5 Questions with: Barry Lin, VP of TuNiu Destination Marketing; China’s Travel Booking Giant

Founded in 2006, TuNiu is the leading online leisure travel company in China – the Nasdaq-listed platform has the largest market share (28.4%) in the online leisure and holiday market, and currently holds over 2 million holiday package SKUs. The Luxury Conversation met up with one of the most influential men in the China travel sphere, VP of TuNiu Destination Marketing Services Department, Barry Lin, during his recent visit to Shanghai.

Barry has been with TuNiu since 2010, and is very much one of the movers and shakers of the industry. We briefly caught up with Barry during ITB China – trying to grab some his time while every GM/Boss at every major Tourism Board and hotel brand was keen to come and shake his hand and share a few words. While you might not find Barry doing the LinkedIn self-promotion game, he is – on the ground and in the real world – someone that is a real expert in the industry. We met again recently to chat.

Affluent Chinese travellers now have so much choice. What is it that influences their decision as they are scanning through the booking app?

The branding within China is everything. What that means is that you can have the most amazing, most beautiful resort, but if you don’t have a property, or some form of very strong presence in China, then Chinese people aren’t going to know or trust your brand. If you’re a wealthy Chinese person browsing through the travel app, then all the islands look magical, and island experiences are in huge demand by  wealthy Chinese travellers. But, maybe somewhere like Six Senses is beautiful, but if the name doesn’t mean anything in China then the names like Conrad or Four Seasons are always going to be stronger.

What regions spring to mind that are doing well to attract Chinese travellers this year and next?

Upcoming regions that spring to mind are places like Finland and Switzerland in Europe and also Canada, as these regions are doing huge pushes and promotion with the official tourism boards and regional authorities in order to speak to Chinese travellers. Finland is somewhere untouched by Chinese tourists, and that’s what the new travellers want. Switzerland has so much to offer and is doing an excellent job in promoting themselves, such as sports tourism, health tourism and the idea of somewhere really high-end – let’s say expensive!

Canada is doing the same in terms of large-scale promotion, and is a country that offers much more than just Quebec or Toronto. That’s one key point for the affluent traveller – they’ve been to all of the big name places already! They’re looking for something fresh. Abu Dhabi is another strong example of this. The place is booming due to Chinese tourism, as it offers luxury, adventure and those key points.

What are some overseas businesses still missing out on in the China picture?

In China, everything is about trust, partnerships and knowing each other. What that means is the top people, the leaders of a brand, need to come to China – and for some time. Not just a few days saying hello to people, but for several months – bring your family if you have to! Because from this business sense, it’s not only about ‘how you talk to the Chinese consumer’, the business reality is who will do business with you and who will help you.

I do lots of speeches and talks at various events, and sometimes, as soon as the talk has finished, I get given a namecard and ‘I want to do business with you’. Relationships and trust take time, they take things that are still important in China, like dinners together, knowing each other. It serves a business best if their top people can benefit from being known within the influential Chinese business circle and really understand the culture of doing business.

For any new arrival or a campaign that’s aiming to speak to the right consumer, you have to be systematic. Let’s say the business sector – and the relevant people – are in one particular city, like Shanghai. Then the focus needs to be specifically, strongly on that one city. There’s no way that you are going to be able to effectively speak to all the targets in all the cities in China! You need to focus and set realistic goals, as China is so different to other countries in how to can engage the consumer.

Do Chinese travellers now expect Chinese language and food to be present at resorts worldwide?

It’s getting to that stage where service staff, menus and languages should really be there. For example, it’s fine to have amazing food, but even with the best steak and foie gras and so on, our Chinese stomachs are calling for some Chinese food! So get a Chinese Chef! Apart from those aspects, you need some touch points. For example I stayed as Disney once in the U.S. and there wasn’t any Chinese language there, while at Universal Studios they had the huge Transformer speaking Chinese, elsewhere they had panda icons represented and so on. These factors are crucial when gaining trust and showing respect to your Chinese customer.

How have you seen the Chinese family travel market changing in 2018?

As well as the obvious things like languages and service staff to reassure family travellers, the wealthy Chinese families also consider both education and emigration, or at least foreign passport holding, as part of their entire overseas journey. For example Singapore – they would like their kids to also study there, gain citizenship and later return to China. For really HNWI, this factor is worth bearing in mind when you are promoting a region, and what it can fully offer those potential visitors, in the short and the long term.

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