May 19, 2020

The Digital Journey of Independent Chinese Travellers

Social platforms and tools used for planning, booking and enjoying a trip

Jin Zhang is a 29-year-old Shanghai native who works in an international company as a marketing manager. With a white-collar job and as the only child of an upwardly-mobile family, Jin has plenty of disposable income. She loves to use some of that to travel.

With a couple of close friends, her next trip is to Europe. But as she speaks fluent English, some basic German, and did her masters in the UK, she feels that group travel would hinder her flexibility and ability to enjoy the trip. So her and her friends decide to travel independently. In this article we will follow Jin's digital journey and take a look at some of the social platforms she and her friends use to plan, book, and enjoy their trip.

Getting Inspiration With Xiaohongshu (aka “RED”)

Jin and her friends use a content-sharing social network called Xiaohongshu. Users of this site can post product photos with reviews and tips for other users to read, comment, and save to their boards, somewhat like Pinterest. Xiaohongshu has a significant footprint among potential independent travellers - 300 million registered users, of which 80% are female and 70% born after 1990. This is particularly interesting as young, female tourists are the main driver of independent travel. Furthermore, Xiaohongshu is not just for travel. Another key point of attraction for Jin - and of interest for European businesses - is that Xiaohongshu is also a marketplace for luxury products. On the network, Jin and her friends are inspired by the art museums of Paris, the mountains of Switzerland, and the history of Rome.

Tapping the Hive Mind With Qyer and Mafwengo

Qyer and Mafwengo are sources of crowdsourced travel information, with Qyer orienting towards international travel, and Mafwengo on both domestic and international. Thousands of posts are uploaded daily to the platforms, and the most valuable information is added to the travel guides. The crowdsourced information helps Jin and her friends see what is possible and where they can travel in their two-week travel period.

On the forums, Jin and her friends ask some questions about their potential destinations. Mafwengo and Qyer have integrations with booking sites such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, Agoda, Ctrip and eLong, making it possible for travellers to book the trips they were reading about and discussing, but the group is just browsing at the moment.

Booking With Ctrip

Ctrip lets users book hotels, flights, and packaged tours, apply for visas, purchase SIM cards, and more, around the world. After just a couple of weeks of research and discussion, Jin and her friends are ready to purchase tickets. This is not unusual - many independent travellers make plans and get on the plane on relatively short notice. While Ctrip offers the potential to book every step of their journey, to start with Jin and her friends just want to buy flights to Paris and accommodation for the first two nights. The rest of the trip will be more flexible depending on what happens when they arrive. It’s time to book!

The Super App to Rule Them All: WeChat

Xiaohongshu, Qyer, and Ctrip are all important in terms of planning, booking, sharing experiences about travel. But WeChat is the super app to rule them all. A billion people use WeChat daily by the end of 2018, and therefore is an indispensable part of day-to-day life both when travelling and at home. Before and during their holiday, Jin and her friends use WeChat to keep in touch with their families, research locations, make decisions about their trip and pay for goods and services.

We are going to look at three key ways on WeChat to connect with Jin and her group on their Europe trip.

Official Account

An official account is a marketing platform within WeChat, which could be compared to a Facebook page. It enables you to push feeds to and interact with subscribers, and provide them with services.

There are two types of official accounts that can be used to engage with followers: service and subscription. A service account is most suitable for brands that want to use their account for marketing purposes. These accounts also have e-commerce features and the ability to track traffic sources. Subscription accounts are best for brands with content at the center of their business. These accounts have limited features but offer the best reach for content. Like most Chinese, Jin and her friends follow a number of official accounts, for companies, services and brands they like. It is second nature for them to look for travel advice and information from official accounts before and while they travel.

Mini Programs

Where official accounts are designed more for customer support and to broadcast information to a company’s followers and users, Mini Programs are a lightweight way to merge online and offline worlds, used by tourists such as Jin as they travel. Jin can scan a QR code in a real-world location or search for a Mini Program name to open it in WeChat. Some of the capabilities Mini Programs offer include:

  • Ecommerce features
  • Geo-location and interactive maps
  • Written, audio visual and interactive brand content
  • Social sharing of products
  • Couponing and ticket sales

And many more.

The fact that Mini Programs enable you to engage with visitors at your location also presents some intriguing possibilities. Following Jin’s visit, you can build your relationship with her through the Mini Program and potentially also via an official account. By staying connected with her after she leaves, you have the opportunity to stimulate word-of-mouth buzz for your business. (Hint: here’s an example of one Dutch business engaging customers with a WeChat Mini Program).

WeChat Pay

And finally, there is the payment method native to WeChat, known as WeChat Pay. Along with Alipay, WeChat Pay is the most popular payment method in China. Since Jin is one of the vast majority of Chinese people who does not have an international credit card, offering WeChat Pay to her removes the headaches of handling cash or figuring out alternative payment methods.

Every person making use of WeChat Pay or Alipay has their own personalized QR code. At the point of sale, Jin shows her personal WeChat Pay QR code. The cashier scans the code and enters the amount in Euros. Then the cashier and Lisa both confirm the transaction, and the payment is completed in their own currency.

Navigating the Way Forward

There is a wide range of social platforms and tools available to reach Lisa and her friends as they plan, book, and travel through Europe. The way to approach this will depend on a number of factors, including your target audience, type of service, budget, goals, and so on. However, due to the number of social platforms and the importance of understanding the market, it is advisable to partner with experts in this field to ensure the best results.

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