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Challenges in targeting Chinese independent travellers

A market not worth pursuing?

Targeting Chinese independent travellers isn’t difficult for smaller players because there is a lack of options. In fact, for a marketer faced with the challenge to grow their number of Chinese customers, options can seem overwhelming.


  • Should they could promote their company at one of many travel trade fairs, or maybe they should run digital marketing campaigns on platforms like WeChat and Weibo. Or perhaps they should just invest in one of the many Chinese tourist certification programs available from a large range of companies which could strengthen their position in the Chinese market?
  • Well-known brands are aided by scale and corporate presence, and not to mention brand recognition, alleviating many of the barriers that these more obscure tourism companies would face while trying to pursue the FIT market. As such, putting in the research, time and budget required to make an active push into this market becomes a less ideal prospect not worth pursuing until the market has grown or the barrier of entry is lower.


Marketing would be essential, albeit (very) difficult

Naturally a business with zero reviews on Chinese travel platforms is hidden deep in the search results, and potential customers will—as can be expected—prefer more well-established options. Marketing is of course, where the root of the problem lies. For this, Key opinion leaders (KOLs) would be a great strategy for companies to implement. However, simply finding a relevant KOL — and not to mention successfully contacting them — can pose a serious challenge.


  • This is where the issue comes in for many businesses. Even if a company manages to secure a KOL, they would need a platform to support, and even enhance the key opinion leader. The best option in China would be WeChat, a social media platform and marketing tool used by Chinese marketers worldwide.
  • Unfortunately, creating a WeChat for a brand isn’t without difficulty. A marketer will quickly find that such pages are limited to reaching only international WeChat users, i.e. WeChat users outside of mainland China. The natural solution is to set up an Official Chinese Account, but that requires a Chinese business license, thus severely limiting any business without a corporate presence in China.
  • A company COULD hire one of many digital marketing agencies, which will use its business license to register a WeChat account in their client’s name. This naturally comes at a cost, but not just financially but also legally. Since the agency would be the legal owner of the account, it would make changing marketing agencies down the line either costly or impossible.


Straying away from digital marketing

Looking beyond digital channels and instead toward more traditional marketing options for travel businesses reveal an industry still heavily centred around B2B relationships (business to business) and a focus on Chinese group travel.


  • As with any booming industry, “Get rich quick” schemes are quite prevalent, in this case being in the form of “get Chinese tourists quick”. These schemes generally give the promise of Chinese tourists and customers for your brand, after paying some form of fee with no refund.
  • The reality however, is that to reach China’s sophisticated independent travellers, companies can’t rely on these shortcuts but instead, need to be genuine and have patience and faith.


In truth, the safest and perhaps cheapest way to gain success with the FIT market is to simply provide a memorable and unique experience. After all, that’s what they’re looking for in the first place and that is one thing many brands can forget in the midst of trying to climb to the top of the competition — that simply engaging with your audience and focusing efforts in trying to enhance THEIR experience is and should always be a top priority in industries like these. After all, this encourages positive organic growth and not only that, but most importantly, a satisfied and content consumer base that will be loyal and grateful to your company for a long time to come.



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