Whether Chinese travellers are hoarding their travel purchases, ready for as soon as flying becomes common again, or showing their urge to keep travelling, evidenced by domestic tourism’s near 100% capacity – the demand is bubbling over.
So as the world’s largest travel base preps itself for see the world once more, what do international travel & hospitality businesses need to prepare for on their end?
The Luxury Conversation caught up with Irene Lee, GM China of Virtuoso, the invitation-only network, comprising the top 2% of travel agencies worldwide, with 20,000 elite travel advisors working and 1,800 luxury and experiential travel partners, providing its upscale clientele with exclusive amenities, rare experiences and privileged access.
What are you seeing from Chinese travellers in terms of their will to travel again? Where are you seeing that they are researching and planning to go to when allowed?
People in the travel industry, all over the world, have experienced such similar effects that we are now one family. But through the difficulty that we’re all going through, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as travel – luxury travel for a sizeable demographic – has become not simply a want, but a staple part of the life of affluent Chinese consumers.
The importance of Chinese travellers to the luxury market had become totally clear by 2019 to anyone in the industry who wanted their brand to succeed! As the world comes together to right itself, then travel will again see its recovery fuelled by the demand from Chinese consumers.
Currently, domestic tourism is flourishing, with many luxury hotels in tier cities of all sizes reaching 100%. Holiday planning for next year is happening now.
Based on what the travellers are now experiencing in China, what can international venues and destinations look to prepare for?
We talk about ‘China speed’, and this means the delivery that you are giving your customers. Chinese guests can have instant chat with their travel advisor or the property itself, and in luxury, the agents have a different relationship with their UHNWI customers. In China, the guest will deal directly with their own preferred agent – meaning not simply the travel agency brand but an individual at a boutique agency. Those agencies will opt to work with a partner who can understand how demanding their client is, and give immediate responses.
According to Virtuoso Asia Member Survey in 2019, about 38% of respondents expect Virtuoso partners to respond within 24 hours, and only 4% of agencies surveyed said they would wait 2 days to respond. And if you are dealing with the guest directly, then your Chinese guest will always prefer to use WeChat as the communication platform. It may seem simple but it’s the basic foundation for speaking to the guest directly, whether sales, customer service or any form of business response.
What are you doing to keep the conversation going within your network?
Covid-19 reflects how much people miss communicating with each other in person. So as many businesses pivoted toward, we stopped any ‘hard sell’ and looked at personal conversations.
We asked our partners to create stories to share with our members, and they’re still doing this, whether its personal hotel recommendatoins and descriptions, how they are coping and planning ahead, or off-the-beaten-path tips. Your Chinese customers are still researching, learning and preparing, so they still want travel entertainment from you in the meantime.
Take the downtime to look at one questions – “are you ready to welcome Chinese travellers?”. Before Covid, brands were being told what they needed to do in order to engage with the leading consumerbase in the world. After suffering so much in 2020 so far, what changes have you made in order to be able to move forwards in the ‘new normal’ that you’ve read so much about?