How the world is evolving to become more Chinese tourist-friendly

Chinese travelers are taking over the world. Is the world ready? Source: Shutterstock.

THE CHINESE now make up the largest share of tourists to the Asia Pacific and stand as major contributors to the global economy. In fact, some might say that Chinese tourists are taking over the world.

They’re invading Thailand, shaking things up in the UK, storming Singapore (topping tourist arrivals and tourism receipts) and overtaking Kiwi visitors in Australia.

As the trend is spotted in more countries around the world, airports, train stations, cruise ships, and buses will continue to swell with the influx of Chinese tourists.

In recent years, both full-service airlines as well as low-cost carriers have begun broadening offerings between their native country and Chinese markets. The US’ United Airlines offers nonstop flights from San Francisco to Chengdu and Xi’an, while Xiamen Air flies direct from Fuzhou to New York.

AirAsia has also connected multiple cities in Asia to a handful of Chinese destinations, and the carrier is expected to pursue greater expansion in China.

But is the world ready for the Chinese tourism boom? Here are the ways in which the world is evolving to become more Chinese tourist-friendly.

Cash no longer king

Cash is quickly becoming obsolete in China as the society moves quickly to becoming a cashless society.

Most, if not all, Chinese use their mobile phones as their wallets, adopting cashless payments via Alipay or WeChat Pay for transactions. This ensures a seamless checkout experience with just a simple tap of a QR code across the board for retail, entertainment, dining, lodging, transportation, and even money transfers.

Since they don’t carry physical wallets, paying with a credit card or cash could be cumbersome for them or cause them to fumble due to language barriers. As such, merchants are tech-ing up to accommodate Chinese shoppers.

US companies such as Lacoste, Airbnb, Uber, Caesars Palace have partnered with Alipay and Verifone to provide mobile payment options that deliver information in the Chinese shoppers’ native language to better serve them.

Last year, 7-Eleven Malaysia became the first retailer in the country to accept e-wallet payment Alipay, with 94 percent of the 2,100 stores nationwide going “live” with the system.

Source: Shutterstock.

Three months later, Starbucks Malaysia followed suit, announcing that tourists from China can now use Alipay to make payment in CNY at all 242 Starbucks outlets in Malaysia.

Such are strategies to attract more Chinese tourists to spend at their outlets.

Speaking the language

According to International Ltd., China’s largest travel website, Thailand is the most popular destination for outbound Chinese tourists, followed by Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and the US.

Of the lot, only one country is a native Mandarin-speaking country.

To connect with Chinese consumers better, non-native Mandarin-speaking countries have added another layer to their announcements and signage to cater to Chinese tourists.

In 2016, the McCarran Airport in Las Vegas rolled out what it calls its China-Welcome Program. As part of the program, the airport hires Mandarin-speaking “welcome ambassadors” to greet incoming travelers from China, guiding them as they go through customs and helping them navigate their way through the airport and to their hotels. Other elements include Chinese wayfinding signs and a McCarran microsite within the WeChat app.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost 1.4 million visitors from mainland China traveled to Australia last year, a 13 percent increase from a year earlier. These days, even Melbourne Airport, the second busiest in Australia, has airport-wide announcements in English and Mandarin.

Source: Shutterstock

Myeongdong, one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul, South Korea have long since “beefed up” their communications to cope with Chinese consumers. These days, most stores hire Chinese or Mandarin-speaking sales assistants to help China travelers find what they need.

The ease of communication also helps the Chinese tourists feel more welcomed, understood, and comfortable.

Social-buzzing on Chinese platforms

“The Great Firewall of China” makes it hard for brands and marketers to penetrate into the Chinese market the same way they would easily do so with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, etc.

Luckily, China has its own social media ecosystem.

Weibo (a Twitter-like microblogging site), WeChat (an instant messaging mobile app) and Baidu (a popular search engine) are three of China’s strongest platforms and likely the main mode of getting as well as disseminating information. Despite them not being as popular anywhere else in the world, they’re hard to ignore as Chinese consumers are about as connected to them as we are to Facebook and the likes.

A recent World Duty Free shakeup involving China travelers in London’s Heathrow Airport led to the travel retailer releasing a statement on Weibo in apology over the incident.

Last September, when 22-year-old American model Gigi Hadid came under fire for an alleged “racist” video and was told that she was not welcome in China for an upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai, she too took to her Weibo page to apologize.

Source: GigiHadid_Official.

Taking note of the importance of being on either one of the Chinese platforms, more and more brands and marketers are jumping on the bandwagon to boost their online presence.

Lancome, Durex, UnileverDiane von Furstenberg, and even Tourism Australia have each got a dedicated Weibo page to help them better connect with Chinese consumers, whereas names like British Airways jumped on WeChat and tugged on heartstrings with an emotional video for a marketing campaign centered on Chinese students.

The only thing constant in life

In Cairns, the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, local businesses are wasting no time in ensuring that they’re properly catering to Chinese tourists by changing things up.

Chinese restaurant operator Harry Sou serves upwards of 700 Chinese tourists a night. As such, he has tweaked the nightly menu to suit his visitors’ palates.

“Different provinces have different tastes,” ABC quoted Sou as saying.

“People from Shanghai have sweet tastes, Guangzhou like Cantonese food, which is your everyday Chinese Australian food and then you go back to Beijing and they like strong sauces.”

To ensure the feel-at-home-ness of first-time China travelers who are hitting main attractions such as museums, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid has begun serving some Chinese dishes at the museum café and also provides menus in Chinese. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, on the other hand, sells a number of Chinese-language publications in its bookstore and their shops all accept China UnionPay cards.

According to USA Today, Starwood Resorts and Resort Worldwide, which owns Sheraton, Westin, and W hotels, has revised its amenities and services as well. In-room tea kettles, slippers, translated restaurant menus and welcome brochures, on-site translation services and comfort food such as congee (rice porridge) and noodles can now be found at many of Starwood’s properties.

A clash of cultures

That having said, there’s still a lot for China travelers to learn despite Chinese tourism being projected to grow dramatically, and it’s a steep learning curve thanks to the decades-long cultural gap. But with the tourism boom, maybe we too can learn more about the country and its people, and hopefully in time bridge the gap altogether.