As China’s outbound tourist market rapidly expands, high-end hotels and retailers across the world are vying for the business of this important group. In the United States, one company on the front lines of this trend is China Elite Focus, a New York-headquartered, Chinese-language publisher that has been producing luxury travel magazines for Chinese readers since 2008. With content focused on destinations, hotels, cuisine, retail, and philanthropy, the magazines were created to meet demand by moneyed Chinese travelers for content on authentic, upscale experiences.
In order to learn more about how China’s luxury outbound travel market has evolved over the past six years, we talked to China Elite Focus CEO and Publisher Pierre Gervois about the changes he’s seen in Chinese travelers’ taste. Read below to hear his thoughts on Chinese travelers’ interest in getting a taste of American culture, the decline of the Chinese “100 percent shopping trip,” and how this fall’s Golden Week fared for U.S. luxury businesses.
What inspired you to start China Elite Focus?
In 2008, after having served as the president of a consulting company specialized in foreign investments in China, I decided to start a new publishing company and to publish high quality luxury travel magazines in Chinese Mandarin. A lot of my Chinese friends complained to me that they could not find any publication in Chinese language with curated and sophisticated content for their outbound travels. So our mission, from the beginning, was to bring to them beautifully written travel stories about the world’s most spectacular and exclusive experiences. I’m very proud of the job we have done with our team of very talented travel editors, lead by our Senior Travel Editor, Elaine Ke. Today we publish there magazines: the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, Luxury Hotels of America, and American Philanthropy.
How is the content of your magazines tailored to a Chinese audience?
All the content of our publications is written at our Shanghai office by Chinese editors. We do not translate from English an existing article; we produce our own original content. We are in constant exchange with our readers through Weibo, and we know what kind of themes or destinations they want to read stories about. For example, we have noted a strong interest for travel to the United States over the past year, and we have increased the stories about luxury travel experiences in the United States.
We’ve been reading a lot about how wealthy Chinese travelers are becoming more interested in “experiential” travel rather than just basic shopping and sightseeing. Have you noticed this trend growing among your readers?
That is true. The time of the “100 percent shopping trips” is done. The new generation of affluent Chinese outbound travelers is now very mature, extremely well-informed, and wants to discover new experiences, off the beaten tracks. We have published stories about horseback riding experiences in the Nevada desert in Luxury Hotels of America which had great success with our readers. Chinese shoppers tend now to plan much more carefully and in a very sophisticated way their shopping plan abroad. They are looking for more limited-edition items of lesser-known brands they have discovered on social media networks, rather that already well-known global brands, who have saturated the market with products over-marketed to Chinese customers.
One of your magazines focuses exclusively on luxury hotels in the United States. Which U.S. hotels are the most popular with Chinese travelers at the moment?
Luxury Hotels of America features in particular historical hotels, or hotels with a connection to the American culture. The kind of U.S. hotels that Chinese travelers like are boutique hotels, lodges, and ranches with a connection to nature and wildlife. We have seen a significant shift from standardized, large-size hotel chains to much smaller hotels offering a personalized experience. In New York City, we have seen that hotels in Brooklyn, built in former factories, in “hip” neighborhoods were a great success with Chinese travelers, as well as properties in the American West, offering a genuine local experience.
How was this season’s Golden Week for luxury hoteliers and retailers in the United States?
We have recently discussed with several well-known retailers in the United States, and they have been surprised by the evolution of the shopping behavior of Chinese customers and their use of social media to compare brands and know exactly where to buy. It was not uncommon for them to see Chinese customers with their iPads and mobile phones texting to their friends about brands and retailers. The digital integration of the shopping experience is now extremely important and mobile payments such as the Apple Pay will definitely be very popular with Chinese shoppers in the United States. Since the beginning, we have integrated our content with social media, and we are very pleased with this trend.
What are some ways in which U.S. luxury businesses are doing a good job of reaching and serving Chinese tourists? What are some ways in which they can improve?
