The first China-specific edition of ILTM wrapped up last week, proving to be a genuinely successful event for connecting luxury travel brands with agencies and travel planners.
The Luxury Conversation partnered with ILTM to produce a China Insight Report – Next-Gen Luxury Travellers: Affluent Chinese Families.
Having attended the keynote speech by Chloe Reuter, CEO of Reuter Communications and co-Founder of The Luxury Conversation, as well as the opening morning talks and event, we heard about key trends and ideas vital for any travel business to know.
Family life is the new luxury
Our own report honed in on the affluent family demographic, yet other sources also made clear the importance of this segment. Rupert Hoogewerf, CEO of the Hurun Report, noted that family travel was the third most popular travel ‘theme’ with HNWI and UHWNI Chinese travellers. Speaking to the luxury travel brands attending the event also confirmed for us that pleasing the ‘luxury little emperors’ is just as important as anticipating the needs of the adult VIP guests.
Consider who a KOL really is
The tactic of Chinese KOL collaboration is ideally a long-term relationship, rather than looking for numbers alone. Tony Zhao, founder of Zhixing Lux and a speaker at the morning panel talk is both a travel agent and KOL, in the real sense of a Key Opinion Leader. He doesn’t just stand by clichéd photo spots and make a pose, but critically reviews his travel experiences to over 200,000 followers.
In the world of luxury, target customers are unlikely to spend their time following ‘celebrity KOLs’ and trying to copy their pose, or their lifestyle. They want detailed and helpful information. So, when looking at the KOL aspect for your luxury travel brand, consider the vast range of different content creators – not only the Weibo follower count.
At the panel discussion, Rupert Hoogewerf also pointed to an untapped resource – alumni of top Chinese universities (and international), and their WeChat groups. For example, if someone from the Fudan University alumni (or the Chinese alumni of famous overseas unis) recommends a luxury travel experience, then the rest of her/his peers are highly likely to want to try it for themselves. It brought up the topic that there are still under-leveraged, untapped methods in connecting directly with the target affluent traveller in China.
The meaning of personal
We hear the importance of travel (and every luxury service) as being ‘personalised’ – yet without a clear description of what this means, apart from the quality of service that should already be an innate part of any luxury experience.
What did stand out was that ‘personal’ means a genuine relationship or bond created between the guest and the people delivering the service. Wealthy Chinese travellers occasionally opt for private accommodation outside of the main chains and brands. Perhaps they travel as a group to a castle in Europe, or a luxury lodge in South Africa, or the Alps. What they most enjoy from that service experience is the close, ‘family’ style feeling that they receive in such a stay.
Of course, brands do offer aspects such as ‘personal butler’ during a luxury stay, yet the importance of this seems even greater than previously thought. It doesn’t mean that they want service in their faces all the time, but the quality and experience of the ‘butler’ or dedicated staff is crucial.
M-commerce and M-content still under-used
Many smart travel brands are fully on board with China’s unique digital world. Yet, even now, as brands try to speak and sell to the leading global demographic of the luxury Chinese traveller, there are still some that see ‘opening a WeChat account’ as a real step in connecting with their target audience.
As revealed in our Insight Report, affluent Chinese travellers have a wide range of content platforms they browse, read and buy on. China is a pioneer of the digital landscape – Sophia Ong, GM of Strategic Partnerships at Tencent, spoke in the panel about the next-gen tech that is being trialled this year. These included new advances with facial recognition and the consumer using their phone to scan the item. The result is that a shopper could walk into an unmanned, new retail store and cameras would recognise their presence, and as the customer leaves the store with their scanned items, automatically take the payment, giving the customer the feeling of ‘leaving without paying’.
Other examples of WeChat capabilities already in use, are those such as functions implemented by Yunnan Tourism. Using a WeChat mini-program (simply by finding Yunnan Tourism in their WeChat), travellers can point their phone camera at natural objects such as flowers and be given information about what they are seeing. Rather than hunt along the souvenir street for the best price, they can take recommendations from the official WeChat and even shop directly within it. With the location-based capabilities of WeChat, live tourism guides and more are just some of the possibilities.
As well as the cutting edge tech for the actual journey, the ways that Chinese travellers browse, and learn is also specific. Traditional print media is over, and without a clear marketing strategy that is not only China-specific but region and segment-specific, a travel business will be far back in the ever-growing crowd of businesses that are getting in front of their future guests’ eyes.