THE LUNAR New Year is the most celebrated festival among the Chinese.
This year, New Year’s Day is on Saturday, and the festival runs to next Thursday.
The festival is the time for families to journey back to their home towns. However, as standards of living and wealth have risen in China, more people are opting to enjoy their holidays abroad.
According to China’s popular booking site Ctrip.com, a record 6 million people will travel overseas during this year’s holidays.
What is in it for Thailand?
Against the backdrop of the recent crackdown on zero-dollar tours starting in September and the 7.5-per-cent yuan depreciation making spending in baht more expensive, Thailand is still the most popular destination for Chinese tourists for this New Year, ahead of Japan and the United States.
Official figures project that revenue from Chinese tourists will increase by more than 14 per cent, despite a 7.7-per-cent drop in Chinese arrivals.
Spending per day per head is going up to Bt6,000 from Bt4,000 last year.
According to a study by Global Blue, 70 per cent of Chinese tourists’ budget goes to retail purchases.
The influx of Chinese tourists and the increased spending during the seven days of Golden Week will present an opportunity for Thailand’s retail businesses.
Marketing strategies targeted at Chinese tourists will galvanise them to empty their wallets at Thai businesses.
The first strategy is to draw public attention on social platforms. Three out of four Chinese tourists rely on Internet search, according to Ipsos.
Microblogs and social media such as Weibo and WeChat with a total of 650 million active users have become the main channels for retailers to build brand awareness and influence buying decisions.
The optimal time for attracting public attention should be several months in advance to influence travel plans.
However, during the New Year, digital engagement is also essential to gain public recognition from the Chinese.
Adding the popular hashtag #ChineseNewYear to posts on social networks during the festival increases social engagement by 1.2 times on average.
The second strategy is to deliver in-store customer experiences. Intuitively, to attract Chinese tourists, the Chinese language is indispensable.
On top of New Year decorations, sign posts or tags in Chinese would help boost shopping.
Some large stores even train their staff to speak Mandarin to communicate with the Chinese directly.
Research also finds that 40 per cent of Chinese tourists expect an employee who can speak Mandarin with them.
Convenient payment is another important issue for Chinese shoppers.
According to Fung Global Retail Tech, half of Chinese tourists always look for popular Chinese payment channels like UnionPay and Alipay.
Accessibility to these payment channels would significantly improve sales.
Relationship building is the final step, which stirs up word-of-mouth marketing. It is very powerful for Chinese tourists because 45 per cent of them rely on the impressions of another tourist’s experience.
In particular, giving a red envelope or hong bao is an example of showing gratitude to them in terms of luck and positive energy for the coming year.
Hong bao can make a spectacular campaign by enclosing promotional offers and discount coupons.
Bloomingdale’s, a US retailer, has an after-sales promotion with the Chinese lucky number “8” by giving a hong bao worth US$8, $88 or $888.
Some retailers find digital channels to capitalise on the hong bao as a marketing campaign for Chinese tourists.
Because of the success of WeChat’s and Weibo’s digital exchange of more than a billion e-hong bao during the festival, last year Macy’s, another US department-store chain, joined the campaign on Weibo by developing hong bao varying from discount coupons to cash.
Its official Weibo account added 16,000 followers, with each post averaging 20,000 reads. The campaign led to more than 30,000 coupon downloads within a week.
This year, e-hong bao are tagging along with games. Alibaba and Tencent launched location-based, augmented reality games to collect e-hong bao around their daily lives, like Pokemon Go, in China.
Many retailers join these games to lure customers and tourists to stores by placing e-hong bao in their shops.
Although it is only available in China, the attractiveness of Thailand for Chinese tourists might induce the two Chinese tech giants to launch this campaign with local retailers in following years.
Chinese New Year is a golden opportunity not only for Chinese tourists to travel and spend their money, but also for Thai business to fulfil their needs traditionally and appropriately.
Marketing strategies and lessons learned are not as important as care and sincerity to deliver the best to them.
This would be a truly golden opportunity not only for the Year of the Rooster, but afterwards.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of TMB Bank or its executives. Panawat Innurak, an assistant vice president at TMB Analytics, can be reached at Panawat.Inn@tmbbank.com.