U.S. luxury brands and luxury hotels can do much better! They are doing all right, and have a big margin to improve their relations with Chinese travelers on the three following points:
-No more stereotypes about Chinese tourists. A lot of U.S. hospitality, tourism, and retail companies still create marketing campaigns with the stereotype in mind of group tourists traveling in coaches, staying in cheap hotels, with entirely pre-arranged shopping programs. Most Chinese travelers do not want to travel this way anymore and choose themselves their hotels and their shopping experiences, without the help of travel agencies.
-Chinese travelers to the United States are looking for a genuine American experience. Some U.S. hotel chains have developed programs specifically for Chinese travelers with rooms decorated in a Chinese style, offer Chinese food only, and entertainment programs linked with Chinese culture. This is exactly the opposite of what Chinese tourists really want. They write to our editors and complain with us that they want to find a real American experience in hotels, not a “fake” Chinese experience! They have traveled for thousands of miles to have a taste of American culture and civilization.
-A more sophisticated and thoughtful marketing strategy with Chinese customers. U.S. luxury brands must understand that, in order to sell to Chinese tourists in the United States, they must start to promote and do branding in China, with specialized digital media targeting Chinese travelers planning their trip to the United States. It’s too late and very little effective to promote their brands in printed magazines or tourist guides distributed in airports or hotel lobbies, because the purchase decisions have already been made several weeks ago, in China. Digital native advertisement (sponsored content) is also very effective to create brand awareness. Chinese customers are early adopters of the newest technologies, and old-school marketing does not work and looks “uncool” to them. Social media integration and sponsored content are the two pillars of a successful campaign with Chinese tourists coming to the United States.
Source: Jing Daily
Major hotel brands are bending over backward to cater to the needs of the world’s most sought-after traveler: the Chinese tourist.
Now arriving on American shores in unprecedented numbers thanks to a streamlined visa process and a rising Chinese middle class, Chinese tourists are being treated to the comforts of home when they check in at the front desk. That means tea in rooms, congee for breakfast and Mandarin-speaking hotel employees.
Chinese “welcome programs” at chains like the Marriott and Hilton even address delicate cultural differences: No Chinese tour group should be placed on a floor containing the number four, which sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.
“They’re very relieved, like finally somebody’s doing these things that make sense,” said Robert Armstrong, a sales manager who handles bookings for Chinese travelers at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
More than a million Chinese visited the US in 2011, contributing more than US$5.7 billion ($7.2 billion) to the economy. That’s up 36 per cent from 2010, according to the Department of Commerce. By 2016, that figure is expected to reach 2.6 million Chinese.
In a striking departure from the traditional Chinese business traveler, a growing number of them are coming to America for fun – with lots of cash. (The average Chinese visitor spends more than US$6000 per trip.)
“Chinese Social Media networks are very important to help Chinese travelers to choose their hotel in the U.S.” said Pierre Gervois, Chief Executive Officer of China Elite Focus, a digital marketing agency based in Shanghai and Hong Kong. “New social media networks focused about travel in the United States have emerged last year, and are now very popular, such as Luxury Hotels of America (美国奢侈酒店), or Niuyue Mag (纽约志), and VIP Golf USA (美国VIP贵宾高尔夫). These social media networks allow Chinese travelers to ask for advice to other Chinese tourists coming back from the U.S., and also to rate hotels, golf courses, and retail stores. They are much more influent than travel agencies.”
And so hotels are competing to win the hearts of the Chinese. That may take the form of slippers and a tea kettle in the room or a Mandarin-speaking employee at the front desk.
“They drink tea. Eastern style, everything cold,” explained Charlie Shao, president of Galaxy Tours, a New York City-based Chinese tour agency. “They don’t walk inside the room with bare feet.”
It’s rare that Shao has to ask hotels for anything anymore. Marriott International, for example, now offers several Chinese breakfasts, depending upon which region of China the traveler hails from: there are salted duck eggs and pickled vegetables for eastern Chinese, for example, and dim sum and sliced pig’s liver for the southerners.
Major chains are also training employees to avoid cultural missteps that would offend a Chinese visitor. Superstition is a big one: Red is considered a lucky colour, along with the number eight, which signifies wealth. The colour white, meanwhile, is frowned upon.
