Using WeChat to attract more Chinese travellers

For any brands, hotels or destinations who want to attract and engage Chinese travelers, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of social networking app WeChat, which now has over 700 million active users. It’s been compared to Facebook, but it is so much more influential in China than Facebook is in western countries, because it’s not only a social networking site, but an entire ecosystem. Its influence continues to increase.

Many people in China interact socially, make contact and stay in touch with businesses, family and friends, even pay all their bills electronically – all through WeChat. The once ubiquitous Chinese practice of formally exchanging business cards on first meeting has been replaced by the ritual of mutually scanning WeChat QR codes in China. The cashless society is also fast becoming a reality in China thanks to WeChat Pay, which links automatically to bank accounts and credit cards and allows you to transfer money to other WeChat accounts and pay for all kinds of goods and services. Some restaurants no longer even accept cash in China.

Recently, WeChat partnered with the tourism authorities of Australia, Dubai and Britain to produce WeChat CityExperience guides to London, Dubai and Sydney, aimed at China’s fast-growing millennial FIT tourist market.

They feature interactive Bing Maps (China’s version of google maps) with curated landmarks, restaurants, shops and other points of interest marked – and are a good example of how mini programmes can be created entirely through the WeChat ecosystem without the need to develop separate apps for download. This is particularly important in China given that android is the dominant form of communication device, but Google Play is not available in China. If you are a hotel, destination or a tourism product that doesn’t yet have any presence in China we recommend that you get started by establishing two things – a  WeChat subscription account and a Sina Weibo microsite.

Weibo is another important social media network in China, which has been described as a cross between Instagram and twitter. We recommend it as well because although it’s not as ubiquitous as WeChat, like its western counterparts it’s easier to engage those who are not already part of your community, whereas WeChat like Facebook requires you to be connected first.

A WeChat subscription account allows you to post content and communicate regularly with your community.  But the key of course is how you build up that community. What some travel companies do is when they attend exhibitions or events, they invite visitors to scan a QR code on their booth or collaterals which takes them direct to your WeChat account.

Within your WeChat account, you can essentially have a mini site that presents all your key information with the app, and this can usefully serve as a cost effective substitute for a Chinese language website. You then as with most effective social media marketing send out regular interesting content to engage them.

Competitions or special unique offers are also often used as ways to entice people to start following your WeChat.

Not surprisingly, one of the most effective uses of WeChat is for loyalty programmes – after all it is a great tool to communicate with people who are already part of your community, and to build that community over time. For example, Marriott Rewards has an effective WeChat account in China which it uses to inform members about new hotel openings, travel tips and exclusive events and offers for them.

China Southern Airlines also uses WeChat for mobile check in services, allowing passengers to avoid the physical airport check in – which of course also saves resources for the airline.

Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts is incorporating a price comparison function in their WeChat account so that travelers can find the best deal for their trip – which also gives them an incentive to join the community.

All of these functions are not only helpful for the consumer but most importantly give them an incentive to join a hotel or travel service supplier’s community and thus give the hotel an opportunity to communicate with their guests and win their loyalty.

WeChat is also effective not just for marketing, but for actual sales.  Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agency, uses flash sales on WeChat every day as a means of attracting new followers.

And of course, it is important to engage with KOLS (key opinion leaders) in China with a high and relevant following, so that they can also use their influence to help you win more followers.

If you’d like to know more about WeChat and how to use it to win more business from China, contact Paul Hicks or Nicola Oldfield at GHCAsia