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This article originally appeared on Dragon Trail Interactive.

With more than 50 speakers and 35 events over five days, the BUZZ Expo China Summit offered a comprehensive view of Chinese tourism in 2020 and looked ahead to the post-COVID travel era.

Here are seven takeaways about Chinese travel trends, destination marketing, and the return of outbound tourism;

Take advantage of the downtime

This year has been a washout for global tourism, but there remain opportunities to refresh marketing strategies. “We took this chance to experiment and introduce different sights in Poland to see how the market would react,” said Zuzanna Gutkowska, Acting Director at the Polish National Tourist Office in Beijing. Through live streaming and other travel marketing initiatives they’ve been able to explore cultural topics in greater depth, and introduce new areas such as wellbeing tourism and natural scenery.

Rufat Sadikhov, Regional Manager for Asia at the Azerbaijan Tourism Board says they’ve used the downtime to conduct training with the local industry on how to be Chinese-ready (including translating signs and tourism materials into Mandarin).

“Learn as much as you can about newly adopted technology,” advises Dragon Trail’s co-founder and CEO George Cao. Start by practicing on a smaller scale to gain familiarity with new technologies and learn what works best. It’s also a good period to conduct consumer research and develop products and marketing for the return of Chinese travelers.

The Market is Shifting

No one knows what the post-covid travel market will look like when it returns, but the recovery of China’s domestic market provides some insightful clues.

Education, family travel, and renting cars “is really the future of travel,” said Roy Kriezman, Consul, Tourism Affair to China for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Although new travelers are still going to want to visit the must-see locations, stressed Gutowska, she also shared that Polish tour operators are currently designing new products to be 60 percent cities, 40 percent outdoors. “It’s up to DMOs to make it a permanent trend,” she said, “we might create new must-see places, but in the countryside.”

Some Things Stay the Same

Chinese tourism might be transitioning rapidly to FIT, self-driving, and more remote travel, but the importance of trust, respect, and cultural sensitivity remain.

“Chinese will travel where they feel respected and where tour operators are grateful to have them back,” said Gazmend Haxhia, Founder and President of Landways International in the Balkans.

Asian tourism advisor Xu Jing explained that Chinese visitors to Europe expect a very warm welcome at a hotel – including tea on arrival and help carrying their suitcases – and that this can be an area of cultural difference and unmet expectations.

OTAs will be Key in Post-COVID Travel Market

“The pandemic has turned travel industry executives into live streaming superstars,” said George Cao, referring specifically to the Trip.com Group’s chairman James Liang, who catalysed an industry wide trend with his weekly live streaming events.

post-COVID travel

James Liang’s live streaming for the Trip.com Group has had a major impact on tourism marketing and the customer journey in China

OTAs are not only important sources of inspiration that can bring the destinations closer to Chinese people, they are also technological innovators that will likely be the first to rebound.

Chinese OTAs haven’t just started new tourism marketing trends in 2020, they’ve actually changed the customer journey. Previously, consumers would first be inspired, then research and plan, and lastly book their trips. Thanks to the success of live streams and their proactive approach to sales, the inspiration and purchasing steps are now combined, with travelers left to research and plan the rest of their trips after already booking a hotel, buying a plane ticket, or committing to another kind of purchase.

Destinations Need to Revise KPIs

Despite years of discussions about the perils of overtourism, “success” in the travel industry has all too often been measured by number of visitors – numbers cannot continue to grow indefinitely. Destinations can now reflect on alternative KPIs that will help to shift priorities in the post-COVID travel era. Israel Tourism’s KPIs include room nights and total spend, Czech Republic on room nights, which are below average for the Chinese market, as well as visitor satisfaction, which leads to repeat visits.

Technology is More Important than Ever

China’s tourism recovery wouldn’t have been possible without the role of technology, both in controlling the virus and rebuilding consumer confidence. This includes the ubiquity of QR codes and tracking data, enabling health authorities to control outbreaks, and offering consumers the confidence to enter malls and movie theaters.

QR codes are just one aspect of increased demand for contactless services, says Cao, “before the pandemic, robots were gimmicks, now they’re playing a meaningful role” by delivering room service in hotels, or dishes in a restaurant.

Not only will digital touchpoints increase, post-COVID travel will see Chinese tourists will expect their usage from trip planning — virtual tours and videos — to booking — digital payment platforms — to the journey itself — contactless services.

Your National COVID-19 Response is Affecting Chinese Consumer Sentiment

In early February, some anticipated long term blowback from China to countries that banned its tourists. This now seems unlikely with travel bans from and to just about everywhere having long been the new normal. But early and strict responses to COVID-19 may actually have long-term positive consequences for Chinese tourism. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to totally close its borders to inbound travel, and – speaking from Shanghai – Roy Kriezman says the response to this in China has actually been very positive. Rather than a negative reaction to border closures, there’s actually a healthy respect for a country that took it seriously. Looking forward, this is likely to be good news for New Zealand and other countries known for their swift and effective response, and reflects similar findings from Dragon Trail’s September 2020 China consumer sentiment report.

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