Failing to respect the pecking order in a Chinese group is another common blunder.
“We try to make sure nobody’s on a higher floor than their boss,” Armstrong said. “Even if the boss is on a beautiful suite on the eighth floor, if the assistant is in a standard room on the 38th floor, it doesn’t translate.”
The race is also on to build loyalty within China’s borders. Last year, Starwood Hotels, which has a Chinese “specialist” at each American hotel, relocated its senior leadership team to China for a month. The Ritz-Carlton rotates general managers and other hotel staff into its Chinese hotels for three-year stints at a time. And both chains are banking on the success of their customer rewards programs, which have been a big hit in China.
“It’s important for our leaders to understand what’s going on there at a more personal level than just the statistics,” said Clayton Ruebensaal, vice president of marketing for the Ritz. “Everybody’s going after this market because of the sheer volume of luxury customers. At the same time, it’s a very crowded landscape.”
In response to the surge in Chinese visitors, the State Department decided earlier this year to spend US$22 million on new facilities in several Chinese cities and add about 50 officers to process visa applications. And in February, the US government said Chinese visitors who had obtained an American visa within the last four years did not have to reapply in person but could apply via courier.
As a result, visa interview wait times in China are just under a week.
But some experts say the US still lags far behind other countries, especially in Europe, when it comes to attracting Chinese tourists. America is woefully ill-prepared to welcome China at an industry-wide level, especially at restaurants and major attractions, said Rich Harrill, director of the Sloan Foundation Travel & Tourism Industry Centre at the University of South Carolina.
“We’re not as ready as we should be,” Harrill said.
“We don’t have the language skills. We have an opportunity to be on the ground floor of something that could be very, very big.”
By John Parker
Reproduced with permission from the blog www.americanthinker.com
Note: The Editorial team of “Chinese tourists Blog” does not necessarily endorse all ideas expressed in the following article, but whish to publish it because of its quality and its contribution to the debate about appropriate marketing strategies to attract Chinese tourists to the U.S.
One of the most disappointing exhibits at Shanghai’s Expo 2010, which ended October 31, was the U.S. pavilion — a dismal combination of ineptitude and self-loathing political correctness. As an effort to attract Chinese tourists to the U.S. or improve America’s image in China, the pavilion was an epic failure.
It’s not very surprising that Shanghai Expo 2010, which just ended (coincidentally) on Halloween night, never attracted much interest in the U.S. American tourists, already in a penny-pinching mood due to the recession, were reluctant to spring for a transpacific flight ticket and also put off by a certain nervousness about growing Chinese power, which the Expo site itself, purposely dominated by the immense red ziggurat of the China pavilion, only heightened.
Having said that, the Expo as a whole was actually much more interesting and worthwhile than one might have expected. The event’s best national pavilions managed to show off the best aspects of each country with dazzling architecture, lighting, and priceless treasures like the Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen harbor, the centerpiece of Denmark’s pavilion; or “The Dance Hall in Arles,” a Van Gogh which featured prominently in the French pavilion. The favorite pavilion of this writer was Spain’s, a brilliantly conceived audiovisual experience which managed to tell visitors everything important about Spain, past and present, without boring them for even a second. Spain was also represented by three extremely well done and effective city pavilions, for Bilbao, Barcelona, and Madrid. Actually, Spain’s pavilions were so well done, in comparison to the environmentalist hair-shirt-wearing that characterized many other European pavilions, that a visitor might reasonably conclude that the torch of leadership in Western civilization had passed to Spain for the first time in several centuries.
And then there was the U.S. pavilion, voting “present” at history’s biggest-ever opportunity to win over Chinese tourists. According to the organizers, the pavilion, organized around a “rising to the challenge” theme, was intended to “tell the story of the American spirit of perseverance, innovation, and community-building in a multi-dimensional, hi-tech presentation” and “presented the US as a place of opportunity and diversity where people come together to change their communities for the better.” The reality was quite different: a muddled, disappointing fiasco which was hobbled by a combination of self-flagellating political correctness and cluelessness about what would actually interest Chinese visitors, all exacerbated by procrastination and an embarrassing lack of funds.
