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.