China overtakes the UK as the number one source of international visitors to the USA

China

This will be the headline within 5 years from now, according to the Department of Commerce/National Travel and Tourism Office.
The forecast predicts 4.9 million Chinese visitors versus 4.4 million Brits. China generated 1.8 million arrivals in 2013, setting a new record for arrivals to the United States for the seventh consecutive year. China now ranks 7th in visitors to the United States. Spending by Chinese visitors to and within the United States was a record $21 billion in 2013, second only to Canada.
5 years is not a long time in global marketing. Are we ready? What lessons can we learn from the past?
Many years ago before the modern world existed (1992 pre-internet) I was Chairman of the International Marketing Committee with the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Inbound tourism to the USA was in its infancy in general marketing terms. Many larger travel, tourism and hospitality companies had established international sales strategies that were simple in nature due to the (then) lack of electronic sophistication.
The US industry was familiar with marketing to the European countries and were embarking on South American initiatives. South America was regarded as an emerging market.
Making many headlines back in the early 1990’s was the super resilient Japanese market. They were known as high spenders and everybody wanted a piece of the Yen action. Back in 1990 3.2 million Japanese visited the USA. They spent on average $2,312 per person. Compare that to the $330 per person coming from Canada, but there were 17.3 million Canadians and were much easier to reach from a marketing perspective. Japan became the “Market du Jour” and we went all out to sell the USA to the Japanese.
The big “ah-ha” moment was quickly learnt, how do we not just attract but more importantly, how do we serve international travelers. Being smart and savvy marketers we began to gain insight into the Japanese traveler.
Food, as an example, was very American. Asian items simply didn’t exist in mainstream hotel menus. We weren’t too good in understanding other cultures, traditions and matters of protocol.
We can’t attract international visitors and forget that we have to serve them. This was the key driver behind my small team writing and publishing a book on International Marketing, called “The Hospitality Guide to Attracting and Serving International Travelers”. This was published by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
It became so popular that we teamed up with the Department of Commerce, US Travel Association and many DMO’s and developed a road show providing a practical approach to the topic.
Fast forward.
Today, China is the country getting all the attention. Our government has just announced the extension of the validity of tourist and business visas to ten years, Brand USA have compelling sales and marketing programs in place, many states have launched aggressive marketing plans with China as a stated top priority, NTA have a dedicated China program, many mega hotel brands have sales programs and regional Chinese offices in place – some for many years.
A few weeks ago, CITM (China International Travel Mart) took place in Shanghai with the largest contingent of American suppliers. The participants ranged from large to small suppliers, each wanting to grab a share of the rapidly expanding Chinese outbound market.
Many participants will not get Chinese visitors. That may sound harsh but it will be a matter of fact. If you build it they may not necessarily come. Do you have something that will appeal to a Chinese traveler? What will it take to woo these Chinese travelers? Are you prepared to make the long term investment required and have you built your ROI model?
China expert Chris Spring, president of New York based Spring O’Brien, represents the China National Tourist Office here in the USA. He suggests that a good first step is to develop relationships with the established Chinese inbound operators here in the USA. Chris noted “If you have the right product in the right place you will get immediate business. By developing product with the inbound operators you will learn the nuances of the Chinese traveler first hand. It will be an invaluable learning tool and a lot less expensive than a sales or marketing program in China.”
China has four times the population of the USA. How much do you invest in the easier to reach domestic market? Is your investment in China going to resonate?

Before you follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and begin your Chinese adventure I would strongly suggest a deep understanding of what the road ahead looks like. In the words of a Chinese proverb “Dig the well before you are thirsty”. Be prepared. Here is a basic check list that may help you before you start seeing Chinese travelers at your front door.

