The Chinese lunar Year of the Rooster is now upon us, and with it comes one of the world’s biggest festive seasons.
The lunar New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, marking a time of cultural celebration, family gatherings, and mass domestic and international travel for the Chinese community.
It’s also an important season for Australian businesses as it is the busiest period for inbound visitors to Australia from not only mainland China, but also other communities that celebrate the New Year, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Since ringing in the Year of the Monkey last year, record-breaking numbers of Chinese tourists have visited Australian shores, with nearly 1.2 million visiting in the year to November 2016.
New direct flight links from tier one and two Chinese cities are being created every year, opening up Australia to enormous numbers of new potential tourists.
Tourism Australia predicts that by 2020, inbound tourism from China will be worth $13 billion to Australia.
Australian businesses can benefit immensely from this wave of tourism by understanding the needs and wants of Chinese travellers and using this knowledge to create better quality tourism experiences.
Here are some tips for the Year of the Rooster.
Become part of the itinerary
While Chinese tourists have traditionally travelled around Australia on tried and true group package tours, many now aspire to be ‘free and independent travellers’ (FITs).
Australia’s established attractions—the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and other mainstays—are still popular, but Chinese tourists are increasingly looking to local businesses for unique and memorable experiences, and locally made products that they can’t get at home.
Many businesses are beginning to grasp these opportunities.
Take Tasmania’s Bridestowe Estate, for example. In 2013, the humble lavender farm saw sales of its Bobbie the Bear stuffed toy skyrocket when Chinese model Zhang Xinyu posted a photo of herself with the bear on her social media account.
‘Bobbiemania’, as it became known, put Bridestowe on the map for Chinese tourists, with tens of thousands of tourists now visiting the estate each year to follow in their celebrity idol’s footsteps by experiencing the lavender farm and buying their own Bobbie.
Likewise, many Australian wineries have become increasingly popular on Chinese itineraries in the last few years off the back of strong Chinese interest in local wine, with China recently overtaking the US to become the biggest importer of Australian wine.
Chinese tastebuds are more discerning than ever, and according to Tourism Australia research, availability of good food and wine has become the third biggest factor in their choice of travel destination, behind only safety and quality of natural scenery.
Local food and wine growers with quality local produce and accessible, Chinese tourist-friendly wineries or farms will reap the rewards of this growing popularity.
Australian businesses should take proactive steps to tailor products and experiences that strike a chord with Chinese travellers. Only then will tourists add these attractions to their already busy travel itineraries.
Develop a presence on digital platforms
Just as important as the physical presence of your business in Australia is its presence on the smartphones of Chinese consumers.
Chinese tourists plan and manage every aspect of their trip on their phones, through apps like WeChat (which last month reached a staggering 768 million daily active users).
Having a properly translated website, tailored social media pages, and quality Chinese-language marketing content is critical.
Offering payments via the extensively used Union Pay or Alipay also makes your business attractive to Chinese tourists, and a well-placed sign indicating the availability of these payment platforms can also help increase walk-ins from the street.
Once you’ve got these important measures in place, you can consider giving your online presence a boost by connecting with key Chinese influencers.
Like Bridestowe’s Bobbie doll, a number of Australian products have exploded in popularity following a well-placed plug by a Chinese influencer. Weetbix prices, for example, went through the roof after the product was featured on Chinese TV drama Ode to Joy.
Connecting your business with these influencers—or ‘Wang Hong’ as they are known—builds recognition and helps to distinguish your business in a saturated market.
Influencers can often be contacted directly on their social media pages, but employing an experienced China-specific digital marketing firm to do the groundwork is advised.
Social media channels like WeChat are also vital as places where Chinese consumers themselves can share photos and videos of your products, and in turn build your brand equity among their family and friends. This has become a highly important means for informing and influencing travel decisions.
Ensure your business can benefit from this by providing travellers with a memorable customer experience and plenty of photo-worthy opportunities. Offering up free Wi-Fi on your premises is also a good way to make sure they are able to share their experiences instantly.
Connect with Chinese culture
Lastly, your business can better serve Chinese travellers not only by understanding Chinese consumer trends, but also through a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and behaviour. Doing so will help to develop rapport and create a positive customer experience.
Taking some immediate simple steps can go a long way.
Learn some basic Chinese greetings and have talking points about Chinese history and geography up your sleeve.
Translated signs, menus or product information will help display this cultural knowledge and make it easier for tourists to understand what your business has to offer.
An understanding of Chinese communication styles is also important. Chinese people generally favour indirect communication and will make all attempts to avoid open conflict where possible.
And avoid causing a loss of face to your customers by bringing up any issues you may have with them privately.
Nick Henderson is the director of Asialink Business’ China Practice, a leading Australian centre of excellence for practical business engagement with China.