Published on : Friday, January 14, 2022
In 2021, the number of Chinese outbound trips fell below the level of the beginning of the century. According to COTRI, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, last year saw 8.5 million Mainland Chinese crossing the border, most of them to Macau. This number is below the 10 million outbound trips in the year 2000 and represents just 5% of the data for the last year before the pandemic in 2019, when 170 million cross-border trips made China by far the biggest outbound tourism source market in the world.
In recent weeks, many international medical experts expressed their serious anxiety about the development of the pandemic in China in 2022. After two years of a ruthless Whack-a-mole policy of reacting with major lockdowns to every minor outbreak of CoViD-19, the Chinese government proudly points to the fact that the number of victims of CoViD-19 is less than 1% of the similar number in the USA.
However, the result of this policy is a population which has been much less exposed than the rest of the world to the virus about to fall victim to Omicron, which cannot be stopped from spreading with even the most rigorous lockdowns of major cities. The Chinese inactivated vaccines seem also, according to several studies, not to be as effective against the new mutation as mRNA vaccines. It can only be hoped that a new massive booster mRNA vaccination campaign and new treatments stopping infections from having lethal results will prevent China from becoming in 2022 the country with the highest number of CoViD-19 victims in the world.
What is the best way for the international tourism and hospitality industry to react to this highly uncertain development? Before Omicron, most experts inside and outside of China expected outbound tourism from China to resume in the second quarter of 2022. Given the development of the last weeks, the question might change from “When will the Chinese government re-open the borders?” to “When will the rest of the world let Chinese travellers enter again?”.
Most destinations and major service providers cut their marketing budgets for China last year, but continue to “keep in touch” with the market using WeChat posts and Mandarin language videos. The effect of these communication tools is unfortunately quite limited, with most messages reaching only thousands of Chinese users in an internet ecosystem which deals rather in million views.
Recommendation marketing, relying on WOM² (Word of Mouth and Word of Mouse) from satisfied customers is a more effective way of marketing in China, but does not work if there are visitors who can share or livestream their positive experiences.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of COTRI, introduces a new way to stay connected and even to earn money in the process: “If the visitors cannot come to you, you can offer memories of past and dreams of future outbound trips in the form of regional authentic products, from wine to toys, from sausages to hand-woven textiles. Cross-border e-commerce has become even more important in China now than before the pandemic.”
To use this opportunity, COTRI offers in cooperation with Chinese partners the sales App O+MALL, which concentrates on regional products in connection with touristic information about the region of origin. Regional producer, including small companies, can get access to the Chinese market without the need to struggle with Chinese custom documents or to keep up with the continuously changing Chinese social media. They simply provide suitable products and receive the payment in Euro or USD after sales, with no worries about storage, marketing, sales, taxes etc.
National and regional Destination Marketing Organisations can team up with the producers to add their virtual or physical touristic information, which will be send to the Chinese consumers together with the bottle of Apulian olive oil, the Kenyan toy car made from recycled local beer cans or the hand-painted Sri Lankan face mask – all coming with a certificate of their regional origin, all not being Made in China.
Prof. Arlt already looks ahead: “After the end of the pandemic, the O+MALL App will stay a very useful instrument to continue to sell unique products, but also to combine online and offline activities in China during consumer fairs, as well as for market research based on a clearly defined group of fans of the destination and its regional products.”
For global tourism, 2022 is probably the least predictable year since 1940. Nevertheless, Wait and see or Do just the same as before do not sound like the most promising approaches. As the example of the Chinese App shows, reacting to the new situation is possible even without big budgets. Never waste a good crisis.