5 Questions with: Bamboo Zhou, CEO of 8 Continents, Luxury Chinese Travel Agency

8 Continents Travel is one of the leading ‘ultra-luxury’ travel agencies in China. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Shanghai (with further offices in Beijing and Chengdu), 8 Continents provides customised travel for HNWI clients to all over the world, whether for honeymoons, world-tours or adventurous destinations such as Antarctica.

We spoke with the CEO of 8 Continents, Bamboo Zhou, to get his insights on the luxury Chinese traveller.

How do wealthy Chinese travelers really ‘browse’ for destinations and make their choice? Have they already chosen the destination or the resort brand before they already come to you?

What’s interesting for us is that many of the HNWI Chinese travellers who come to us don’t yet have an exact idea of where to spend their holiday. Some have initial intrigue on certain places after hearing about it from their friends, but they haven’t always centered in on the specifics. Even if they do have a better idea, they still like to have a quick chat with their travel advisor.

We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on our travel advisors and found a lot of success with this. It might sound obvious but the quality of the personalised recommendation is the key factor in the final booking decision. There are some truly unique, spectacular resorts that are popular, but these types of client want to have a real person – one they have trusted before – make a recommendation.

What are the main criteria for finalising their choice?

Once they have listened to the recommended options, if they are still narrowing this down, then certainly they look at several aspects: a general impression of safety, the local community’s attitude towards travellers, and the maturity of the region’s general tourism development – by this I mean what other luxury hotels and restaurants are in the area. While these clients are very well travelled across the world, they will certainly still opt for places which are more ‘China ready’ than those which are not.

How can destinations stand out and get most interest from wealthy Chinese travellers?

Now, there is so much destination information on social media, from destination’s Tourism Board, media, KOL, or travel company. To the individual person receiving all of this endless infromation, all destinations or brands are trying to emphasize a certain destination’s advantages, and it’s easy for the customer to realise that all promotions will try to say what they do ‘best’.

So instead of only promoting a general ‘this is excellent’ or ‘this is so high quality and amazing’ type of marketing, focus on the fine detail of something very specific, or be story-based – find the story that will capture their attention. Everything they enjoy in life is ultra luxury – but where’s the story? This is key.

What are some examples of hotels/resorts which have done the best to get interest from Chinese customers?

The first few examples that come to mind are Soneva Jani, Maldives, with its water slide. It’s an incredible moment to not only take a selfie but make a short video with a drone. Chinese people are young at heart and love to have fun!

The Ritz in London is related to the story of Coco Chanel – this combines modern luxury with something meaningful, some information about which the guest wants to be a part. There is also SongSaa, Cambodia. Firstly, it’s a private island, but the fascinating story is something about the love story of the couple that owns the island. Very wealthy Chinese travellers feel like the brands, and the famous people are like their peers, or friends. They want to be able to pass on the stories themselves and have this as an aspect of their world knowledge.

Where are the trending destinations? Do you have many customers who are families, or new parents with young children?

Recently, river cruises and private island beach destinations remain popular, which I would say that Japan, New Zealand and Eastern Europe are notable in their popularity. Nowadays, 40% or more of our customers are families with young children. Their priority is tropical islands within 5 or 6 hour’s flight – and they strongly desire kid-friendly resorts. Many luxury resorts make this claim, but we find it to be false. They haven’t specialised enough in truly satisfying children’s needs.

A ‘play area’ or ‘kids zone’ isn’t enough – it needs to be of especially high quality and also beneficial for the child. This is still an aspect which needs drastic improvement from some destinations to match the high expectations of our wealthy parent clients.

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