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Travel & Hospitality 09.06.18 BLOG 

Case Study: Reaching Chinese Travelers Online

By Niklas Schlappkohl, Senior Director, Travel Solutions

alipay bar code next to chat bar code

Case Study: Reaching Chinese Travelers Online

In a previous article, we talked about how to identify next languages for your website by looking at visitor data. Given the incredible growth of the Chinese travel market (e.g., Chinese tourist arrivals to Europe rose 65% in first half of 2017), you may be one of many companies that already has, is currently, or will soon be considering localizing your website into Chinese. Even more importantly, tour groups are no longer the top travel type for the Chinese. 65% of Chinese travelers preferred to travel independently so far in 2018. This means that the days of high traffic, low conversion—because they booked with tour operators—are going away. The ROI is becoming even more viable for firms to spend on localizing into Chinese.

The same approach described in the article applies for determining the next opportunities and projecting ROI in this vast market, but there’s one more online channel to consider. Just as with a localized website, travel companies can decide to be present on one the world´s most used apps.

WeChat is virtually unknown by Western travelers, but it is one of the top apps in China—with over one billion monthly active users! Used for far more than just chat, the platform also supports messaging, social media, and mobile payments, meaning that you can reach potential guests and have them book your products directly within WeChat as they would on a website.

Car Rental America is a great example of a company who wanted to expand its presence in the Chinese market. The family-owned, long-term car rental company in California was established over 20 years ago and focuses exclusively on weekly and monthly rentals. The company grew steadily until 2012, when CRA saw its first ever decline in sales.

Competitors with larger advertising budgets were gaining traction and market share, primarily through aggressive Google AdWords and other PPC advertising campaigns. By analyzing their online metrics, CRA found they were completely neglecting the massive rise in travel from Chinese citizens. Analytics showed 25% of their traffic was coming from China but accounted for just 2% of their overall revenue. At this point, the company faced a choice—increase their marketing budget or develop a plan to capture a larger percentage of the lucrative Chinese market.

The company decided to double down on its strategy and hire a native, Chinese-speaking concierge in an effort to improve their close ratio. This proved to be a winning formula and almost immediately they saw a spike in rentals from Chinese-speaking customers. In 2013 Car Rental America's rentals to Chinese customers grew from 2% to 15% of their overall business.

CRA turned to TranslateNow—who was acquired by TransPerfect in 2018—to form a plan that incorporated WeChat into their existing workflow—reinventing the way they interacted with their Chinese-speaking customers. Instead of localizing their digital ads and websites they focused their efforts on optimizing the WeChat mini-site. They halted costly marketing campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—which are all blocked in mainland China by the government-sponsored firewall—and instead devoted most of their social media resources to increasing WeChat followers.

Every customer with WeChat that entered their offices was asked to scan a custom QR code and follow Car Rental America on social media. They even added phone lines and service personnel in China to provide customers with 24/7 support. After everything was complete a strange thing happened—the phone stopped ringing.

Yet, despite a dramatic fall in phone inquiries, cars were flying off the lot like never before. In fact, rentals to Chinese-speaking customers rose 30% in 2014 and accounted for nearly half of their overall revenue in 2015. But why?

What CRA learned was that, when given a communication choice, Chinese customers preferred to interact via WeChat rather than email or telephone. And this preference extended far beyond the rental counter. Questions from Chinese customers about flat tires, tickets, or directions that usually came in over the phone instead started coming through WeChat.

Delighted customers began sharing CRA's info with their friends and family and some even kept in touch well after their rental period was complete. As of the summer of 2016, CRA maintained a loyal following of more than 10,000 Chinese-speaking customers—a number that continues to grow daily.


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