Use of the Internet, to which over 640 million17 people in China now have access, has become the norm for travellers researching overseas trips, and use of mobile phones for planning and booking has skyrocketed.
In the past 12 months, 80 percent of travellers have used an online source including mobiles, desktops and laptops to book and plan their travel, compared with only 53 percent last year, according to the CITM; and the jump in mobile phone use has been even more dramatic.
Half of all travellers now access apps on their smart phones to plan and book, up from just 17 percent in 2014. Roughly the same number (13 percent) as last year use the old-fashioned landline.
But – in a result that may be insightful for the broader travel industry – only 13 percent check with a travel agent, via a phone call or physical visit to an agent’s premises nearby, compared with over a third who did so in 2014.
Online review sites sit closely behind word of mouth and travel guides as among the most frequented sources by Chinese outbound tourists. Indeed, the advice of friends and colleagues, mentioned by 45 percent of respondents, and family (38 percent) is more or less matched in importance by online review sites, chosen by 42 percent.
Wi-Fi most asked-for service
The availability of free Wi-Fi while travelling obviously remains a must-have facility for most Chinese travellers. In the hoteliers’ survey, it ranks as the most asked-for service by Chinese guests, as it did last year, with 75 percent of all hoteliers citing it as number one. This is followed in order by: a kettle in the room, translated guides, Chinese-speaking staff and China Union pay facilities. Eighty-three percent of all hotels surveyed say they already offer free Wi-Fi, a figure that jumps to 97 percent in APAC countries. (In properties that don’t offer it, hoteliers say about half their guests spent “most money” on it.) Ninety-two percent of travellers use the Internet to stay connected with friends and family, with 74 percent specifically making use of free Wi-Fi. Thirty-three percent choose local data SIM cards as another option, and 31 percent access overseas data roaming facilities.
Ninety-four percent bring their smartphones with them on a trip and 61 percent also carry digital or video cameras. Fifty-three percent take tablets, while only around one in four travel with their laptops.
Hotels turn to social media
A significant proportion of hoteliers surveyed have, in the past year, ensured that their Chinese guests are well-catered for in relation to digital services. For example, 16 percent say they’ve expanded in social media channels such as Weibo18 – a popular hybrid of Twitter and Facebook – to reach Chinese travellers.
And looking to the future, an even bigger proportion plan to invest in such initiatives, when asked to select their top product or service for which they’ll prioritise investment spending, 39 percent of hoteliers say they’ll expand social media channels like Weibo to reach Chinese travellers.
Recognising the importance of digital and mobile in particular in the booking process, Four Seasons announced in June 2015 a smart device app, to allow its hotel guests to get things done on the go.
The app gives guests mobile functionality for bookings, concierge and room service needs such as pre-ordering your breakfast the night before and access to local guides and maps.
In the coming months, the Four Seasons app will be released in Simplified Chinese, and a special version tailored to the preferences of Chinese travellers will be issued by the end of the 2015.
The brand already has significant presence in popular Chinese social networks Weibo and WeChat, with Chinese relevant content shared with its followers, as well as curating user-generated content by Chinese guests at its properties.