Chinese consumers are known for favoring brands that resonate emotionally with the Chinese people and building brand allegiance with those who provide reassurance. In many cases, the attitude towards China is increasingly becoming linked to a destination’s safety. When a country’s message is hostile or unfriendly, Chinese tourists can associate that with potential security risks, which is a major factor in vacation planning.
While destination managers may not able to change or control the standpoint or opinions held by their government, destinations can still play an important role in strengthening non-governmental exchanges between countries. This is the time for travel brands to showcase their ability to navigate rapid shifts in consumer sentiment both at home and abroad. It requires tourism and destination management organizations to take control of their own narrative and express a brand story that is welcoming to Chinese outbound tourists. [NOTE: We think it’s important to call out that destinations should always challenge the status quo and use their civic power to push for positive change].
Here are two tips to own your own narrative despite political tensions:
1. Demonstrate your long-term commitment to the market and to your Chinese trade partners
Given the tense and ever-changing political rhetoric, it’s more important than ever to own your own narrative and nurture your relationships in China. You can consider issuing an open letter to Chinese tourists to express that they are welcome when it’s safe to travel again. While many destinations have released updated outbound policies on their official social media platforms, Visit Finland expressed a clear welcome message from its leadership.
Head of Visit Finland Paavo Virkkunen conveyed his wishes to welcome Chinese tourists again in an open letter to Chinese trade and tourists on WeChat in early February garnering nearly 7,000 readers and positive consumer commentary about visiting Finland post pandemic.
2. Leverage video and be true to your destination’s character
Emotional storytelling is impactful in China. Find authentic ways to introduce the friendly origin, beautiful natural scenery and rich human history of your destination in a subtle and touching way. We can expect more competition online that will prompt travel brands to go further in their storytelling efforts.
Tourism Ireland produced a powerful mini film called “I will return” to showcase its unspoilt landscape and remind viewers that the island of Ireland will be waiting to ‘fill their hearts’ with its beauty and warmth. And until then, travelers can dream of future adventures. We translated and released this video on Tourism Ireland’s official WeChat expressing hope to see Chinese tourists again soon. The film garnered more than 3,000 viewers on WeChat and 11,000 on Weibo.
While the coronavirus crisis is a story with an unclear ending, we believe the China market should be prioritized in recovery planning. Now is the time to seize the sight of Chinese tourists so that interest can be converted to bookings once travel is reopened. Although Chinese tourists have suspended long-distance travel, the China Ministry of Culture and Tourism reports that domestic tourism surpassed expectations for the May Golden Holiday. While holiday travel was down 41% YOY, the 115 million trips taken during this period are encouraging signs for tourism recovery.