  • Are there any Chinese travelers already visiting my area?
  • Do I have Chinese translations of any informational material?
  • I have Chinese translations of any informational material?
  • Do I have a Chinese speaker on staff or in my community?
  • Are Chinese language menus available?
  • Are menu items Chinese friendly?
    •   Rice option
    •   Asian veggies
    •   Chili sauce (Chinese not Heinz)
    •   Soy sauce
    •   Tea
  • Appropriate dining utensils
  • Is there a smoking area
  • Are there globally understood symbols in place
  • Where can currency be exchanged
  • Is there a local doctor who speaks Chinese
  • Free WiFi connectivity

A pragmatic self assessment will help you define your real potential. Do you have a marketing plan? Does your location have appeal to the Chinese market? Are you accessible? Does your DMO have a plan in place that you can co-op with? Do you understand your defined target market? As with any market Chinese travelers do not all share the same demographic. Are you up to date with current affairs that may impact your plans? Can results be measured?
China will, without doubt, have a dramatic impact on inbound tourism. There are many who have been marketing to China for numerous years. It would be prudent to listen to those who have made this marketing journey before. Let’s learn from lessons of the past. I will end appropriately with another Chinese proverb…”Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep”.

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Leveraging Today’s Travel Technology Tools to your Advantage

Touchpoint

Accor just announced they aim to regain power from the OTAs. They will spend $284 million between now and 2018 in digital initiatives that will reverse the 60/40 current OTA imbalance to a more reasonable 40/60 ratio and trend away from OTAs by focusing on “being outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey.” This, on the heels of Expedia Inc. third quarter results (10/30/14) of 50% year over year income growth of $257.1 M.

I applaud Accor’s action to win back the hearts and minds (and wallets) of their customer and I offer smaller organizations a digital strategy for a lot less than $284 million.

How do you become outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey? We start that journey with the first step; gaining actionable insight from relevant available data. Let’s also acknowledge that every single customer touch point is an opportunity to engage.

Relevant insight provided by available technology will allow you to engage more personally, more frequently and importantly – ahead of the competition and is a key step in regaining control from the OTAs.

Success today, in its simplest form, is all about successfully connecting with your audience. The key pillars of success have been built by delivering the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience.

This concept has not changed but most certainly evolved as technology has allowed us to gain advanced actionable insights into the demographic, psychographic and other behavioral characteristics of the consumer. This allows a high degree of personalization and relevance. .

The travel consumer of today differs dramatically from the travel consumer of the past. Yesterday’s planning process was linear. There were less research options available. Today’s consumer is more non-linear in approach, almost a mind mapping process, with one thought leading to another, and then another.

Search engines are the reason for this non-linear travel planning approach. Review sites, OTA’s, DMO sites – a plethora of options. There are so many sites visited in the planning process and can be as many as thirty, according to Expedia. “Yesterday” we would visit our travel agent and ask planning questions for a visit to Paris. Today, typing in Paris in Google gets over 180 million results in about one half second. No lack of information! So, how do we as hoteliers, destinations, cruise lines, attractions and tour operators beat the OTA multi-million digital marketing spend, win the customer and yield award winning ROI, increase revenue and intent to purchase?

  1. Increase and Enhance Lead Generation Success

Understand who your customer is. Better still, analyze your high valued customers. It’s this group you want to truly gain valuable decision making insights. Define their DNA. DNA may vary by strategy. Are you looking for a high spending “One and Done” traveler, or a traveler that is more predisposed to frequent visits? Perhaps you may want to identify travelers who have visited more recently, that have more top of mind awareness. Whoever your ideal customer is, understand their DNA. This DNA is what you will use to clone your high valued customers. This will be essential as you embark on getting higher converting guests, visitors, passengers and customers. Once you have your “cloned” group identified your objective is to figure out where this identified group shop. There are service providers who do a great job in this type of marketing and this effort is much more sophisticated that list rentals.

  1. Let Technology Outsmart your Competition

I have always been intrigued by successful non-travel technology and adopting and adapting it for travel, tourism and hospitality. One such technology was developed in California by higher math PHDs and published Neural Scientists and mimics the way the human mind reasons content. This technology’s strongest value is the early intersection of travel planning before destination decisions are made. The kicker here is that your rich media banner ads will be dynamically displayed on over one million potential websites ONLY when the content and consumer is considered a match by the technology. You can also integrate RTB (Real Time Bidding) strategies. This higher degree of relevancy will lead to higher conversions. This is customer triggered and also incorporates “offsite” retargeting. Key data is provided enabling you to make strategy shifts “on the fly”. There are a number of service providers that can access many more websites than available through Google’s or OTA channels. For smaller organizations this lets you to punch above your weight. For larger organizations you can outperform OTA’s.

