Understanding the needs and wants of Chinese visitors and, most importantly, using this knowledge to create better quality tourism experiences, are essential to ensuring they get the most from their trip.
Chinese tourists have officially leapfrogged their New Zealand counterparts to become the top source of inbound visitors to Australia.
New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released in April showed there were 1.39 million Chinese visitors in the year ending February 2018, an increase of 13.2 per cent.
New Zealand moved into second place, with 1.36 million visitors over the year.
China has also become Australia's most valuable inbound tourism market, with visitors spending a record $10.4 billion last year.
And with consumption and domestic wealth growing continually, this trend is set to continue, fuelling a trebling of numbers of Chinese travellers to Australia over the next decade.
So how can tourism businesses ensure they are prepared for this phenomenal growth and build long-term connections with Chinese tourists in a competitive global travel marketplace?
Chinese tourists are increasingly well travelled and are seeking authentic and sophisticated local products, experiences and services.
This is especially the case with the country’s millions of travelling millennials, who are claiming an increasing share of the tourism market.
This new generation of ‘free and independent travellers’ is upwardly mobile and adventurous, actively seeking unique holiday experiences.
Established attractions—the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and other mainstays—are still popular, but travellers are looking for unique and memorable natural, dining and cultural experiences.
Destinations like Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and Tasmania, are rising quickly in popularity.
But to unlock this potential, local Australian tourism businesses need to offer distinct, ‘sticky’ and above all authentic experiences that facilitate independent travel.
They need to proactively tailor their products, offerings and experiences to strike the right chord with Chinese travellers.
Take Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, where tourism businesses have been working with local councils to ensure they can reach, engage and capitalise on the inbound Chinese market.
A rising number of local operators have recognised the need to equip themselves with insights into consumer behaviour and travel culture, communication styles, and service expectations, as well as the types of authentic attractions that will be of most interest along the road.
This enables these businesses to better service and cater for the contemporary Chinese traveller, tailoring products to optimise customer experience.
The next essential element is to understand the traveller journey.
Dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, sharing –these are all key components. Understanding the touch points at each stage of their travel journey allows you to best reach and engage with Chinese travellers.
Just as important as the physical presence of your business in Australia, is its presence on the smartphones of Chinese consumers.
Chinese tourists plan and manage every aspect of their trip on their phones, through apps like WeChat, which has more than 1 billion monthly users.
Having a properly translated website, tailored social media messages and channels, and quality Chinese-language marketing content is critical.
Offering payments via the extensively used UnionPay, Alipay or WeChat Pay also makes your business attractive to Chinese tourists.
A well-placed sign indicating the availability of these payment platforms can also help increase walk-ins from the street.
Once you’ve got these important measures in place, you can consider giving your online presence a boost by connecting with key Chinese influencers.
Like Bridestowe’s Bobbie doll, a number of Australian products have exploded in popularity following a well-placed plug by a Chinese influencer.
Weetbix prices, for example, went through the roof after the product was featured on Chinese TV drama.
Connecting your business with these influencers – or ‘Wang Hong’ as they are known – builds recognition and helps to distinguish your business in a saturated market.
Social media channels like WeChat are also vital. Chinese travellers will share photos and videos of your products, and in turn, inform and influence travel decisions of their family and friends.
Ensure your business can benefit from this by providing travellers with a memorable customer experience and plenty of photo-worthy opportunities.
Offering up free Wi-Fi on your premises is also a good way to make sure they can share their experiences instantly.
Obviously, a level of understanding of Chinese culture is a must have.
Your business can better serve Chinese travellers not only by understanding Chinese consumer trends, but also through a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and behaviour.
Doing so will help to develop rapport and create a positive customer experience.
Make sure your workers understand the basic cultural cues and faux pas.
Taking some immediate simple steps can go a long way.
For instance, if dealing with a travelling family group, make sure to give extra respect to the more senior family members.
And pay attention to simple details, like ensuring hot water and tea-making facilities are readily available.
An understanding of Chinese communication styles is also important. Chinese people generally favour indirect communication and will make all attempts to avoid open conflict where possible.
Learn some basic Chinese greetings, translate signs and menus, and have talking points about Chinese history and geography up your sleeve.
As with other elements of your travel offering, you don’t need to overdo it by attempting to make your product or experience look or feel Chinese.
But it is essential to find a tasteful nuance and strike the right chord that will appeal to your sophisticated and worldly Chinese customers.
Above all, authenticity and originality remains the key to ensuring travellers return and recommend Australia to their families and friends.
Nick Henderson is director of the China Practice at Asialink Business, Australia’s National Centre for Asia Capability. Nick has more than 17 years’ experience in assisting diverse businesses to enter and grow in China, particularly with the Australian tourism sector to get China-ready.