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Inbound adventure

Zhang Chunyan
Updated: Nov 3,2014 8:50 AM     China Daily

Tourists give China a miss, efforts are under way to find out why.

There is a huge increase in Chinese tourists shopping in Oxford Street, London, or strolling in Stratford-upon-Avon, part of a storied wave of outbound tourists, but China is seeing a drop in tourists from around the world enjoying its delights.

China’s inbound tourists reached 129.08 million last year, a large number but still down 2.51 percent year-on-year, according to a report from the China Tourism Academy. The inbound sector has seen declines in visitor numbers and the amount of money spent by visitors.

Beijing received 2.36 million overseas visitors from January to July, a drop of 5.9 percent compared with the same period last year, the capital’s statistics bureau says.

The China Tourism Academy says Chinese tourists spent $47 billion more overseas than foreign visitors spent in China in the first half of the year. This means China has the largest tourism trade deficit of any country.

As a result, China’s tourism officials are looking for new, effective ways to attract more overseas tourists. That involves taking a very close look at image and message and using research tools and experts to get to the bottom of what tourists from the United Kingdom and elsewhere really want.

Officials held an exhaustive search in the UK for a new slogan that would hit home there.

“Charming China: Your Cup of Tea”, the winner, is one that officials hope will be just the right cup of tea for Britons. It was created by a British woman and beat hundreds of other entries.

“We launched a slogan competition campaign in the summer for seven weeks to select the best Chinese tourism slogan in UK,” says Kuang Lin, director of the China National Tourism Administration’s London office.

“We cooperated with Travel Bulletin to contact more than 8,000 travel agencies in the UK to join the competition. We informed travel experts about the competition using 24,000 e-mails, and published the news in travel magazines.”

Kuang says the winner is elegant, and the words concise, catchy and full of British charm and wit, adding that “the industry experts also highly praised it”.

“We also asked a professional organization to take a video in the streets of London with the slogan and to put it on social media like YouTube.

“At the end of August we launched an event called China Tourism Night, and this video and slogan both won lots of praise.”

But this is just part of the London office’s efforts. Kuang, who has done a lot of research on China’s tourism image, says that to find reasons behind the decline and increase in inbound tourists, the London office joined with the tourism management department of the University of Surrey to conduct a survey of British perceptions of China’s national tourism market.

This project will use professional research methodology with a well-structured questionnaire to achieve an accurate marketing plan and good results.

The goal is to understand the market and identify the characteristics of a perfect trip to China. It is expected to be effective in the long run and provide support for academic and professional references.

Besides the survey, social media has also been a popular method for Kuang and his team to reach their target audience.

“One of our main themes is ‘Beautiful China-the Ancient Great Wall’. We proactively use social media like Facebook and YouTube to upload related content and offer special promotions, to promote the theme of the Great Wall and Chinese national tourism on overseas websites,” Kuang says.

“We have cooperated with TripAdvisor, the world’s largest interactive travel site,” he says.

TripAdvisor’s site has up to 280 million visitors monthly and covers 140,000 destinations and 450,000 scenic spots globally.

“We asked senior experts from this site to participate in the promotion of Chinese destinations and to release a special report based on the comments and trends of the tourism industry in China.”

Kuang says it is important to identify and reinforce the image of China tourism and ensure that the image appeals to the British public traveling to China.

This opinion is echoed by Sacha Smith-Laing, head of marketing at Ampersand Travel, a London-based luxury tour operator that specializes in tailor-made tours of the UK and Ireland.

China’s colossal size, lightning-fast development, and language and signage hurdles mean it can be hard knowing where to start as a tourist, she says.

“We give our clients what we call ‘the China edit’, which means that our sales consultants test everything themselves and work closely with our trusted ground handlers to carefully select the best experiences, hotels and guides,” says Smith-Laing.

The travel agent has a portfolio of 34 cherry-picked hotels throughout China-from Beijing to Shanghai, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Kunming, Guilin, Chengdu and Hong Kong.

“Crucially, in such a large country, we also advise clients what to skip based on their interests and length of trip. We provide the right amount of handholding versus self-exploration, and the right combination of ultra-luxury and under-the-skin adventures,” she says.

“We also provide a variety of exceptional access options for people who want to witness the destination behind closed doors. Our clients are well heeled and high-spending, but they also tend to be very academic and interested in art, literature and history.”

In addition, Kuang and his office invite airline companies to participate in many tourism industry business talks that are organized by tourism companies both in the UK and China.

More direct flights are also considered essential. Ouyang Cili, marketing coordinator of travel agent CTS Horizons in London, says: “If there are more direct flights to China, we are confident that more clients will visit China in the future. We hope that UK customers will explore more offbeat destinations in China like Yangzhou, or cities in the west of China.”

This month, China’s national tourism body will also attend the huge World Travel Market event in London and seek to embed a Chinese theme in travel professionals’ minds as a way of promoting the brand and to increase competitiveness.