Outbound travel from Mainland China surpasses every other country in the world. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2016 was another strong year for Chinese outbound tourism; international tourism expenditure grew by USD $11 billion to USD $261 billion and the number of outbound travellers rose 6% to 135 million1. Moreover, Chinese are travelling farther than ever before; according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), more Chinese travelled to the rest of the world than to Greater China (Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) for the first time last year2.National Tourism Organizations are receiving record funding to promote their country as a prime destination for both leisure and business tourism, but many are unsure of how or where to use these funds, leading to ineffective spending and underperformance. In China’s digitally savvy mobile first culture, it is critical to not only have a presence in the digital space, but also stand out among the sea of other brands. With this in mind, ASAP+ analyzed the digital presence of the top 21 NTOs in China to discover what they’re doing well, and more importantly, which areas can be improved to draw in more Chinese travellers. In order to understand the digital presence of NTOs in China, ASAP+ assessed them on 4 main elements, which together represent the complete user journey:
This scorecard provides a comprehensive method by which to compare and rate the NTO digital presence in China beyond clicks, unique views and followers. We used a total of 43 criteria, each scored by our team from 1 to 5, the highest being 5. The points were then tallied and weighted to give each website a total percentage score. Each NTO was also scored against each of the 4 digital factors of Accessibility, Usability, Practicality and Excitability to allow them to understand the reasoning behind their comprehensive score and highlight which areas can be improved. All rankings were completed during the month of July, and social media figures were taken for the 7-month period between January and July of 2017.
This scorecard considered 43 main criteria for an effective Chinese digital presence, but it all boils down to this: those serious about gaining a larger and higher-end share of China’s travel market need to make China a first thought, not an afterthought. It’s essential to create a unique digital presence in China, as opposed to a translated version of current platforms. Every aspect of digital should be geared towards China, from backend hosting and search visibility to content creation and design. Anything less fails to be effective and will ultimately cost destinations both leisure and business visitation as well as jobs and revenue for their country.
We looked at all of the factors affecting accessibility, including search visibility in Baidu, social connectivity, mobile friendliness and site speed. With Google, Facebook, and other tools blocked in China, it is essential to use local search engines and social media connections to draw travellers to your site. After all, how will Chinese users find and visit NTO websites unless they are integrated into the platforms that they are already using? Not only should the website be searchable on Baidu, but with over 80% of the Chinese population  using this platform it is imperative that it also be at the top of the top ranked results. The 1st position on the 1st page of search engines get 1/3 of all clicks. This number decreases significantly the further down the page you go, with less than 6% of users clicking on the 2nd page results . Therefore, if you’re not first on Chinese engines, you may as well be last. Just as importantly, websites geared towards Chinese users should function just as quickly and flawlessly as it does in its country of origin. The average homepage loading speed for the NTO websites we tested was 43 seconds, however most Chinese users will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3. With only 4 country websites meeting this standard, we can assume that the majority of these sites are losing their audience to slow loading speeds. Ensure that your site doesn’t fall into this category by developing and hosting directly in China. Accessibility was found to be the weakest area for the majority of NTOs, with 71% of those tested having their lowest individual score in this section. This is mainly due to slow website speeds and low Baidu visibility.
Factors of our usability analysis include the use of quality Mandarin and clear informational hierarchies. With less than 1/5 of independent Chinese travellers, and even less group travellers, able to understand written English , an English language website is of little use when trying to attract these tourists, yet poorly written Mandarin discredits your organisation and confuses users. Moreover, due to cultural differences Chinese travellers have had a slightly different mindset and set of references when it comes to travel. It is therefore vital to not only translate the information, but also contextualize and present it specifically for your Chinese audience.
If the main objective of the NTO website is to inform and prepare travellers for their visit, then extensive and usable information is key. Thus, we reviewed the sites from a practical point of view, looking for such information such as visa requirements, travel options both into and throughout the country, weather, food & drink, accommodations, activities, etc. to ensure that every part of the trip is communicated to the travellers. We also looked for signs of booking recommendations and 3rd party integration that allow potential visitors to book through the website. Succinctly explained booking options and clickable links to OTAs are extremely important on NTO sites, as they encourage faster booking and lessen the possibility of lost consumers to added steps.
No matter how accessible, usable and practical a website is, if it’s not excitable users will quickly click away. Moreover, websites that fail to engage consumers will also fail to open them up to the unique experiences that their country has to offer. With this in mind, we evaluated aspects such as image quality, consistency of design, user interaction in order to determine how well viewers enjoyed the site. In this section we also analyzed the social engagement of NTOs, including their WeChat and Weibo accounts, and user interactions on these platforms. Social media is an extremely important link to the Chinese people that allows organisations to communicate to Chinese people directly. With more than 1/3 of total mobile phone time spent on WeChat  and 1/8 of each 24-hour day spent on using mobile apps , building a strong presence on social platforms should be a top priority of every NTO. Therefore, it was surprising to discover that 7 of the tourist organisations that we looked at did not have a WeChat account, and 6 of the 21did not have an active Weibo account within the last year. Note: Though WeChat and Weibo were both analyzed in this review, the main focus is the websites. A separate WeChat and Weibo review is available upon request; please contact us for more details.