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How brands are targeting the lucrative Chinese travel market

With Chinese travellers being ranked as the top travel spenders, it is little surprise the hospitality industry is making them one of its priorities.

According to UNWTO, top travel spenders in 2013 were from China.

In Marketing magazine’s Marketing to Travellers conference, David Spooner (pictured), vice-president of sales and marketing at Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, talks about the resort chain’s success in China and how it tailored its approach.

While looking like a global brand is important, tailoring to fit Chinese tourists is also a tricky balance to manage, he said.

While the main market is still Shanghai for the brand, it is expecting huge growth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Tier 3 consists of 229 cities – that’s a lot of potential business.

“While we are still looking at Tier 1 and 2 cities, which are obvious targets, Tier 3 is also expanding in the jewellery and watches market – an indicator of a growing luxury market,” he said.

He said Banyan Tree was banking on taking a different strategy for its target audience.

“They want new experiences, special treatment, new destinations and insider access. As a hotel group, how do you provide these and also gain a reputation for it?” he said.

He talked about the brand’s strategy in branding itself as the perfect proposal spot. Marketing itself as a couples’ getaway, hotel staff will help people to prepare the settings, for example, for men who want to propose.

“When the pictures of it goes up (on social media), it builds our brand,” he said,

It also adds other personal touches such as personalising the minibar. It also has hosts, butlers, a 24-hour service and chefs to cook breakfast for guests in their villas. The resort also prepares itself for social media shareability. It makes sure its staff are trained to take pictures of food and guests at the best angles for social media.

Chinese-speaking staff are a must. “They don’t have to be Chinese, but they just have to be able to speak Chinese and understand the culture in general. We have language classes for our employees,” he said.

Also, aside from altering its Banyan Tree magazine to focus on key interests of Chinese travellers, it offers souvenirs at its resort destinations that are not found at duty free shops or at branded department stores.

Hotel group Accor also said that going forward the focus would be on Asia Pacific. It owns brands such Sofitel and Pullman.

“The money in Europe has dried up. It’s now going to happen in Asia – a space where there is the money and the willingness to create these state-of-the-art/state-of-the-archive buildings,” said Rick Lam, Accor’s senior vice-president of global marketing.

However, its strategy is to also target the growing millennials market, on top of plans to reach China and India.

“Those who are 33 and below – by 2030, they will outnumber the baby boomers by 22 million,” Lam said.

As a hotel brand, this is seeing Accor push heavily into engaging people on social media platforms.

“Social media is especially important. Unrecovered critics – unfortunately, new technology allows everyone to be a critic. Increasingly, we are under constant scrutiny. We need to perform. We need to be good all the time – as good as the last experience we provided,” he said.

But it is careful to avoid the clichés of creating a “hub” or designated space for its consumers to interact. Rather, it creates spaces where it is easy for them to do so.

Rick Lam and David Spooner were speakers at Marketing magazine’s Marketing to Travellers conference at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore on 12 November 2014.

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