Nations Vie for Chinese Visitors as Tourism Becomes Status Symbol
Taking advantage of the surge in Chinese international travelers, Tourism Australia recently launched an online romance serial to bring the Aussie experience to Chinese netizens. The show's name is translated as "One More Bounce of My Heart," drawing on the signature movement of the kangaroo, a recognizable symbol of Australia to mainland Chinese.
The five-part series, broadcast on a dedicated channel of local video platform Tudou, features popular Taiwanese idols Show Lo and Rainie Yang. Recreating the serendipitous love stories common in Chinese pop culture, the series follows the characters in three prominent tourist locations: Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania.
The online campaign, produced by DDB China Group, encourages viewership by posting two questions after each episode, and gives respondents a chance to win round-trip tickets to Australia. The Tudou microsite also lets viewers share e-postcards with friends of iconic locations featured in the drama, such as the Sydney Opera House, thereby increasing their odds of winning. In addition to the weekly installment of the show, fans can also tune into behind-the-scenes extras that provide vignettes of the places that provide the backdrop of the story.
With 25 million fans already for its online series showcasing Australia, Tourism Australia is hoping to kickstart a tourism boom through the power of drama. Both South Korea and Turkey have cashed in on the popularity of their soap-opera formats, with tourists keen to visit the sets and locations of their favorite shows. Additionally, Spain's tourism authority, Turespana, sponsored a Bollywood blockbuster and enjoyed an enthusiastic influx of Indian visitors keen to relive the experiences of the film.
The noticeable swell of Chinese tourists heading overseas, the result of rising incomes and relaxation of visa restrictions in recent years, has brought a unique set of demands and challenges to international tourism brands.
International tourism remains highly romanticized due to a long period of restrictions on travel for economic and political reasons. Growing up in a Chinese education system that emphasizes the history of civilizations, Chinese tourists are still obsessed with European cultural centers such as Rome, Paris, London and Athens. For less historically endowed locations like North America and Australia, Chinese tourists need a clear set of recognizable and iconic locations in order for their trips to make sense back home.
This requirement can be described as "proof tourism." As the benchmarks for middle-class status in China expand, an overseas trip has become part of an informal checklist that indicates status, alongside a family car and a second home. However, often the emphasis is not so much on the experience of the individual traveler, but more the sharing of the experience with family and peers when you return home.
Photos assiduously taken alongside recognizable landmarks and buildings while on holiday are a vital part of creating an impressive statement about your social mobility, even if it creates considerable inconvenience while traveling. Middle-class homes in China's cities are ceremonially adorned with images showcasing their inhabitants' pilgrimage to iconic places such as the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum or Big Ben.
However, as international travel becomes more familiar and normal to Chinese, they are becoming more experimental in their destination choices. And as the media diets of younger Chinese grow, the appeal of tightly orchestrated budget tour groups limited to Chinese food lessens.
Independent travel is increasingly popular with a new generation of Chinese due to the growing sophistication of domestic tourism and a wave of Chinese studying overseas who travel with a greater level of cultural comfort and familiarity. This trend is reflected in the popularity of novels and blogs that document epic intercontinental journeys by adventurous compatriots. Lonely Planet, for instance, is publishing more of its country titles in Mandarin to capture this new energy around unaided travel.
Chinese taking more control over their travel decisions should encourage destinations that want to capture the attention of fast-growing numbers of outbound tourists. But creating a level of familiarity and awareness is still a must, because after paying for their holidays Chinese travelers must still ultimately sell their trip to friends and family when they get back home.