Since its first identification in late 2019 in the Wuhan region of China, coronavirus has spread worldwide. It is still early to predict what the real economic consequences generated by the pandemic will be, what is certain is that the impact will be very severe, especially in various sectors, such as tourism.
China represents a good part of Italian tourism. As reported by ENIT in 2019, with over 3 million arrivals and 5 million presences, Italy has been the preferred destination for Chinese travelers, surpassing France, Germany, and Spain.
We asked ourselves: what will become of Chinese tourists after the coronavirus?
What will be the most obvious changes and what are the possible trends?
How will it be possible to continue to attract Chinese tourists?
First, let’s see the current state of the situation.
• The tourism industry currently accounts for 10% of global GDP
• The World Travel and Tourism Council warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to the cut of 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism sector.
• Asia should be the most affected.
• According to ChaoZhan’s research, from January to April Chinese tourism has slowed down by over 50%.
• In 2020, a decrease in the global tourism-related income of at least 30% is expected.
• Once the outbreak has ended, it may take up to 10 months for the sector to fully recover.
The panorama of travel through this crisis will inevitably change, at the end of the crisis, survival will be considered an incredible competitive advantage. Despite the critical situation, there is the saying that every great crisis hides great opportunities. This is the time to make a difference and try to improve the experience for your customers.
In the past 20 years there have been several historical events that have heavily influenced the tourism industry – think of September 11 or the financial crisis of 2008 – and what emerges is that people do not stop traveling, on the contrary, after a closing period generally follows a period of strong growth. This is what we can expect when after the lockdown due to the coronavirus, people will finally be able to travel again and want to do it.
A rather evident proof of this fact is evidenced by the assault that took place in the Yellow Mountains in China as soon as the government authorized the visits again (even if the event showed how dangerous a too rapid reopening is).
Obviously, the process will be gradual, let’s try to understand what are the possible scenarios and solutions to be put in place.
Health security will be at the center of tourists’ concerns.
This is a rather predictable trend. How safe is it to travel to one country rather than another? What sanitation standards are guaranteed in hotels, staff, restaurants? What is the level of the health service in the country of destination and how many are the possibilities to avoid gatherings? Is there the possibility of having health insurance? All these questions will be a priority in the minds of travelers, and even if part of them falls under the responsibility of individual governments, another is manageable by companies and can become part of your competitive advantage.
Group travel will decrease, along with the average age of travelers.
Chinese people are famous for having a tendency to participate in group travel, but due to the coronavirus, this trend (already downhill before the crisis) is destined to decrease, supplanted by the growth of tailor-made trips for small groups or completely autonomous. This fact has a lot to do with the foreseeable decrease in the average age of travelers. In fact, young people, for physical and cultural reasons, feel safer to travel despite a high level of uncertainty. Consequently, the possibility of booking and organizing your own travel will become one of the prerogatives of tomorrow’s tourists.
A shorter booking window.
Most bookings made at this time are extremely close to the departure date, perhaps the day before or at the latest 2/3 days before, in this way you can be sure of being able to travel. Probably, until the situation returns completely stable, more and more tourists will decide to book their trips in advance to avoid not being able to leave.
Local tourism will be the first to start again.
First, it is good to keep in mind that China and Europe are going through different periods of recovery from the virus. China is currently (with difficulty) in the recovery phase to normal life, while in Europe we are still in the midst of the lockdown.
Within Europe, there are different recovery times and this further complicates the scenario. In any case, it is quite probable that local tourism will start again first, only in a second moment will intercontinental trips be made for recreational purposes.
In this regard, although the Golden Week in October could represent a restart of Chinese tourism, realistically it is from the Chinese New Year of 2021 that we can expect a return to a sort of normalcy.
Private means of transport will be more used
Even when we return to a pseudo-normality, few people will want to find themselves on crowded public transport. For this reason, travel by car will be preferred over-travel by bus or train, and it is advisable to include the possibility of renting private means of transport in your tourist offer.
In the face of these trends, the companies that will be able to adapt quickly, evolve and create new products will also be able to react better to the post-coronavirus.
Let’s see what are the strategies that can be put in place to improve the experience of tourists and therefore your competitive advantage.
Do not focus on the price but on the value of your offer
In times of crisis, the temptation to launch promotions and offer bargain prices is rather strong, but it will not be only the price that makes the difference.
Bet on products that can arouse emotions and interest in the participants. What travelers will be looking for will be experiences that are worth traveling for, especially if they have to travel overseas.
Make your customers feel safe
Since safety is the priority in the mind of travelers, you must do everything to reassure them of the experience they can have with you.
This ranges from the possibility of booking health insurance to the regular sanitation of the premises to the possibility of booking private means of transport.
It may seem a little extreme, but some hotels in China are providing robot personnel, thanks to which it is not necessary to have any human contact to check-in or receive a delivery in the room.
Implement more flexible cancellation policies
Uncertainty makes it necessary to create extremely flexible cancellation policies. Among the cancellation terms, there must be the possibility of obtaining a full refund of the trip should force majeure occur, or the possibility of postponing the trip without further costs at any time of the year even during 2021, even for only 24 hours from departure.
Currently, most airlines have changed their cancellation policies so that they can get full refunds in most cases.
This will make the decision-making process easier at the time of booking and will facilitate bookings in advance.
Invest in customer care
The coronavirus will have long-term consequences and many of the changes will happen to stay. Certainly, travelers expect effective and rapid assistance in the face of emergency situations. In this case, the localization of your content and the team’s ability to respond to the specific needs of Chinese customers will be crucial. Don’t forget the linguistic and cultural stumbling block.
Invest in digital innovation
The periods of slowdown can be seen as an opportunity to invest your resources in areas that are normally overlooked, such as digitalization.
The technology offers a variety of ways to promote your services, from VR experiences, to live streaming, to online visits. All these experiences will make it possible for tomorrow’s travelers to choose the next travel destination and for you to feed their desire.
In this regard, the Live Stream and TikTok platforms have proven to be particularly effective, as evidenced by several collaborations put in place between these platforms and the main Chinese travel agencies such as Ctrip and eLong.
Stay in touch with the travel community
Promotion has been and still is a delicate issue, and it is certain that it must be carried out consciously and attentively to the historical moment we are facing. But abandoning your customers and stopping communicating with them will only result in leaving more space for competitors who decide to invest right now in the trust of potential travelers.
In China, tourism packages and experiences can be promoted in essentially two ways:
1. Through your direct channel (WeChat account or Mini-program)
2. Through other travel platforms (Ctrip, eLong, Midian)
All these platforms are online and allow you to collaborate with influencers, e-commerce, agencies and reach a large but at the same time targeted audience.
Furthermore, these tools allow you to continue the promotion even at a time when it is impossible to physically move from the respective countries, guaranteeing continuity of communication with your community.