Bordeaux region is luring Chinese wine lovers

It’s no secret that affluent Chinese tourists have become the backbone of the travel industry in many  countries.
This is especially true for France — as Paris is the most dreamed-about European destination for Chinese travelers.
But they have climbed the Eiffel Tower, tackled luxury shopping on Boulevard Haussmann and done all the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. What is left for them to do in France?
Well, wine tours might be the next big thing to get those visitors from the East to shell out big bucks.

French travel publisher Michelin has just released a Chinese guide book: “French Wine Tour” (法国葡萄酒之旅).
Having published 13 guide books in simplified Chinese since 2006 — most of them are of Western countries — this is Michelin’s first-ever theme tour guide in Chinese.
The Green Guide gives detailed information on the most well-known French vineyards and their wines, from Bordeaux and Burgundy to Champagne and Cognac.
“We provide travel guides based on readers’ demand and according to the traveling habits and lifestyle of Chinese people,” noted Miao Xiangbo (苗祥波), director of Michelin Guide China Maps and Traveling.
“The book shows the other side of France and helps tourists to enjoy French wine culture in depth.”
The Michelin wine guide, which will be available soon online and in Xinhua book stores nationwide, has arrived just in time. China officially overtook Germany and the United Kingdom to become the biggest wine importer of Bordeaux last September.
Movies have also spurred Chinese tourists to visit Bordeaux. “Cherish our Love Forever,” was partially shot in the region and starred Xu Jinglei (right) and Li Yapeng.

According to French Wine News, Chinese buyers spent US$311 million on Bordeaux wine between July 2010 and June 2011. So it’s no wonder that the region is welcoming Chinese tourists with open arms.
Grand Hotel de Bordeaux and Spa, a luxury resort located in the main shopping and pedestrian area of the city of Bordeaux, sent a delegation to Shanghai and Beijing in early November to promote their tailored wine tours and to learn about the booming market.
Without any previous marketing effort, five percent of the 150-room hotel’s guests came from China in 2010. The company’s general manager Yan Vacher estimated the number will be 11 percent for this year, and somewhere between 15-20 percent for 2012.
“So when you got this result, you’ve got to understand who are your clients — you’ve got to understand why they come to Bordeaux and what are their needs,” said Vacher.
Grand Hotel de Bordeaux and Spa arranges tailored private vineyard visits for its guests. Tourists can request meals or picnics with the owners or even a helicopter tour over different vineyards. Even the super-rich Chinese wine lovers can have their wine tour in private jets from Paris to Bordeaux, with limousines and Chinese speaking concierge service on arrival, but you need to be a member of the prestigious Shanghai Travelers’ Club.
The cost of a wine tour package starts from US$67. And since the tours’ launch, the hotel has witnessed very positive feedback from Chinese customers.Vacher also revealed that the hotel plans to open a Chinese restaurant next year to specifically cater to Chinese tourists.

Thomas Duroux, managing director of Chateau Palmer, said that 30 percent of visitors to his vineyard have been Chinese in the past six months, and they were looking for high-end wines with prestigious brands.
“The number of Chinese people in Bordeaux has increased tremendously — of course, we received a lot of professionals, but we also see a lot of tourists,” added Duroux, who estimated a fast growth in the number of visiting tourists in the near future.
Yan Vacher also anticipated wine tour to be the next trend among Chinese tourists to France because of the interest in learning about wine in China, and the fact that “Chinese travelers have just come to discover the region of Bordeaux.”

U.S. hotel chains take initiatives to attract more Chinese tourists

Inbound Chinese tourists contributed 5% to the total market share of U.S. travel and tourism exports during 2010, and travelers from the rapidly emerging country appear to be occupying a far greater share of attention from leaders of major hotel chains.
Chains such as Hilton Worldwide and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide earlier this year announced programs designed to cater to the unique needs and preferences of Chinese guests.
While the programs have been met with success thus far, according to company executives, more important is their abilities to capture part of the 274% projected increase in inbound Chinese travelers to the U.S. during the next five years.
Some of that increase is due to a Memorandum of Understanding which in 2007 opened group leisure from China to the United States. Previously only individual tourists and group business could enter the U.S., said Julie Heizer from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries during a breakout session at the 2011 International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show.
The move, in part, helped fuel a 53% increase in Chinese visitors to the U.S. from 2009 to 2010. China was the 11th market in terms of visitation to the U.S. during 2010 and eighth in terms of receipts (US$3.6 billion), according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
The Chinese traveler
Capturing a fair share of those receipts isn’t a matter of sitting back and waiting for the guests to roll in. It requires a proactive effort to better understand Chinese guests and ensure their experiences include some of the preferences and comforts of home.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts attempted to do that while launching its Hilton Huanying program. The company conducted a global research initiative, the findings of which were commissioned in a recently released blue paper.
“If Chinese people are more welcome around the world in every part of the travel industry, we’re all going to benefit,” said Andrew Flack, VP of global brand market for Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

Some key highlights from the blue paper include:

• Chinese outbound travel and tourism reached record levels in 2010, totaling 57.39 million, an increase of more than 20% compared with 2009.

