Switzerland offers all of the key aspects desired by affluent Chinese travellers – exclusivity, adventure, sports and a WeChat-picture-perfect landscape at every turn. The third most visiting nation – and rising – Switzerland has clearly been communicating its message in China at the right places, to the right people. A Chinese-Swiss Tourism Year highlighted the rise in popularity of the destination.
So how is Switzerland achieving just the right kind of marketing, and how has this message and the country’s tourism market goals changed over the last several years?
The Luxury Conversation spoke with Simon Bosshart, who has been the Switzerland Tourism Director of China since 2006, and Director of APAC since 2014.
You have a very strong presence in China. What types of promotion do you do, and what works better for you here?
We still go broadly across all usual methods – B2B with trade shows, conferences, press events and so on, and via media, channels of relevant businesses and associations, social, and all aspects. In China, you do need to pay more attention to digital, of course.
You simply must work with influencers in China – but we don’t usually work with the so-called ‘top’ celebrity KOLs. I’m not convinced of their value. Firstly, they are extremely expensive, and it’s more or less an ad placement with no emotion. We much prefer to work with smaller, I call them grass-roots influencers. Their follower numbers are much lower — sometimes in the tens of thousands — but they focus on one particular topic or aspect and their followers are relevant, they trust the influencer, and they are credible.
For example, we had one influencer who posts all about gardens — beautiful gardens of the world and so on. We worked with her relevant to the beautiful gardens and outdoors in Switzerland and it worked very well because her followers strongly engage with her content.
We don’t fully disregard celebrities though — we worked with one particular soap opera star, which came up as an opportunity. He was filming something in Switzerland, and it was his management that came to us. It turned out that he was a young, outdoors-y, FIT (Free Independent Traveller) type traveller and he had really fallen in love with Switzerland. So we don’t go to ‘find’ celebrities, but rather wait for them to come to us — and with a credible interest.
What are the current trends for Chinese travel to Switzerland – how is 2018 different to previous years?
If we look at quantitative growth, the big growth in numbers has already been experienced. Let’s say around 2010 to 2015, there was a 25% year on year growth. So now we focus on quality, attracting the relevant, interested and right kind of traveller. The strong trend now is for FIT — they make up around 30-40% now.
How are the new preferences of Chinese travellers different than in the past?
In the last few years, there has been a big diversification of interest. Sport, art, adventure and the like have all experienced huge booms in interest. We’ve done many surveys and found that for Chinese travellers, over 50% now stay in Switzerland for at least a week, or longer. This means that they really go deep — they explore many activities, sports, and travel to many places other than just the main attractions or cities.
What is your China strategy for promotion going forwards?
We are more pro-active with promotions for outdoor, adventurous activities. We don’t aim for an operator who can send, you know, something like 50 pax on a biking tour. But rather, we work with niche, boutique operators who target quality, and we believe that in doing this we will see the right kind of relevant growth in 5 to 10 years, and take a remarkable market share in this way. It’s about planting the seeds now and seeing that in China this growth will come.
So you find most success with boutique operators versus the big-name booking platforms and apps?
In the long-term, yes. The true impact with the huge, popular apps and platforms is more challenging, because usually you are just dealing with an ad space for a high fee. It’s not sustainable, as any impact that it has goes away when the ad space goes away.
It’s more effective to create long-term relationships with the right kind of operator who we can support and develop over a few years. And with the big names like Expedia, for example, we don’t pay for ads with them but we work with them by facilitating the sourcing of unique products, inviting them to Switzerland to be in contact with the right partners and help to find ways to grow their brand. That’s a much more collaborative way to work together.