Having lived in Chengdu for two and a half years, Thijs van der Toom, now managing partner at NextportChina, foresaw a huge increase in tourism from China to Europe. Enough reason, he claims, for European companies to invest their time and money in learning how to meet the needs of Chinese travelers, before they even set foot on the plane.
Chinese tourism has mushroomed during the past few years, as has the average amount of money that Chinese people typically spend when they are on holiday. “About a third of a Chinese family’s travel budget is spent on shopping. Above all, they are, on average, about 20 years younger than their Western counterparts. It’s a booming middle-class consumer market,” explains van der Toom.
European companies are aware of this explosive growth but not of the services that could help them reach these potential new customers in China. This is what inspired NextportChina to help European companies improve their online presence in China. “Chinese consumers are heavy internet users, especially when it comes to online preparation for their holidays. So what better way could there be for European businesses to increase their visibility than digitally? Irrespective of the type of business, increasing your online profile is the ideal way to get yourself on Chinese tourists’ ‘must do’ lists.”
According to Van der Toom there are several routes to effective online awareness. NextportChina’s approach depends on the strategy and budget of the client. “Smaller businesses usually want to start off with a simple .cn website while others, like hotel chains and museums, go for full-scale online advertising campaigns. One of our clients wanted to focus on social media, aiming for more brand engagement.”
Online awareness is important, Van der Toom continues, but that doesn’t render offline service irrelevant. “We tell our clients to use a complementary offline strategy to add value to Chinese visitors’ stays.” The key is to think small, he adds, citing Chinese people’s penchant for illustrated restaurant menus as an example. “Westerners might see them as tacky, but Chinese customers appreciate it when European companies take their preferences into account. It’s those little extras that will help persuade Chinese tourists to visit your company and eventually recommend it back home too.”
The most challenging part for businesses that want more online awareness in China is making sure they approach customers correctly. “There’s much more to appealing to Chinese tourists than simply translating your website. Firstly, we help pinpoint the client’s target group: middle-aged white-collar executives from Shanghai perhaps, or teenagers from Nanjing?” After that it’s a question of Chinese market expertise. NextportChina is based in Amsterdam. But having a partner in Nanjing who specializes in search-engine advertising and using Chinese translators from Beijing makes them able to tailor their approach to local needs. “We aim for the best of both worlds. By exploiting our Chinese connections we know exactly how different target groups expect to be spoken to. And how to make our client’s first online impression a lasting one.”