• China is now the largest outbound tourist source country in Asia, having overtaken Japan.

• Total outbound tourism during 2011 is expected to reach 65 million visitor trips.

• During 2010, Chinese outbound tourists spent €35 billion (approximately US$47 billion) on their travels, up 14% from 2009. The figure is expected to reach €40.2 billion (approximately US$54.3 billion) during 2011, a rise of 14.6%.
As part of the IHM&RS panel, Flack outlined three additional insights from Hilton’s findings about the Chinese travel experience:

1. Shopping
Shopping is an extremely important part of the Chinese travel experience—but not for the material reasons one might expect. On the contrary, Chinese travelers shop to buy gifts for family, friends and business associates.
2. Food-and-beverage
The dining experience is another important aspect of Chinese culture. Flack emphasized the importance of authenticity in this regard. Chinese food as many Americans know it is a far cry from the offerings served on dinner tables on the other side of the world.
For this reason, Hilton created an authentic menu designed by Chinese chefs for its Huanying program. Offerings include such items as two varieties of congee with condiments, dim sum, fried dough fritters, fried rice and fried noodles.
3. Social recommendations
“It’s very important in Chinese culture to make the right choice and be seen making the right choice,” Flack said.

Chinese travelers rely heavily on social media to research travel.

According to Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a Shanghai marketing agency specialized in targeting affluent Chinese outbound tourists “Hilton and Starwood hotels made the right move by targeting Chinese tourists. They must now have an in-depht social media marketing campaign to reach and unlock the potential of hundred of thousands of new Chinese customers, as well as explaing the core values of their brands”. Gervois added “Serving Chinese tea and noodles to Chinese guests is a first good step, but without a strong presence on the relevant Chinese Travel blogs and websites, it won’t bring much more new Chinese customers”
“If you’re marketing yourself in that market, you have to be very visible in social media channels and everywhere that Chinese people are searching for the right choice for them,” Flack also said.

Chinese ultra-rich consumers are richer than ever

Analysts now know that the best place to learn about Chinese ultra-rich consumers is not the mainland. Rather the Maldives, double-chain of islands near the equator, proves to be the perfect place to launch a case study of Chinese consumerism. In 2010, more than 118,000 Chinese visited the country: a 109 percent increase from the year before, making the Chinese the number-one inbound market of the Maldives. Tourists here have helped form the new profile of Chinese consumers.

More Chinese are traveling overseas from smaller cities, places where growing middle classes are accumulating more wealth and do not face the financial pinch of rising housing prices and inflation felt by similar demographics in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which, according to Vincent Liu, a partner at BCG in Hong Kong, will eventually impact the spending power of travelers from first-tier cities.

“Many of them are richer than those from major cities,” says Roger Wang, head of Lukintl, a Beijing-based tour company that has taken thousands of Chinese to America since it was founded in 1996. “The tourists from the main cities are mostly from the middle class, while tourists from smaller cities are millionaires or government officials. Usually they have strong spending power.”

According to Wang, this demographic will spend more than $100,000 abroad, using credit cards or with money sent to them via wire transfer from friends. They tend to seek out famous brands.

A close look at these vacationers has enabled luxury companies worldwide to tailor their marketing strategies. “They are eager to buy something, because when they come here, they carry a lot of money,” says Shi Hui Ling, a so-called “guest experience manager,” who was handpicked from a tourism school in Dubai by Six Senses, a resort on a tiny island in an atoll called Laamu, to provide special service to guests from her homeland. “Something unique, they want to buy this.

However, it’s not just the unique that Chinese luxury vacationers are after: they still want the exclusive. Brands like Louis Vuitton are favorites in China and abroad. Travelers have no problem buying familiar products while on vacation, but they want the experience to be different.

“Our Chinese customers are buying more confidently into looks rather than individual pieces,” Jason Beckley, global marketing director at Alfred Dunhill, says. “They’re not impulse shoppers, and they’re discreet—they like a VIP or bespoke room, or even just to be offered tea or water when they are in the store.”

China’s Netizens, the name for the country’s 400 million web users, also offers creative labels the opportunity to enhance customers’ in-store experiences. “I think Internet shopping will be very hot in coming years,” says Wang. “People may choose the goods online and check when going abroad and finally buy. Because people here [in China] always doubt what is imported, I think overseas shops should have this business: reserve online and buy at the shop [abroad].”

Famous luxury travel clubs for China’s wealthy travelers such as the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, are very active on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo, and exchange travel tips with their members. (For example, where to buy a US$50Million super yacht…)

To capitalize on the growing number of tourists from smaller cities, retailers abroad would do well simply to have salespeople who speak Chinese. But creating more brand awareness in China — beyond Shanghai and Beijing – will pay off both on the mainland and abroad.