  1. Get a Better Meta Platform

Until now, metasearch engines only allowed the consumer to book through an Online Travel Agency (OTA). Enter disruptive technology. Today, metasearch has met metadirect, allowing consumers to book directly with destinations, hotels, cruise lines, attractions, tour operators etc. You are getting closer to your customer and increasing your chances of enhanced personalized engagement. Embedding a meta direct booking tool within your dynamic display ad will not only increase intent to purchase but provide increased profitability by sending the customer directly to your site.

Tapping in to these newer technologies will not only give you an edge on your competition but also against OTAs. You will not only be developing your own web of relevance, but you will be able to test, measure and refine. You can now tag along with the travel consumer on their journey as they undergo travel metamorphosis from ideation → researcher → planner → shopper → purchaser. . Your own messaging can also change based upon the point of the travel planning cycle.

Ultimately there is a question of price. Price is relative. Accor have announced their budget of $284 million. What are the projected costs in the strategies I have outlined above? These services can be developed individually or bundled. In my experience, a refined lead generation program can start as low as $10,000. Effective integration of all three strategies discussed in this article can cost about $60,000. Many decimal points to the left of the Accor budget. This can deliver a stunning ROI.

Depending on the size of your business, this represents a compelling investment for customer acquisition and creates a positive environment to level the playing field with OTAs’

In our efforts to captivate the traveling public, it isn’t only the Big Boys that have all the “toys” to deliver the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience. Today, we are blessed with incredible resources and leading edge technology that will transform insight into action, leading to increased relevance, engagement and conversion.

The Art of Content Strategy

Content Strategy 2

For years we have known that Content is King. More recently (our current Social (R)evolution), we have engaged Content in a different place. Namely, at the intersection of Search and Social.

Sometimes we shy away from content because we don’t understand its hierarchy in our attempts to captivate and intrigue the customer. Traditionally, content is for publishers. However, by having a website automatically makes us a publisher. We need to think as a publisher and act as a publisher. Our audience thrives on content. Relevant content, refreshed on a regular basis is a necessity. No news is actually bad news.

Content has re-emerged as the marketing go-to superstar in the social world we live in. Yet so many companies do not have a Content Strategy. First we have to agree on what a Content Strategy is all about. To me, it is simply stated as “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device”. Easier said than done. The customer is at the epicenter of the universe attacked by a non-stop barrage of whirling junk debris and we as customers have become smarter and do a decent job of avoiding this clutter.

How do we avoid being part of the clutter? Embracing the “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device”  definition, where do we start ?

We start with customer insights. Understanding needs and wants and delivering a ‘sensing and serving’ approach to the customer. As seamless as possible. Data driven. Relevant, timely and personal. A good Content Strategy will extend the Life Time Value of your customers.

Successful Content Marketing is developed by organizing your customers into clusters or persona’s. This allows us to message appropriately. It keeps our eye on the ball and we can build Objective Profiles that relate to your defined customer group(s).

As we gain insight from this defined group we determine the triggers that will drive them to (as an example) your website. The goal here is to get your product or service, your destination or hotel, on to the radar screen and in to the consideration zone. But first we need to intrigue them with relevant content to fuel their planning and ideation process.

We should learn the timing of this from insights gained from the characteristics and behavior patterns of the defined group. Maybe even overlaid with transactional data.

Next develop your Communication Calendar. The Communication Calendar should again be driven by data insights. Preferably triggered by the customer as opposed to “Spray and Pray”. If you have specific events, make sure that you have created the persona group that will improve response rates and conversion. Remember the mantra “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device”.

You are now ready to share your content. Make sure your content is the right content for the defined group. Is there anything missing? Do you need to grab additional content. Does the content fit the group. As an example, mountain biking content at a resort might not fit a customer group composed of Boomers. (Although a number of Boomers do enjoy mountain biking).

Today’s Über-Connected consumer can reach you from a multitude of channels and devices. Your content strategy should identify the various customer touch points. This requires some creativity in repackaging your content in to something that looks new and fresh. As an example; a series of top notch consumer generated themed photos collected over the last few months repackaged to tell a themed story. All content shared should be classy, polished and compelling. And remember that the first point of contact is likely to be mobile. Make sure you content renders well in this environment.

