the $2Billion Waldorf Astoria building and it’s growing fast. Very fast. The november 2016 issue will feature the most expensive houses and apartments in the United States ($15M+), as well as profiles of New York City best real estate attorneys  and U.S. interior architects.

“Winter Holidays in the American West” will introduce snow experiences in the American West: Colorado, Nevada or Arizona are beautiful in winter time and very desirable destinations for Chinese frequent travelers to the U.S. who had already visited New York and Los Angeles multiple times and want to experience a truly authentic American Christmas time.

Request the 2016 Editorial Calendar & Media Kit of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine here.

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New York City luxury retailers are waiting for more wealthy Chinese shoppers

Over five days in January, a group of visitors to New York was treated to a private concert with the pianist Lang Lang at the Montblanc store, cocktails and a fashion show attended by the designers Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg, and a tour of Estée Lauder’s original office. They were not celebrities. They were not government officials. They were Chinese tourists with a lot of money.
Though luxury brands started opening stores in Beijing and Shanghai years ago, Chinese shoppers still spend more on luxury products abroad than they do at home, according to the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Price is the major reason: Because of China’s taxes, luxury products are about a third cheaper in the United States and elsewhere.
European luxury stores have been catering to Chinese tourists for years. Now high-end retailers in the United States are pulling out their Mandarin phrase books and trying to convince Chinese visitors that Americans can do luxury, too.
“What started as a trickle has now become a flow,” said the vice president of the antiques store Macklowe Gallery, Ben Macklowe, who recently sold a Tiffany lamp that cost in the low six figures to a Shanghai visitor. “There’s been prosperity across so much of Asia that you’re starting to see it much more in the profile of the tourist on Madison Avenue.”
A record number of Chinese visited the United States last year — nearly 1.1 million — and the country accounts for one of the top-growing tourist groups here, according to the Commerce Department. The number of visitors is expected to almost double by 2014, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Chinese visitors spend about $6,000 each on every visit here, versus the $4,000 that visitors from other countries spend on average, the association says, and their top activity is shopping.
Although some tourists spend money on Disney trinkets and at the outlet malls they have traditionally frequented, luxury brand purchases are surging in part because American stores carry a broader range of products than their counterparts in China, said Julia Zhu, consulting director for Frost & Sullivan.
Tiffany, which made almost a quarter of its United States revenue last year from foreign tourists, has added Mandarin-speaking sales staff to its major stores, as has Burberry, where more than half of sales at its flagship stores are to tourists. Representatives from Tourneau’s Manhattan office recently accompanied New York City officials on a visit to China to encourage more tourism in the city.
The very popular Chinese social media network “Niuyue Mag” (纽约志), used by the young and affluent Chinese tourists preparing their trip to New York City had also a role in promoting the Big Apple as a major luxury shopping destination. According to Sandra Ming, analyst at China Elite Focus, “the impact of Niuyue Mag has been tremendous as it’s for now the only one media available in China exclusively about the planning of a shopping trip in New York City”
At its United States stores, Montblanc sells Year of the Dragon pens and has staff members who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It is also printing Chinese-language brochures about its products and selling wallets sized for Chinese currency.
Despite having more than 100 stores in China, Montblanc is going after Chinese shoppers on vacation abroad. “Yes, we are in the major cities, but when you travel, you’re in the mood to enjoy and experience the moment,” said Jan-Patrick Schmitz, chief executive of Montblanc North America. “We certainly will do more and more marketing toward them.”
Retailers in the United States lag behind other countries. Part of that is because of visa issues; it is easier for Chinese residents to get visas to Europe. High-end American retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s are urging the government to speed up the process here. President Obama said in January that he planned to increase visa-processing capacity from emerging markets like China and Brazil by 40 percent this year.
The American stores also have to overcome an idea that luxury can come only from the old world.
“The European brands, they see prestige, history, heritage,” said Sunny Wong, group managing director of Trinity, a company that owns and operates high-end European retail brands in China. American brands, by contrast, are seen as “contemporary, lifestyle” rather than pure luxury, he said.

American retailers are racing to prove Mr. Wong wrong.

Source: http://chinesetourists.wordpress.com

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New York welcomes Chinese tourists (and their dollars…)

According to First Financial Daily, a tour group of more than a thousand Chinese tourists spent the Lunar New Year (Spring Festival) in New York. These tourists spent $6,000  dollars on average in U.S. during this trip.

The tour group was warmly welcomed in New York City. In front of Macy’s Department Store on New York’s 34th Avenue, the largest department store in the United States, hosted the largest ever tourist group from China. The group consisted of 1,000 Chinese from Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities. To welcome the “thousand-person” tourist group, Macy’s invited a lion dance performance group and gave each Chinese visitor a special “international coupon” and small gift.

The Empire State Building closed to the public during 8 pm to 10 pm on February 16 to let this Chinese tour group enjoy a special tour. That night, Peng Keyu, the Chinese Consul General in New York lit color lights in the traditional Chinese colors red and yellow on the top floor of the Empire State Building, adding festive atmosphere to the night sky in New York.

The vice president of Macy’s expressed his hope that more Chinese could come and visit the U.S. to go shopping. American stores have become increasingly interested in Chinese tourist groups because of their strong purchasing power.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, each traveler from China spent an average of $6,000 during his or her 8-10 day visit in the United States, 50 percent more than that of tourists from other countries spent during the same period. The “thousand-person” tourist group will contribute 6 million U.S. dollars to the U.S. economy. Chinese tourists have really brought vigor to the U.S. east coast business which is quite depressed in recent two years.

This tour group was jointly organized by NYC & Company, the U.S. Continental Airlines and several travel agencies in China and the U.S.

With many famous buildings and museums, New York has become the first choice for Chinese tourists traveling to U.S. cities. Among all Chinese tourists travel to the United States, 44 percent chose New York as a destination. In order to attract more Chinese tourists, NYC & Company has opened an office in Shanghai. According to Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, the famous Shanghai  PR agency  for affluent Chinese international travelers “Macy’s has a very smart strategy to attract affluent Chinese shoppers. The new generation of Chinese outbound travelers prefers to travel to NYC for their shopping, rather than to buy in Shanghai stores, with higher prices and not a wide range of products”

George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company said their staff at the office in Shanghai are always asked about the shooting location of TV drama Sex and the City by tourists preparing to visit the United States. “It is not impossible to organize a Sex and the City tour in New York conducted in Chinese.”

NYC & Company data show that in 2008 there were 9.5 million foreign tourists who visited New York City, among which 257,000 were Japanese tourists, more than the total number of visitors from Chinese mainland and Hong Kong (218,000). But in terms of per capita consumption, the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong tourists spent $2,148 in New York, about $400 more than Japanese tourists.

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