The disappointments began with the pavilion’s architecture. The aluminum-clad structure was supposedly intended to resemble “eagles’ wings.” After examining it from every conceivable angle, I still fail to see the resemblance. While not exactly ugly, the structure (which one internet wag compared to a “combination air cleaner and Bose sound system”) was stylistically unimaginative and overly cost-conscious — which might be defensible when building an industrial park in Wichita, Kansas, but made no sense at all when constructing an Expo pavilion intended to show off the country to foreigners.
The attractions within, however, were a far more serious letdown. These basically consisted of three films, which the average visitor could reach only after waiting in the hot sun for several hours. It is illuminating to summarize each of these in turn, then compare what the pavilion organizers were trying to convey with what a typical mainland Chinese visitor would actually think.
The first film, “Welcome to America,” showed various Americans trying to say “welcome to the U.S. pavilion” in bad Chinese. Mildly amusing, it did succeed in its goal of eliciting chuckles from Chinese visitors. However, most people in China think of the U.S. as an extremely powerful and advanced country that China will have to struggle for decades to catch up with; although the state media’s reporting on the U.S. is almost exclusively negative, as is the depiction offered by China’s education system, many Chinese, not trusting their own government, suspect that the U.S. is actually a paradise of wealth and freedom relative to their own country. Any local entering the pavilion with this attitude must have been confused, if not stunned, by “Welcome to America,” which depicted Americans as amiable, slightly dimwitted goofballs.
The second film, “The Spirit of America”, was a series of personal testimonials that were intended to “create a living portrait of the US, [and] personify America’s drive and spirit, while speaking to the power of imagination and partnership.” In actuality, it was a disorganized series of touchy-feely, vaguely environmentalist musings by young children and uncomfortable-looking corporate representatives, whose main purpose seemed to be to fill time between the short welcoming speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama which respectively began and ended the film. (…)
The third and final film, “The Garden,” was the biggest letdown of all. Granted, it was at least technically proficient, with oblong screens and a few cute effects like misting the audience when it rained on screen. However, content-wise, it was an unmitigated disaster. The film was intended to convey a message that people can work together to make their cities better, featuring a story of a young girl who succeeds in turning a small vacant lot into a garden park after overcoming many obstacles. The implementation of this concept might have gone over well with an audience of undergraduates at a second-tier journalism school in the U.S., but as the main attraction at the U.S. Expo pavilion, it was so spectacularly inappropriate and downright clueless that this writer literally cringed watching it.
This was for a number of reasons. At an event where literally every other country present tried to put its best foot forward, this film presented U.S. cities as decaying and backward, which, besides representing an obsession with the negative, is factually incorrect — American cities certainly have bad neighborhoods, but they are not crime-ridden ghettos as a whole. (…)
The self-deprecating nature of the film was totally unsuited for the audience. Self-criticism, in general, is a Western phenomenon; outside the West, self-congratulation is the norm.(…) Westerners win points with their compatriots by “standing up and taking responsibility” when things go wrong. In Asia, historically, people who “stand up and take responsibility” for disasters have usually been decapitated shortly thereafter. Chinese people already believe that their culture is the greatest on earth and China is the greatest country on earth; hence, a self-critical presentation not only will not impress them, but it also will tend only to confirm their already ample prejudices against you. (…)
History will judge the U.S. Expo pavilion as a huge missed opportunity for two reasons. First, a well done pavilion could have helped to ameliorate our chronic trade deficits with China by attracting a generation of mainland Chinese to America’s world-class tourist attractions. Second, the Expo represented a rare opportunity to present a positive image of the U.S. to millions of Chinese visitors. Regrettably, the actual pavilion completely failed on both counts: the organizers were trying so hard to be friendly and welcoming that they forgot to say anything positive about America, the likely result being that an entire generation of Chinese tourists will book tickets to Spain instead. As a U.S. expatriate in China, it appalls me that 7 million Chinese people visited this slab of epic fail with high hopes and are now equating it with America itself. Trust me: we’re going to regret this one later.
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