Expert Interview
May 18, 2020

NBTC Interview: Time to Stay Connected

NBTC invites Chinese to “follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh”.

In 2020, the Netherlands expected Chinese to “follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh”. From riding through the world’s first glowing bike path inspired by Starry Night to appreciating the Night Café inside the Hoge Veluwe national park, Chinese could follow this new route designed by the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) to discover more art and nature. 380,000 Chinese visited the Netherlands last year.

However, this poetic plan was all disrupted by the harsh reality. Eddie Yang, NBTC’s China representative in Beijing, still looks upbeat in his orange tie. He shares the latest changes in the market and explains why it is crucial to stay connected with Chinese.

Eddie Yang at the NBTC press event in China last December.

How are Chinese travellers affected by Covid-19 ?

Those on top of the income pyramid are not affected despite everything that happened. They still want their trip to be tailor-made and perfect to the smallest detail. Only the travel restrictions and fear of virus can limit them. Those in the middle are individual travellers, small groups, and those with special interests. They are less affected, compared with the price-sensitive ones. These people have to compromise for nearby destinations or come to Europe less frequently.

One interesting thing to notice is that Chinese savings soared in the first quarter of 2020 [with a 13% year-on-year growth, the first time hitting 200 trillion RMB according to China central bank]. In the past decade, Chinese spent more but saved less. The savings climbed up, because people had nowhere to spend money during lockdown and they are more willing to save [because Covid-19 reminds them of the Chinese philosophy “prepare for the raining days”].  It is interesting to see how people will spend when Covid-19 is over.

How will Covid-19 change Chinese travel spending and preferences?

I think people are more willing to spend on spaces. Rather than mingling with strangers, they may pay for a private room in the restaurant or a business class seat. They will also feel more comfortable if the hotel bathroom, elevator as well as public areas are disinfected frequently.

Some preferences are strengthened by Covid-19, such as enjoying the natural scenery and dining out with family and friends. These preferences have always been there but the lockdown makes everything more precious.

What may prevent Chinese from travelling to Europe again?

The attraction of Europe remains. But Chinese care about safety. There are many racist attack videos spreading on social media. For example, one Chinese student in Germany was attacked on the street and admitted into the hospital. Chinese watched these videos and started to think if they are safe and welcome in Europe. The racism impact can last longer, as it has cast a shadow on people’s hearts. On a positive note, independent young travellers may be less affected, because they are experienced in dealing with other cultures and they are open to communication.

What are Dutch museums and attractions doing right now to stay connected with Chinese?

Frankly speaking, we don’t see that many initiatives so far. The market will come back eventually and it is important to stay connected and keep the presence. Competitors are doing that. That’s what I want to emphasize to our tourism partners: you have to let people know you are there, instead of disappearing.

On our NBTC WeChat, we have been releasing a series of “cloud travel” videos to stay connected with Chinese and stir up their anticipation about coming to the Netherlands. The Keukenhof also shares videos to remind people to come back next year.

What would you advise the Dutch tourism players to do to clear Chinese doubts?  

At this moment, we could come together under the umbrella of the Netherlands. If everyone puts in a small investment, we could grow the cake and make the pieces bigger for everyone. Image campaign is a good choice now, because a lot of travel decisions are based on previous impressions and this is the moment to plant good impressions [in Chinese minds and hearts].

When Chinese do come back again, small details can make a big difference, such as the hand-wash detergent at the entrance or temperature detectors. Chinese have seen such measures at home and will translate these to safety assurance. They will think “oh, this place is taken good care of”. Welcome videos showing a harmonious environment can also kick away the negative feelings.

Which Dutch theme tours are gaining popularity among Chinese?

For the past 12 years, we have been working with Chinese garden influencer Cai Wanzi. She has very dedicated followers [who can go on two-week tours discovering gardens alone]. We invited her to visit various gardens and share the itineraries on social media. Dutch masters such as Van Gogh and Vermeer is the second theme we have been using for years to attract families with young children. Our educational programs in museums are popular among Chinese parents who want to enrich their children with art and culture and make the school holidays better-spent.

When will Chinese be ready to travel abroad again?

People are just discouraged to travel. All the practical details like quarantine prevent them from travelling. There is no easy solution to this complicated situation. So they just let it go for now. Tourism recovery is not as quick as we can expect, but also not as long as we cannot wait. In the next two years, travel will come back for sure.

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