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NZ Tourism Industry Warned Expect A Different Chinese Tourist Post COVID

New Zealand is one of a select few countries granted approved destination status (ADS) by China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, however, Kiwi businesses need to start marketing to China urgently if local businesses want to benefit—but Kiwis will need to focus on certain changes in Chinese tourist thinking and priorities.

Anne Casey, the chief executive of Marketing Minds, a local marketing agency that works in the Chinese market, said research published in December 2022 revealed that the top preferred travel themes for Chinese tourists in 2023 include nature trips, beach and islands—and New Zealand is well positioned to meet these needs, provided Chinese tourists are informed.

Casey said now is the time to begin or restart marketing campaigns that target Chinese tourists so they can plan their trips later in the year.

According to China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, China will soon resume group tours to a list of 20 countries that qualify for the China Approved Destination Status (ADS) as of February past. Beijing relaxed its travel restrictions for Chinese citizens in January this year.

China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism said Russia, Thailand and New Zealand were among the top countries that will soon receive groups organised by tour agencies and online travel companies.

Other countries included Argentina, Cuba, Fiji, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.

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Casey said there is no apparent reason why Beijing chose these 20 countries and left Australia and the US off the list, for example. But New Zealand has been a favourite destination for Chinese tourists for many years.

In 2016, 400,000 Chinese tourists spent $1.7 billion in New Zealand, and China was New Zealand's second-largest international market in 2019, with 407,000 visitors, according to Tourism NZ.

Casey said planned tour groups of Chinese tourists are excited to visit New Zealand.

"A survey by Dragon Trail Research on Chinese traveller sentiments in November 2022 found that people want to travel to destinations rich in natural ecology. About 66% of tourists hope to visit beautiful beaches, while 63.4% said they are keen to go on nature trips. Both of those desires match New Zealand perfectly," Casey said.

Casey added that while Tourism New Zealand does a good job marketing the entire country to tourist populations in China, it is only able to showcase a handful of New Zealand tourism operators. Most tourism businesses will need their own marketing plans.

"You must develop ways to promote yourself. Our advice is to get in front of travel brokers who have ties to the planned Chinese tour groups.

"It's also advisable to learn how to influence decisions by using online platforms that are popular in China. This will include digital platforms like WeChat, Red or Weibo, which are unique to the Chinese," Casey said.

Casey offered a few tips for New Zealand tour operators–and general businesses that cater for tourism—hoping to attract Chinese visitors with clever marketing.

1. Incorporate most, if not all, touchpoints with Chinese words and phrases

While many Chinese tourists know some English to be conversational in New Zealand, a large percentage will be more comfortable speaking Mandarin. Casey advises brushing up on the language and determining if signage or information packs can be translated into Mandarin.

"Everyone visiting a new country appreciates the extra effort by a tourism operator or business to deliver information in their home language. Not only will using Mandarin increase the efficiency of the tourist site, but it also helps reduce confusion and builds rapport—it shows that you appreciate our culture," Casey said.

2. Be visible

It's important to understand which websites or apps are used in China to locate, explore and book tourist trips worldwide. But it is also critical for New Zealand companies facilitating tourism to ensure they have all the proper certifications and are visible on major online Chinese portals.

"Being on the right platforms is the difference between being found by keen tourists or getting lost in the noise. This is especially critical since Chinese digital platforms are completely different from the rest of the world. For example, WeChat and Red (XiaoHongShu) are two key Chinese platforms that are ideal for New Zealand businesses to reach Chinese in China who are interested in New Zealand. It certainly isn’t Facebook nor Instagram. " Casey said.

3. Chinese tourists’ priorities have changed post Covid

"You would be making a mistake to think that Chinese tourists think and behave like they did pre-COVID. Now most Chinese put their health ahead of personal freedom. They will want visibly higher standards n hygiene, for example,” Casey said.

Marketing to Chinese tourists requires calibrating a message that resonates with this audience rather than dusting off a previous campaign and repurposing it for a new crowd.

Casey is it is important to understand how successful tourism operators or businesses create their campaigns.

“Marketing to Chinese is very different from other nationalities because in the last 2.5 years, our behaviour and priorities have been significantly impacted by being in our own Covid bubbles and China is no different. It's about learning what Chinese tourists want to see and hear," Casey said.

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