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Chinese Outbound Tourism: A Customer Journey Approach to Integrated Digital Marketing

· Customer Journey,360 Marketing,Chinese Marketing

In 2017, Chinese outbound tourism continued its continued growth pattern as incomes and thirst for new travel experiences grow. In 2017, the China National Tourism Administration reported that Chinese tourists made 131 million trips overseas that year, an increase of 7 percent from 2016. Chinese tourists also spend more per capita than other international tourists: US$762 as opposed to the average of US$486, according to Nielsen’s Outbound Chinese Tourism and Consumption Trend: 2017 Survey.

No wonder attractions all over the world are paying more attention to Chinese tourists and seeking to tailor their Chinese marketing plan and provide a better experience on-site. However, many attractions do not go beyond setting up a Wechat and Weibo accounts. To drive awareness, a more integrated tourist experience, and enhanced sales, our team proposes attractions leverage an optimal blend of Chinese digital marketing, e.g. WeChat, Weibo, Baidu search engine marketing and build positive word-of-mouth reviews.

To facilitate a more informed evaluation of the right digital marketing mix for your attraction, this article taps on a data-driven customer journey approach (inspiration, planning, booking, experience, and advocacy) to evaluate the most appropriate channels to reach out to Chinese tourists. Please see a summary below of this customer journey, with key Chinese brands, that we will explore in greater detail later.

 Figure 1: Chinese Tourists’ Customer Journey

Recapping Chinese digital channels:

Before we start with our customer journey approach, let’s briefly recap the key Chinese digital channel landscape:

Figure 2: Chinese Digital Channels

Source: Official Press Releases of various platforms

Inspiration & Planning:

Based on latest research, Chinese tourists have a few unique characteristics when planning their travel:

  • Half of the Chinese tourists said they book just two to four weeks before their departure, while one in five book less than two weeks prior. Comparatively, booking one to three months before take-off is standard in Brazil and India, while Australians were most likely to plan their trip three to six months before departure.
  • 25% of Chinese tourists complete their bookings on their smartphones, compared to the average of 6 percent of tourists across all of the countries [A].
  • Top ten travel destinations: Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, U.S, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines [B].
  • For travel to a few top destinations, e.g. the U.S, Chinese tourists require a visa and often go through a lengthy process to acquire one.
  • 42% of outbound tourists chose package tours while 58% chose free & independent travel (FIT) in the first half of 2017. Package tours are still appealing especially in the second and third-tier cities, family and senior travel. Driving this FIT demand is the increased demand for more personalised holiday experiences and intimacy. [B]


  • Destinations, attractions, hotels, and restaurants need to step up their efforts to cater to FIT as opposed to focusing solely on more “traditional” Chinese package tours where you can market to travel agents.
  • In this environment of greater choice and prevalence of mobile search, we propose to:
    1. Make relevant information available in Chinese and engage in Chinese SEO to rank higher on Chinese search engines like Baidu. This requires a thorough understanding of Baidu search algorithms which differ from Google, e.g. ranking Chinese language content and .cn domains more highly.   
    2. Make relevant information available in Chinese social media, especially Wechat and Weibo. For reference, other foreign attractions had prioritised creating weekly Wechat editorials and Weibo campaigns that would generate engagement with beautiful visuals.
    3. Provide short high-quality videos that provide a good overview of your products & services to inspire tourists to come visit or purchase.

[A] According to 2016 research done by Worldpay carried out in partnership with Opinium, who conducted desktop market analysis and surveyed 12,000 online tourists in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, and the US.

[B] 2017 China National Holiday Travel Trends Report, China Tourism Academy, and Ctrip.


In the Chinese context, planning and booking are often integrated.

  • OTAs such as Ctrip and Mafengwo often include reviews and booking of air tickets, hotels as well as overseas attractions such as theme parks like Disneyworld Hong Kong.
  • Dianping is the Chinese version of Yelp and Groupon. Chinese tourists may access reviews and book group purchases as well.


  • If your attraction has a high footfall of Chinese tourists and is targeting higher-end customers, you may consider starting with the most basic Dianping package which allows you to upload pictures, provide an executive summary and highlight key products as well as services.
  • If you decide to sell your products via Dianping, you need to upgrade to a more advanced package with an additional indicative distribution cost of around 10%.

Experience & Review:

As mentioned earlier, Chinese tourists are trending towards experiential travel. To keep up with this trend, it is critical to position your destinations, attractions, hotels or restaurants for integrated service delivery:

  • Chinese tourists are mostly motivated by discounts offered rather than by pure price, with 41 percent defining that as their leading concern. Price was a factor, but only 40 percent of the time. This is lower relative to non-Chinese tourists where prices are the foremost consideration 52 percent of the time [C, all data in this section taken from this source].
  • Duty-free shops ranked as the most popular shopping outlet for Chinese tourists with 62%, followed by department stores (47%) and supermarkets (47%).
  • 2.8 out of 10 payments made by Chinese tourists were via mobile payment. The survey also found that the younger generations used mobile payment more frequently: for the post-90s generation, 3.3 out of 10 payments were via mobile and 3.7 via card; but for the post-70s generation, 2.3 were via mobile and 4.9 via card.


  • The top three most-used apps by Chinese tourists when travelling abroad, are WeChat, Google Maps, and Dianping. Despite the research done by this FIT segment, they are likely to rely on mobile apps to check directions in Chinese, fill up spare pockets of time or deal with unexpected changes in itineraries.
  • As Chinese tourists are more responsive to promotions, you may wish to leverage your WeChat channel as a promotional tool, e.g. scan QR codes for specific discounts at stores that they are likely to frequent like department stores.
  • It is paramount to build positive digital word-of-mouth among Chinese tourists. Taking reference from Chinese offline brands, it is common to see their frontline staff seeking a positive Dianping review after delivering a positive experience, e.g. early hotel check-in. Your brand may wish to train Chinese-speaking staff to solicit such reviews at the opportune timing.
  • For background, Chinese tourists are generally accustomed to reviewing service staff at key service delivery points. If you have been to China, it is common to see that immigration and bank counters allowing users to rate service of their frontline staff.  

[C] Outbound Chinese Tourism and Consumption Trend: 2017 Survey, 18 Feb 2018, Neilsen.


As you can see, it takes an integrated approach to succeed in digital marketing to Chinese tourists. You need to consider a customer journey approach (inspiration, planning, booking, experience, and advocacy) to match the digital habits of young Chinese tourists to enhance engagement and conversion.

It also requires timely promotion and integration of online and offline experiences, e.g. QR code promotions and training of your frontline service staff, to deliver a better experience to Chinese tourists and build up a positive brand image online as well as generate more UGC (user generated content).

Your team may also wish to evaluate incorporating more familiar Chinese payment channels, e.g. WeChat Pay, UnionPay. Chinese tourists, especially the younger segments, are used to a cashless lifestyle and are likely to spend more when these channels are available.

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