The reopening of China’s borders is set to launch a new era in the travel industry. After three years of waiting, passport-holders in China need little persuading to book their next overseas trip. This comes as welcome news for the global tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the absence of Chinese tourists.
The Chinese travel industry, however, has undergone significant changes since 2020, with new forms of travel marketing taking off in China. Short-form video, livestreams, hashtag challenges, and KOL marketing have transformed the way people discover destinations, plan their trips, and share their travel experiences. Douyin’s new “Daka” (check-in) feature has also created a buzz that’s swept the country (generating over a trillion views in the past year) but more on that later in this post! Let’s see what’s changed.
Lessons from recent travel trends within China
Recent trends from the domestic travel market point to growth in interest-based travel such as snow sports, beach and ocean activities, cycling, and theme parks that favor more upclose and active experiences over passive observation and structured sightseeing.Interest in more intrepid and under-the-radar travel destinations, such as the western part of China with beautiful landscapes and hospitable local communities growing as a preference for seasoned travelers.
With international borders opening up, this trend could translate to an increased interest in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Dubai, and the rest of the Middle East, especially following the FIFA World Cup held in Qatar.Finally, the preference of Chinese travelers continues to shift away from traditional packaged tours to more specialized, bespoke, and curated experiences. This shift in appetite means that some countries and cities will likely capture a higher market share than prior to the 2020 travel restrictions.
How to plan a travel marketing strategy for China
Unlike other purchasing decisions, it’s important to know that people in China tend to plan their travels many months in advance. In China, the duration of paid annual leave is only 5-15 working days and most overseas destinations require a lengthy visa application.This process leads many working-age people in China to plan their trip 6-12 months in advance and sometimes travel during extended public holidays, namely National Week in the first week of October, and increasingly Chinese New Year at the start of the year.
Official Week-Long Public Holidays 2023
- Jan 21-27: Spring Festival
- Sep 29-October 6: Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day
Other public holidays in China are typically merged with a weekend or extended by adding a workday before or after the holiday to create a 3-4 day window for short travel. These short holidays can also be extended further using paid leave.
Jan 1: New Year’s Day
Apr 5: Qingming Festival
Apr 29-May 3: Labor Day
Jun 22-24: Dragon Boat Festival
Summer (Jul-Aug) and winter (Jan-Feb) holiday breaks in China are also essential times of the year for the travel industry, with Chinese parents often using their annual leave to travel with their children.
Conversely, travel for retirees is popular in Autumn and Spring and represents a large potential market given the retirement age in China is between 50 and 60 years of age. Traditionally, this demographic is more likely to opt for group travel or travel with family members.
Thus, knowing who your target audience is, how they travel (i.e. independent or group travel), and when they plan their travel is a vital source of information when it comes to the next step of designing your travel marketing content.
New tourism marketing features on Douyin
Given the high number of Chinese tourists using their smartphones to book flights, hotels, and coordinate their travels, it’s important to start with a mobile-first strategy. This includes having a mobile-friendly website that loads quickly in China as well as targeting traffic on popular apps, including video-sharing platforms.
Around the world, everyone’s hooked on short-form video content. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it’s especially good at showcasing cool destinations and unique travel experiences. Video is also immersive, which helps users form an emotional connection with a specific travel destination.
Similar to product placement in film and television, Douyin marketing is now implemented as a go-to strategy for educating people about potential travel destinations using video content. As users browse through their short-video feed on Douyin, there are opportunities to tempt those users with a new dining experience or hotel stay in a destination that wouldn’t otherwise be on their radar.
Additionally, travel marketers can leverage Douyin’s in-app features, such as:
KOL marketing tours,
Viral hashtag challenges, and
Short-video series to promote unique destinations and drive tourism from Chinese travelers.
The Douyin Daka feature, for example, lets users check in at locations they visit and upload photos, allowing their followers to see where they are and what they are up to. The Daka feature also lets users view who else has checked in at the same location.
Thus, if travelers are looking for suggestions on what to do in a new city and they want local insights on the best spots to visit, they can simply find visitors who have already been there and gather useful tips and insights.
In recent years, we’ve seen a constant stream of destinations go viral and it’s not uncommon for a Douyin video to turn a formerly unknown place into the hottest travel spot and Daka destination.
POI is another popular feature used by travelers when they share videos of what they found interesting during their travels. By clicking on the interactive POI button, users are directed to a page where videos created for the same location are aggregated into one place. On this page, users can view a candid and fresh overview of that POI through the eyes of like-minded travelers on Douyin.
How to create tourism marketing videos
Native creation: New video content designed and tailored to a Chinese audience
Third-party content: Generated from followers (i.e. user-generated content campaigns) or a paid KOL/influencer
General repurposing: Reposting existing video content delivered in English
Subtitled repurposing: Reposting existing video content using Chinese subtitles
Advanced repurposing: Editing existing videos localized for the Chinese market
The final option, in particular, is an effective strategy to create content that not only resonates but also attracts local users to book their next overseas trip.
Keep in mind that local influencers with a track record of success on your target platform and a trusted voice in the travel marketing industry usually have a higher chance of growing your brand in China than a less-known overseas KOL. Chinese KOLs based overseas are also an ideal choice as they understand the target audience in China and the fine details of the target destination.
Douyin livestreaming & KOL marketing
Beyond video creation, there is the option of livestreamed tours and talk shows, which often have more power to convert purchases and foster engagement based on real-time interactions. From natural parks to cultural institutions, livestreams are used widely to promote tourism offerings in China and host Chinese KOL marketing events.
One example is the Tourism Administration of Dubai, which registered over 3 million likes and 130,000 followers by posting over 100 Douyin videos on its tourism marketing channel.
Livesteaming also gives users the ability to connect with Chinese influencers around the world in real-time and at a minimal cost compared with other tourism marketing channels.
Using Ocean Engine to market and advertise to Chinese tourists
As highlighted in this post, social apps such as Douyin offer enormous potential to go viral and reach a niche audience. The best way to create a tourism marketing solution on one or more social apps is through the Ocean Engine platform.
Recognized as Kantar BrandZ’s Most Valuable Chinese Brands Top 100 for 2021, Ocean Engine provides integrated advertising and marketing solutions all in one convenient place. Using Ocean Engine, users can deliver ads and marketing campaigns on Douyin, Toutiao, CSJ (Chuanshanjia), and other popular mobile apps in China.
Airbnb, for example, has kept its brand alive during the pandemic by taking advantage of Ocean Engine and its powerful travel marketing solutions to host live events. Hosted by popular Chinese KOLs, their series of livestreams revealed unique and behind-the-scenes stories.
Airbnb’s six livestreams were promoted by In-Feed Ads on Douyin and Toutiao to generate traffic in real-time, and followed up with a paid campaign to drive bookings.
Airbnb’s tourism marketing strategy is just one example of how businesses can leverage Douyin and Chinese KOL marketing to keep their brands top of mind as travel from China resumes.
Want to learn more about Ocean Engine?
With global travel heading towards a V-shaped rebound, brands that prioritize long-term investment and a local marketing strategy will certainly stay top of mind amongst Chinese travelers.
To learn more about Ocean Engine, including registration, onboarding, and specific travel marketing advice for China, please feel free to reach out to us via the Contact Us form on our website.