Recapturing Chinese outbound travelers in a post COVID-19 world

CathOn provides positive tips on how to prepare for the the rebound in Chinese outbound travel

Demand for wellness getaways will increase. Credit: Getty images

HONG KONG - China is showing signs of recovery and businesses are returning to normal operations.

Ms Jenny Lo, GM, CatchOn China, A Finn Partners Company, said: "The outbreak will be curbed in the next few months, if not the coming weeks, and select airlines have started slowly resuming flights.

"According to a recent survey by China Tourism Academy, seven out of 10 practitioners plan to run sales and marketing initiatives in full force as soon as the situation is clear."

Ms Lo offered suggestions on how to recapture the Chinese outbound travel market as quickly as possible, and how to stand out among players in a overcrowded market:

Stay connected
Travel companies may be split on whether to keep a low profile or be connected at a time of uncertainty. Unless a crisis occurs for your brand, businesses must leverage the power of technology to stay relevant to consumers, with the goals of strengthening brand equity and preparing to move forward after the crisis has passed.

During the outbreak, the average daily Internet usage among Chinese users was at record-high of around seven hours, offering brands an abundance of opportunities to engage with travellers through social channels. Remember: They may not be travelling now, but they will soon - and when they do, brands that remain top of mind stand to gain the most.

Staying close with consumers also allows brands a quicker and greater understanding of their changing needs (think: a cost-effective form of market research), hence this provides a better anticipation of behaviour once consumption bounces back.

Keep Up with the Times
In China, consumer perceptions, preferences and behaviours change quickly. It is expected, too, as speed is paramount in China - some of the country's largest companies pride themselves on swift reactions to ever-changing market dynamics.

In response to thousands of cancelled trips and heightened travel restrictions since Chinese New Year, for example, Ctrip launched a new cloud-based virtual tour initiative in mid-February, granting travellers free access to a few thousand attractions in China and 48 other countries to maintain interest. This is just one of many recent examples.

Post-COVID-19, Chinese travellers' travel tastes are likely to be inspired by a desire for a healthy lifestyle, a sense of purpose, family-first priorities, as well as cultural quests.

Expect a renewed interest in island escapes, wellness getaways, escorted cultural exchanges, off-the-beaten-path destinations, sports tours, sustainable travel, community-based voluntourism, and more.

Such changes in demand suggest the need for destinations and brands to quickly reposition or review their offerings to meet these newfound interests.

The Next Wave
The good news for everyone is that travel is cited as one of three things Chinese consumers currently crave the most, after hot pot and milk tea. It delivers a promising message to the industry that people will start travelling again as panic subsides.

Wavemaker's February 2020 survey (with 12% of respondents from Hubei province) indicates that 78% of Chinese consumers maintain an optimistic outlook.

The upcoming Labour Day holiday has been lengthened to five days this year, running from 1 to 5 May, followed by another long weekend over Dragon Boat Festival 25 to 27 June. It should be noted that these two periods will likely constitute the next peak periods for domestic travel and short-haul trips (subject to changes in travel restrictions).

Golden Week has also been extended to eight days, from 1 to 8 October this year, due to a late-coming mid-Autumn festival, opening up additional opportunities. Apart from statutory public holidays, China has seen growing numbers of travel during non-holiday periods and weekends, highlighting tremendous potential for a quick market rebound.

The SARS outbreak in 2003 gives us some level of assurance and confidence - businesses bounced back and hotel occupancy recorded an immediate, sharp increase as soon as the World Health Organization (WHO) lifted travel advisories.

Losses were succeeded by nearly instant gains, hence bringing minimal impact to annual profit margins. Seventeen years on, a more advanced and globalised world is better equipped for crises - and taking a realistic yet optimistic outlook of the future is paramount. The desire for travel is resilient, and new markets and consumer segments continue to be unlocked. In this age of constant change, it is wise to always be prepared, nimble, and willing to adapt.

Latest News