This week, The Luxury Conversation held a breakfast briefing in Dubai to explore what Middle East & North African (MENA) businesses can do to connect with Chinese travellers. In the last few years the region has seen a huge rise in travellers from China. Dubai’s visa on arrival for Chinese nationals and the 2020 Expo have helped to increase awareness. Held at Armani Hotel Dubai, the event offered insight and presentations from China luxury experts: Zan Wu, Founder and CEO of Zanadu.cn, China’s premium travel platform and Chloé Reuter, Founder and CEO of Reuter Communications, a leading luxury communications agency.
China’s ‘whole new world’ for its luxury consumers see them eager to discover new places that provide exotic experiences such as the Middle East and North Africa; China is now Abu Dhabi’s largest overseas source market, Chinese tourists are the biggest buyers at Dubai International Airport and Chinese visitors to Morocco in 2017 were up 300% on the previous year.
The MENA region is now witnessing a boom in Chinese visitors. Growth is being driven by local travel incentives introduced into the region, including visas on arrival for Chinese nationals visiting the UAE, and the rising sophistication of Chinese travellers who are seeking new destinations off the beaten path. In addition, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which cuts through the region, has the potential to put MENA on the map for travel savvy Chinese.
The popularity of Dubai in particular is clear, with the city being one of the first to collaborate with WeChat and its new mini-program city guide, which includes informative text and maps, helping Chinese travellers to explore different attractions, shops and restaurants through photos and audio guides.
Chinese tourists are the biggest buyers at Dubai International Airport, accounting for 9 percent of total sales. 15 years ago Dubai duty Free had no Chinese employees, they now employ 693 Chinese staff out of 5900 in total.
Crucially, over 90% of Chinese travellers prefer to use mobile payment above all other choices.
China’s rise in the last decade is about so much more than epic economic development — it’s about a tectonic social shift, a sea change in the lifestyle and expectations of entire generations. The hyperbole is warranted; report after report can be read which categorise China as by far the leading consumer of luxury globally, with the highest numbers of travelling tourists, as the leaders in e-commerce numbers and pioneering digital firsts.
This understanding of the affluent Chinese traveller is key for any business worldwide.
Know your Millennials – and Your Market: Chinese Millennials are now more savvy than their Western counterparts. Competition for their attention is fierce. Never assume that any demographic will care just because a brand is new to the market. Being new isn’t enough. Young Chinese people have grown up with new things every day – new skyscrapers, new restaurants, new brands in their thousands. They want to be offered something that is special, like they are.
Social media is Everything: Chinese Millennials are never offline. You must have a presence on WeChat, Weibo and any specific apps that pertain to your brand.
Plant a digital footprint on Chinese social media. Businesses in MENA must engage with the target audience while they are in China, and collaborate with known brand ambassadors, talk about the story of their brand and engender complete understanding. They need know your identity and story as explained to them by a trusted source. Collaborate not only with KOLs but with Chinese designers, artists, venues and relevant Chinese businesses.
M-Commerce or Die: If a Chinese Millennial reads about your brand on a WeChat article, a Weibo post, within a travel app or other, they want to make one tap to book it and buy it. If your product is not on Tmall or JD.com, or if your hotel or brand not on Ctrip then it may as well not exist.
A website in Chinese is fine, but it’s not 2005 anymore. Your brand must be on WeChat and Weibo at a minimum, and then move to explore the vast and unique digital ecosystem of China. The competition is huge – but so is the opportunity.
Curate your KOLs: It’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it that counts. Bigger KOLs aren’t always better – but they are always more expensive. Consider working with a higher number of micro-influencers, rather than one KOL who has higher Weibo figures. Find KOLs who meet the ideals of authenticity and who are genuinely loved.
The individual reach of industry experts and micro-influencers may be lower, but the readership could be much more relevant and engaged in what they are reading, rather than passing, unknown views of a ‘celebrity’ style KOL. The brand-KOL relationship isn’t a quickie in the digital car park, it’s a happy marriage of content planning and features that work well for both sides. Followers need to enjoy seamless branding foreplay before the big finishes of the collaboration come to fruition.
Get your shop in order: Among the many aspects which a business must tailor to Chinese travellers is that they need to get their shop in order! They simply must offer WeChat payment services. QR codes to scan through to their WeChat account should be consistently visible.
Give Chinese consumers a seamless experience when they travel. If your store or hotel in Dubai, Cairo or Doha doesn’t accept WeChat pay and AliPay – why not? Ensure Chinese-speaking service staff at all times. Integrate their O2O experience by having QR codes in your retail spaces that let them follow your social media and shop more on your Tmall store.
Read more from The Luxury Conversation to understand how your business can connect with this key consumer: