This year, most local players in the hospitality sector have begun to realise the impact of Chinese travellers on their business activity. This might well be a foreshadowing of a major market shift that is in the making: a large increase in Chinese tourist arrivals in the coming years. If this trend is sustained, it could revolutionise the way Vietnam’s tourism industry does business.
I will attempt to summarize some of the available information concerning Chinese travellers’ attitudes, constraints and how they are using the power of the Internet to choose their travel destinations. These elements are drawn from personal experiences along with facts compiled from existing online data.
As most realise, the growth of both China’s and Vietnam’s economy is leading to a rapid increase in international travel from a burgeoning middle class. The World Tourism Organization predicts that outbound travel from China will reach 90-100 million travellers within the next six years.
Most Chinese outbound leisure travellers are:
Between 25-44 years of age
Well-educated (college or university degree)
Employed at a managerial level
Earning an average monthly income of USD1,499 or less; and
Married or living with a partner
The Chinese favour travel dates based around national holidays and prime holiday seasons. This includes early May (May Day), early October (National Holiday) and January to February (Chinese New Year).
Of course, travel occurs throughout the year, but these aforementioned dates are key travel times. Mirroring the actions of tourists from other emerging foreign markets, Chinese travellers initially venture to destinations close to their homes.
Vietnam, more attractive and accessible than China’s pricier and politically sensitive neighbours Japan and South Korea, has the potential to attract the bulk of this emerging market.
This idea that Vietnam could attract high volumes of Chinese tourists is frightening for most Vietnamese who see this opportunity as an actual danger to their identity – or even as an invasion from their gigantic northern brother.
Over time, I believe that most locals and travel industry stakeholders will recognise their tangible potential and value.
Knowing more about any market is an important first step for those who dare try to snag a piece of it. As examples, consider the market factors that China is predominantly a smoking nation and that Chinese often chat loudly with their friends while eating.
Chinese enjoy foods similar in nature and presentation to Vietnamese fare.Congee, pickles, duck’s eggs, tofu, bamboo shoots and nuts are all popular breakfast choices – perhaps pho wouldn’t be too much of a stretch? For dinner, Chinese traditionally eat in the Vietnamese style of multiple dishes.
Meals include a soup, a meat/fish course, a noodle or rice dish, and conclude with fresh fruit. Possibly the only dissimilarity between Chinese and Vietnamese diners is that Chinese are willing to try local specialties.
Traditionally the Chinese palate does not appreciate cold food at any meal; however this is changing with the younger generation.Drinking water should not be served ice cold, but rather at room temperature or warmed. The same goes for juice and milk. Even beer and soft drinks are preferred served at room temperature.
Although many Chinese travellers love to try local wines and Scotch, many will opt for juice, tea, Coca-Cola, or soymilk given the choice. (From this, one could imply that the bar/club scene isn’t a priority on the itinerary of the typical Chinese traveller.)
As it is in Vietnamese culture, negotiation and asking for a deal when transacting business are part of the Chinese mindset.Being prepared with additional value considerations and some Mandarin words to help you communicate is to your advantage. In the same vein, the concept of tipping is not familiar to Chinese.
Ensuring that any requirement for tips is included in the cost of the meal or other service is a good idea. If you have menus or other documentation written in Mandarin, this is a big plus as most Chinese travellers do not speak English well.
When it comes to hotel accommodation, Chinese value flexibility on late bookings and last-minute name adjustments. This is the way that business is done in China, as it is in Vietnam. Twin or double/double rooms are most preferred. Lodging providers should not expect to see much or any consuming done on site as outside consumption is the preferred choice.
When it comes to attracting Chinese tourists, don’t underestimate the online power of blogs and social /media. China has legions of Internet users, and your web presence (or lack thereof) could make or break your business.
According to a recent report published in 2013 by Tourism British Columbia, the Canadian authority on tourism, “40 per cent of Chinese travellers post travel reviews and upload photos and videos.” This is a staggering figure, well above any other known market.
Furthermore, the report states:
User-generated information is responsible for 59% of all purchase decisions. Blogs are actively read by 90% of Internet users and a remarkable 81% actively write blogs.
And this is not a recent phenomenon.
China has an estimated 384 million social /media users! As a result, remember that the chances are high that travellers’ experiences in Vietnam will be showcased back in China long before they board the flight home.