By Glenn Andrews, Managing Director – Asia, SiteMinder
There’s never a dull moment in the global travel industry and the past six months have been no exception in terms of acquisition, partnerships and strategic deals.
In particular, moves in and from China are fascinating to watch as online travel agencies (OTAs) and more traditional travel suppliers begin to take steps towards opening China up to the world, both from an inbound and outbound tourism sense.
To say China represents a vast opportunity would be an incredible understatement.
A recent study from IHG and Oxford Economics shows that by 2023, leisure travel by Chinese travellers will account for 62 percent of the international outbound market and that the trend is towards visiting cities. That’s less than eight years from now.
When it comes to spend, North America and Western European destinations are among the top for Chinese travellers, after domestic and inter-regional destinations.
A further study, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research, estimates that outbound spend was about $244 billion last year and is predicted to reach $264 billion by 2019.
So, what’s been happening and what does it mean?
First, a small plug for the team here at SiteMinder as we formed a partnership with Ctrip last September. The deal has given our hotel customers direct access to the China-based booking channel giant and, effectively, the largest tourism market in the world.
It’s still too soon to even know the potential for this partnership going forward but all signs are positive, especially in light of what has been happening since.
Back in January, Ctrip acquired a majority stake in UK-based Travelfusion, which among other things is an aggregator of low-cost carrier content. The deal, at very least, will mean an increasing amount of Travelfusion content distributed via Ctrip channels while Travelfusion will be able to make the OTA’s content accessible to its partners.
Some weeks later, in February, Ctrip announced further steps towards appealing to an international market through a partnership with Amadeus. The deal means Amadeus will provide the air content for the OTA’s sales channels in the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea initially. Other markets, including Australia and New Zealand, will follow.
Ctrip said at the time that being an international player was crucial to the success of the business and certainly the partnership means it will have similar content to rival OTAs.
Keeping up with the pace of change
Then, things began to really heat up in February, when China-based investment firm Fosun announced its acquisition of Club Med, a French all-inclusive holiday company. The moved signals the clear intention from Chinese players to not only target international markets but also open up travel for outbound markets.
Moves to invest in strong European brands such as Club Med, and most recently Fosun’s acquisition of a five percent stake in Thomas Cook, feed well into the trends among Chinese travellers to package and group trips. In fact, Fosun already has a stake in a China-based travel agency network.
However, hotels and other travel suppliers also need to be switched on to the idea that these travellers may be more open to arranging travel themselves once they have experienced a destination as part of a group.
Equally, it is important to recognise that Chinese consumers’ reliance on online media and websites makes them the ideal global target. Ninety percent of China’s travellers are under the age of 45; they’re web and mobile app savvy, heavily reliant on social media for travel decisions, and demand that travel sites provide a wealth of information. This means having an easy-to-use, responsive website, but also the capability to add booking and distribution technologies that can help you reach this highly influential and profitable market.
Additionally, if you’re serious about capitalising, understand where Chinese tourists spend their time online. While review sites such as TripAdvisor are still important go-to spots for those planning and researching trips, Chinese travellers often look elsewhere. Local social media networks you should include in your China-focused marketing strategy include Sina Weibo, WeChat and video site Youku. Never forget: you want to be where your prospects are.
See the facts for what they are
It’s a truly fast-changing world and there are no signs of things letting up. These developments might sound like news headlines but we have to read between those lines.
Above all, they mean opportunity.
Opportunity to understand why Travel Weekly says: “compared with Europe and the U.S., China’s travel market is significantly bigger, younger, more optimistic, and a whole lot hungrier to travel”.
Opportunity to join the dots and make for a more seamless experience for customers, online and offline.
Opportunity to extend reach by opening up content to, and capitalising on, the world’s biggest market.