The hospitality and travel industries have, of course, been among the greatest victims of this year. Most research into the sector’s employment shows that around 1 in 10 employees work in the hospitality industry. The hope remains that, globally, things will improve and once travel opens again, the world will revenge-spend and revenge-travel like never before.
With China being the first location of the outbreak, it has shown the first signs of economic recovery after the worst of the situation has (hopefully) now gone. This excerpt from the latest LuxePulse Hospitality report from Reuter Intelligence analyses Q1 2020.
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Travel in China Begins to Bounce Back:
After the closures and shut downs of January and February, domestic tourism saw signs of a recovery from mid-March with analysys forecasting domestic travel to grow to 60% from 47% of the overall holiday travel market in 2020. 40% of China’s top tourist sites had reopened by 17 March, and searches for the upcoming May 1 holiday had increased by 76% week on week on the online travel platform Qunar. A Ctrip survey found that 78% of the 15,000 surveyed are interested in travelling in the near future. By March, occupancy rates remain down by 76%, but this shows an improvement from the 89% fall in January. 80-90% of properties re-opened by mid-March.
Trip.com launched its Travel Revival V Plan on 5 March with the ‘Schedule your future trips’ program. The plan offers discounts on hotels, flights and tourist site tickets aimed to reach over 200 million Chinese travellers.
Alibaba’s online travel platform Fliggy reported a 100% increase for Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday (4 April, 2020) ticket sales at the end of March, compared to mid-March. Fliggy also noted that most trips were for in-province travel and that hotel bookings have increased by 30%.
Digital brings travel to the customer while they wait
Hospitality, travel and tourism brands and organisations are finding new opportunities to engage with consumers as they are travelling less physically. Online travel platforms are live-streaming to attract real-time bookings. Hotel chefs are offering cooking lessons and hotel gym staff are demonstrating home-based workouts.
Due to the weeks-long mandatory quarantines, many trending hashtags across Weibo, RED and Douyin are related to home virtual tours, revenge travel, and where to travel after the outbreak.
Once the current environment normalizes, Chinese consumers will certainly start travelling again. We can expect domestic travel to bounce back faster than overseas travel, which is highly dependent on the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic abroad. Irrespective of the destination, consumers will likely have an even higher reliance on digital channels throughout the consumer journey from discovery to purchase for travel and tourism.
A number of new hashtags have emerged as avid travellers are unable to make physical trips. The Weibo hashtag “Where do you want to travel after the epidemic” has been viewed 140 million times and included in 28,000 discussion as social media fans share their future travel plans. The “Revenge travel” hashtag appeared on Weibo on 21 March and quickly gained close to 6 million views alongside “The almost forgotten taste of travel” hashtag which emerged on 23 March and has already been viewed over 15 million times.
As the “Virtual travel competition” hashtag has attracted some 140 million views on Weibo, many social media users across platforms took to sharing their versions of virtual home tours. Weibo’s home-grown hashtag “Home virtual touring” already has 800 million views and has been included in over 300,000 discussion.
On Douyin, the hashtag “Home virtual tours” has been viewed 2.7 billion times and another hashtag “See the world at home” has 2.18 billion views as users share videos about travels in and from home. A third related hashtag “Tour guide taking you on a virtual tour” has 31.1 million views.
Weibo also launched a hashtag campaign with a number of celebrities encouraging readers to share their old travel photos. The “Pretend I’m on a journey” hashtag has been viewed over 410 million times and included in 934,000 discussions.
Various hospitality and travel brands have also tapped into travellers unmet travel needs. The Shangri-La Hotels collaborated with Voyage, a travel magazine, on a Weibo hashtag activity in which participants had a chance to receive afternoon tea coupons. The activity took place 9-22 March receiving 17.2 million views and being included in 190,000 discussions.
Virtual travel and live-streaming promotions
Prior to COVID-19 becoming a pandemic, Alibaba’s travel platform Fliggy had rolled out a virtual travel plan that involved over 100 live-streaming sessions a day from over 30 countries. Viewers could enjoy Amsterdam’s top restaurants, Philippines’ best beaches, and Russia’s leading art works.
On 23 March, Trip.com president James Jiang live-streamed on Douyin from Atlantis Sanya to promote Sanya-related travel products. The live-stream was viewed by over 510,000 people and resulted in RMB10 million in sales within one hour.
Cultural institutions are also leveraging live-streams. For example, in late February, almost 10 million viewers took part in a virtual spring tour of China’s eight national museums, including the National Museum of China and the Gansu Museum. For Valentine’s Day, over 4 million fans watched a live-streamed concert on Alibaba’s Taobao Live platform, which featured China’s 21 top artists.
Hotel groups have also expanded into a service sector that has experienced a particular steep growth over the past months – food delivery. Alibaba’s meal delivery service Ele.me witnessed a 700% surge in orders in February alone. We have also seen a number of hotels launch their own food delivery service. Shangri-La Hotels began its food delivery across 14 cities on 17 February. The Intercontinental Hotel Group started to offer food delivery in over 20 cities from the beginning of March, while Hilton Hotels publicized its food delivery and takeaway options on 12 March.
While travellers will slowly start realizing their physical travel plans, with in-province to revive first, followed by inter-province domestic travel, hospitality and related companies will be wise to accelerate their digital strategies. As will be the case with retail, the heightened reliance on digital channels during the COVID-19 outbreak will leave a mark on the Chinese travel and tourism landscape. Consumers and brands alike are likely to prefer online over offline channels, particularly during discovery, purchase and on-going engagement, but also look for technological innovations to provide safer and multi-faceted experiences at destination.
Ctrip: 2020 travel industry recovery index
Using big data analytics and a survey, Ctrip has produced top 10 most popular domestic and overseas destinations.
The domestic destinations most popular by platform search volume were 1. Sanya, 2. Chengdu, 3. Guizhou, 4. Shanghai, 5. Xi’an, and by survey answer they were 1. Sanya, 2. Shanghai, 3. Chengdu, 4. Beijing and 5. Chongqing.
For overseas destinations, by platform search volume it was 1. Thailand, 2. Japan, 3. Singapore, 4. Vietnam
5. Dubai, and by survey answer 1. Thailand, 2. Japan, 3. Maldives, 4. Switzerland, 5. Singapore.
For more insights such as influencer and brand collaborations, digital campaigns and further business report links, contact Reuter for the full report.