Getting the Most Out of WeChat for Travel Marketing

July 7th, 2015

WeChat offers the global tourism industry and brands an opportunity to establish connections with Chinese tourists without having to have a presence in China.

The Chinese have been quickly getting a lot more mobile. Mobile in terms of traveling across the globe in increasing numbers – 100 million global travelers from China in 2014. And mobile in terms of ditching their desktops for smartphones.

The shift to WeChat as the dominant social medium in China is proof of this.

WeChat is a mobile application combining strong social networking functions (think WhatsApp +Facebook) with content and e-commerce (with mobile payments built in). WeChat is a pretty comprehensive mobile ecosystem and is the “go-to” app for a wide range of online and offline tasks.

To this point, there are currently 468 million monthly active users in China. It is an essential, omnipresent tool for users and holds massive potential for travel and tourism marketing.

Chinese users take their phones (and WeChat) wherever they go.

The opportunity for travel marketers with WeChat is about two big things – building awareness into China and following that through to generate leads and bookings, and secondly, engaging with Chinese travelers on location, while they are visiting their destination.

There is usually a disconnect between the origin and destination, but WeChat solves this – and creates the possibility for multiple points of customer engagement along the user journey. Destination marketers (hotels, tourism boards, cruises, etc.), can look at a number of ways to connect by:

  • Setting up branded subscription accounts and building a regular stream of content – pictures, videos, and stories unique to the destination
  • Involving fans and Chinese key opinion leaders (KOL) to spread stories, pictures, and videos to expand the reach of the brand
  • Creating a service account to manage booking opportunities and customer service
  • Working with the multitude of online travel agents on WeChat to promote bookings
  • Enrolling Chinese travelers on-location to join a WeChat loyalty program
  • Incentivizing travelers to create and share content back to China
  • Providing on-location services to travelers (Chinese language concierge-like support)
  • Generating feedback or completed surveys from Chinese tourists on location through the WeChat platform

Retail Brands as Travel Marketers

WeChat provides a range of opportunities for destinations to build a presence in China and connect during the journey. It also opens up some unique opportunities for businesses that otherwise would have a hard time connecting with Chinese travelers – such as local retail brands, restaurants, and activities/experience operators.

These second-step beneficiaries of Chinese tourism may not regularly dedicate the budgets to support a full marketing effort into China to the same extent as hotels for instance.

WeChat closes a significant gap on the path to purchase (between China and destination), making awareness potentially much more actionable.

For instance, iconic local/regional/national retail brands could rationalize a marketing effort to build awareness in China if travelers from China make them a must-see during a trip to the destination.

These brands could look at some of the following efforts – from origin to destination – to start building their brands with Chinese consumers:

  • Create awareness/interest in China through content (brand/product stories)
  • Cooperate with travel and vertical-specific media in China to spread content
  • Co-op programs with hotels and aligned brands at same destination (i.e. “Shop Vancouver,” “Shop London,” “Shop New York”)
  • Build a following on WeChat
  • Send offers/promotions to travelers while they are visiting
  • Follow up by selling to these same customers after they return to China
  • Provide loyalty rewards, samples, user-get-user promotions (i.e. for them to give to a friend visiting your city)

By using WeChat to start building the brand into China, supporting purchases at destination (the brand’s home market), it is possible to “enter China” and start getting traction without the substantial costs, risks, and complexity of actually entering the market.

And, as sales start to grow, more effort and expense can be put toward expanding online sales to China. Chinese travelers have been confronted with a deluge of brands from around the world in every category imaginable.

The result of this flood of products to China has been (in a lot of cases) widespread commoditization of early products/brands and a lot of downward price competition. By marketing as a more authentic product of “place” to travelers, brands have the opportunity to maintain the high ground and earn cult status as products worth buying from destinations around the world.

Posted in WeChat