There’s a tourism resurgence in China right now.
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The Chinese market was first into the COVID-19 crisis in January, but with infections abating, there’s been a rebound in domestic travel in China.
Growth was initially spurred by tremendous incentives. “You could fly almost anywhere for $35,” states Alexander Gloss from I2I Media. “Airlines were offering $500 year-round passes, 5-star hotels were $50-$60 a night.”
That has changed as the country has come out of the crisis effectively with the number of infections and mortality extremely low, Gloss states. Resort occupancy is in the 90% range in some areas. More importantly, they are getting the rates. “Traditionally August has been very low season so the fact that these places are open and full is quite remarkable,” he says.
Gloss comments that restaurants, theaters and even Disney in Shanghai are open. Everyone is wearing masks, and regional and national apps on phone tells whether citizens have been to dangerous zones or got in contact with someone who has tested positive.
If there’s one message Gloss would share, it’s that there is a rebirth, there is hope. “In China, there’s a natural inclination to ‘see what’s on the other side.’”
Safety is very important in leading to this domestic recovery. For example, the southern resort destination of Hainan requires national health apps that monitor whether you’ve been exposed to someone who has the virus or been in high-impact areas. When passengers arrive at the airport, they take an acid test that’s able to determine if you are infected or not in 30 minutes.
Once you are “in the bubble,” as Gloss states, it’s like you stepped back in time. Nobody has a mask. Theaters are open, restaurants are open. The swimming pool is open, as are buffets. All types of things you don’t experience in North America right now. Chinese travelers like the system very much.
I2I has a successful trade show business, and Gloss is forging ahead with international trade shows, including one scheduled for Italy this November. “For travel buyers from any market, it’s very important for them to understand what the market is about. Pictures and videos don’t really do that justice,” he states. “From a b2b standpoint, every product is not a commodity. Every hotel is not created the same—it’s not a can of coke. Every city is different. You know what your clients want, you need to make sure that that property is an extension of your business,” Gloss states.
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As for the future, Gloss sees a return to international travel for citizens, once it’s safe. “What we’re seeing now in China is a lot pent-up demand. People are spending a lot of money in China right now, but as soon as that door opens, the first 10% will go internationally, and they will share that with their closest friends on social media, then the next 900 will go, then the next 900 will go.” Two daily flights are now operating to Taiwan.
Specific to the U.S. market, while there’s a lot of friction between the two governments, Gloss doesn’t feel it will influence travelers. “I think honestly there is a lot of political noise between the U.S. and China, but the Chinese consumer can look beyond that, they can filter that out.” Gloss continued, “The reason Chinese travel to America is they want to experience Chicago, they want to go to the Grand Canyon, to go fishing in Key West. They want to live that American experience. They want to be that cowboy. And again, share that with their friend on social media. That’s not going to go away. The Chinese travel consumer will come back to the U.S.” Gloss points out that there must be adjustments to the messaging based on safety and hygiene.
What should businesses be doing now to attract Chinese travelers?
“We have clients who are sitting and waiting and we don’t recommend that. The Chinese global traveler is alive and well. And they are thinking about what they are going to do when the borders open. Travel suppliers that go dark are missing a tremendous communications and marketing opportunity, states Gloss. “The Chinese consumer is doing other things, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t thinking about what they are doing next year. If you wait until the borders open, it’s going to be you and a thousand other destinations all clamoring for the same consumers. Your message is going to get lost.”
I2I tracks social media habits and points out that brands that have gone dark have seen followers on those platforms plummet. But clients that have continued to push, they are actually growing because people have more time today. “Yes, you’re not selling anything today, but if you’re a destination, you’re more focused on marketing and communications – keeping that connection with that client, especially that repeat traveler, because they are going to come back.”