By Arnold Ma, chief executive of Qumin, the UK’s largest Chinese digital marketing company
From airlines to luxury hotel groups, attracting customers from new markets is the Holy Grail. The affluent, ‘new generation’ Chinese are one of the key targets for UK travel companies looking to broaden their appeal across the globe.
According to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the number of outbound Chinese travellers increased by 6% to 135 million in 2016, with these tourists spending over $260 billion in other countries.
But getting into the minds of these travellers has, until recently, been tricky due to the complex cultural differences that can make traditional marketing methods ineffective.
However, thanks to a new feature added to WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, UK travel companies can now gain vital insights into the mindset of this lucrative market, giving them the tools they need to tap into the latest Chinese travel trends.
WeChat Index is a tool that can track what keywords are trending on the platform in seven, 30 and 90 day segments – invaluable information for global brands, especially with the number of WeChat users currently standing at around 898 million.
Getting hold of this information is relatively easy, but knowing how to interpret and use the data properly is not as simple. The power of WeChat Index lies in being able to identify spikes in audience interest.
Interpreting these spikes is up to each individual business. Getting feedback on major campaigns or knowing the impact of a negative story can help businesses better plan and refine their approaches.
Although the tool is still in its infancy, it has already gained considerable interest from the travel sector. Airlines in particular have been using it to monitor their public image.
In April, British Airways saw a spike in mentions on WeChat and it wasn’t because they launched a new route or new aircraft. Instead it was a response to news that a 65-year passenger was taken off a flight for trying to move to first class when he was taken ill on board. The fact the incident happened nowhere near China (the flight was going from London to Jamaica) shows how far news and reputations can travel on social media.
Diving into the Index data can also highlight unexpected opportunities. For instance, Birmingham saw a spike on WeChat Index in March while it was hosting the All England Open Badminton Championship, bringing the city to the attention of the sport’s large Chinese fan base. Hotels and airlines would be wise to think about how they can capitalise on this interest in time for next year’s tournament.
Hotel groups could also benefit from the growing appetite in China for British culture, with television shows like Sherlock Holmes and Downton Abbey proving hits in the country.
Luxury hotel groups could use WeChat Index to better understand this trend and to use the information to devise more targeted campaigns – pushing marketing material for their high-end luxury hotels to coincide with new series of these shows being aired.
Another trend amongst the new generation of Chinese travellers is the move towards more independent travel. With this in mind, airlines, hotels and car rental companies can use WeChat Index to find the best platforms to launch their marketing activities and maximise their results. C-Trip (668,001*), Qunar (1,161,229*), eLong (60,878*), Qyer (162,691*) and Skyscanner (9,787*) are among the most popular travel portals according to the Index and knowing this will help their chances of being in the right place at the right time to secure bookings from these independent-minded travellers.
So how can the rest of the UK travel trade make the most of the intelligence offered by WeChat Index? Here are our top tips:
Keep it simple:
Sticking to simple keywords like brand names, locations, products, rather than complex phrases, will wield better results as the functionality is still limited.
WeChat’s data is measured as an index so the numbers are not absolute. As such it’s always better to measure yourself against competitors or the leading brand in your sector. For example, British Airways would most likely index themselves against Virgin Airways and the Thomas Cook Group would index against Tui.
Consider the context:
As the index only gives you an indication of peaks and troughs, it’s worth drilling into the content produced on specific days by using Chinese search engine Sogou to search WeChat content.
As searches can only go back 90 days, it’s wise to keep an offline record of your WeChat search results for further analysis later on.
Make sure you have the right expertise:
It sounds obvious, but the feature is only available in Chinese! So if you’re not already trading in China and want to better understand the market you may wish to consider partnering with a specialist agency who can make sense of the data for you.
However the travel trade decides to use the data on WeChat Index, one things for sure, it’s a tool that could change the way airlines, hotels and attractions market themselves to Chinese travellers, enabling highly targeted campaigns that tap into the latest trends.