As you define your Content Strategy ensure your framework has good metrics. If you can’t measure it seriously consider it being part of your plan. What can’t be measured normally doesn’t get funded.

Another major reason for a Content Strategy (as if we needed another reason) is the continually changing algorithmic playing field from Google as they continue to tinker with their search bots. We have witnessed Google give content a higher priority over keywords. Cramming keywords in to posts and messaging doesn’t cut it anymore. We should be more concerned about the topic searched and make sure it is found in an authoritative and naturally flowing content. This landscape will be in continual flux as Google’s encrypted organic search keyword algorithms change in future updates.

Bottom line is that consumers love content, fresh compelling content…and so do Google bots.

So, let’s head in the right direction at the intersection of Search, Social and Content or you could be headed down Lonely Street and checking in to Heartbreak Hotel.

heartbreak-hotel

The Art of Trust

Trust

The story goes something like this….Need to plan a weekend trip….I have selected my destination and now I quickly look at TripAdvisor to read reviews on the hotels I am considering. Reviews from strangers that lead us to make a purchase decision. The power of social media, content and search…all wrapped up with a nice little bow. We trust strangers’ reviews, but ultimately it’s TripAdvisor we trust. It is TripAdvisor that, over time, built and earned this trust.

How did TripAdvisor gain this incredible trust factor? Trust builds better and faster results. Everyday new businesses emerge all focused on speed to market. But without the trust factor many are doomed. What should we be doing to build trust? Consider these ideas to get you started.

1. Keep it Personal
Treat your customers as individuals, which they are. Mass marketing died in the last century. Mass personalization took over. The more you can personalize and individualize the customer experience the faster you will win their trust and their business. Take a look at yourself. What do you think others would say about you? Are you sincere, reliable, respectful and dependable.

2. Transparency
Being open and honest will stand you in good stead. You don’t have to remember lies or half truths. Keeping honest is much easier than the alternative. If something goes wrong admit it and resist the temptation to spin. You will get found out and it is difficult to climb out of that slippery hole you dug for yourself.

3. Clarity
Has somebody ever said to you…”Well, technically…….” and whatever follows you know is a spin. You have be straight forward and squeaky clean to quickly gain trust. Use language that is unambiguous. Language that cannot be misunderstood. It is not as easy it sounds.

4. Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk
The cliché has been around a while but its message is extremely relevant in building trust. Always deliver on your promise no matter how small or how big. A wedding vow is a huge life altering commitment. Honoring your commitments in business is a significant factor that builds an incredibly strong reputation. Good reputations travel fast these days due to the viral dynamics of our social networks (i.e. TripAdvisor) further cementing and building trust driven by an independent social army.

5. Integrity
Being responsible and accountable will go a long way in building integrity. Integrity is one of the key pillars of trust. Having integrity in business means that you have values and guiding principles. Nordstrom’s taught the world about integrity and values. They built fiercely loyal customers because Nordstrom’s listened to them and served them, no matter what. Integrity is a passion. It is part of the Brand personality.

We recall Robert De Niro and the Byrnes family Circle of Trust from the 2000 movie Meet the Parents. As De Niro explained to Ben Stiller, and I paraphrase…… “If I can’t trust you, then I will have no choice than to put you outside the Circle of Trust and once you are out Greg, you are out, and there’s no coming back. You will never get back in.” In business, as in our personal lives, trust takes time to build but can be shattered in a New York minute.

Trust recovery is painful and never easy but if you find that you have over committed or cannot meet a promise or deadline, be the first person to immediately communicate the problem personally, apologize face to face or at least over the phone. Never with an email. Make a new promise and be 100% confident that you can keep that promise “as advertized”.

It’s no wonder there are many companies that have built a business around Reputation Management! Much needed by businesses like AIG, BP, Goldman Sachs, and a longer list of celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, Pee Wee Herman, George Michael, Hugh Grant, Paula Deen, Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, Lance Armstrong…OK enough, I hear you say (as you add more to this list.)

You can trust me when I say that it is better to actually demonstrate trust than talking about trust. Trust, after all, is earned and needs to be part of your DNA.