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Privacy and quality are two key factors that are attracting more and more of China’s wealthy to travel to other countries in search of healthcare services, so say experts in the medical tourism industry.

 
China’s economy is booming among a multitude of those that are struggling so the increasing numbers of Chinese citizens benefitting from this growth is increasing greatly, which can help drive the medical tourism industry.

 
Around 60,000 of the annual outbound visits from China are for healthcare services which is an exponential rise compared to five years ago when this figure was just a few thousand.  Travellers favour destinations such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the US, and travel for treatments such as anti-ageing therapy, cancer screening and to give birth.

 
Located in a luxury hospital in Singapore, Parkway Pantai Limited is a private healthcare provider which has seen the potential of China’s inbound medical tourists and is set to open next year for both Singaporeans and those from other countries.  Dr Tan See Leng, CEO, said of China: “Given the sheer population size and evident ageing trend, China’s definitely of great market value for the medical business.”

 
In order to make visitors as comfortable as possible, many hospitals which receive Chinese patients have Chinese-speaking staff as well as offering visa and travel assistance and in-country help centres for potential patients.  These offers help to attract customers where language can be a preventative barrier to travelling.

 
One of the other deterrents is cost.  Even for the most well off in China, lack of private medical healthcare can mean a short stay for a simple procedure can cost hundreds of thousands of yuan.  Although this price is becoming possible for more and more people, so it looks like the medical tourism vehicle is just starting to gain speed.

 

The increase in outbound tourists from economically thriving countries such as China, India and Brazil could potentially bring visited countries well-needed income and create jobs in a whole range of industries. So why is it that during the past ten years the US, one of the world’s most desired travel destinations, has been losing market share to other countries, such as France (who captured 18% more Chinese visitors than the US in 2010)?

One of the biggest deterrents for tourists wishing to travel to America is the frustratingly-long visa application time which can be 100 days or more for some applications. Patricia Rojas, Vice President of government affairs for the US Travel Association (USTA), said of visa problems: “Unfortunately we’ve had significant barriers to travel, because of delays and customer service concerns about the visa process, leading to the inability of travellers to get a visa in a timely basis. Between 2000 and 2010, there was extensive growth in the (overseas) travel market, but the US was stagnant, and our share of the market actually dropped.”

As well as the long processing time, due to the necessity that each applicant takes part in an interview to obtain a visa, before a traveller has even left China they could be required to spend a considerable amount of time and money travelling to one of the country’s only six consular offices for their in-person meeting.

And the problems don’t stop there – inbound travellers’ welcome by US customs could be improved as well. Rojas commented: “We’ve had visitors get off an eight-hour flight, then wait 60 to 90 minutes to be processed, and that’s not the first impression we want to give them of the United States. Friendly and efficient processing of visitors needs to happen at our international airports.”

So, what can be done to halt this downward turn? The US have recognised these problems, and new legislation, such as the Welcoming Business Travellers and Tourists to America Act of 2011, which addresses inefficiencies in the visa processing system and will encourage maintaining a 12-day processing time and pilot visa interviews conducted via videoconferencing; the International Tourism Facilitation Act, a bill to make changes to the procedures relating to the issuance of visas, and amendments to the State Department Operations Bill should help towards the US making the most of their inbound tourist potential.

Growth has already been observed in the larger gateway cities such as LA (16%), New York (10%) and Miami (11%), and following income created by the 2010 Travel Promotion Act, the US’s first global brand, Brand USA, launched on Monday announcing that their first advertising and marketing campaign will be released in spring 2012, aimed at encouraging travellers from all over the world to visit the US.

The USTA hope that these campaigns, along with well-needed visa procedural changes, will encourage Chinese and other travellers to keep America near the top their travel wish-list.

Amended from original article at http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles.aspx/6876/US-struggles-to-attract-international-guests

Since the rise of Facebook and Twitter, leveraging the PR potential of social networking sites has become the next big thing in marketing. A number of brands are doing impressive work with establishing customer relationships, while keeping their ears on the ground about what the public thinks of them. This approach is especially valid in China, arguably more than anywhere else, where there is a sweeping trend for online users to engage in social networking activities.

The tourism industry is no less actively involved, energetically engaging in social network promotion and advertising. While some of this activity, due to sheer volume if nothing else, undoubtedly hits the mark, valid questions arise about the depth of impact of much of these efforts. There is solid ground to predict that social networking is not just a trend but will become an even bigger industry in the future, especially when more and more successful models appear, but there are much stronger forces on the Internet working in tandem with SNS (social networking sites) to influence consumer behavior.

All too often, content published by online PR efforts are in stark contrast to what Chinese netizens find when they look for supporting information about a destination. Taking a real example to illustrate, one destination has a beautiful website and adequate online social network exposure, but gets hammered by a Baidu search when a top query result describes visa procedures as a nightmare. Not only does sentiment differ between the two spheres (official and informal sources of information), but so does exposure. In the case cited above, over a given time span, the official website and SNS are viewed by over 10,000 users, but this one negative blog alone was read by over 300,000 people.

The chart below gives the latest statistics showing how surfers retrieve information online.

As the trend watchers from Frog Design put it, “We are leaving the Information Age and entering the Recommendation Age.” Similarly, Chris Anderson, author of the highly acclaimed book The Long Tail, writes about “the power of collective intelligence,” in which tastemakers (ordinary people who are actually not thinking of themselves as giving recommendations) influence the opinions of millions by the way they create or spread messages.

In cyberspace, as in real life, when people talk about you they influence your reputation. What’s more, online there is plenty of chatter, not only about every destination, but also about airlines, hotel chains and other brands involved in the tourism industry. Whether you like it or not, your brand’s reputation is in the hands of others. So what can be done?

Many brands, even whole countries, have started madly posting as much positive information about themselves as possible. It is evident, upon reflection, that this approach is vulnerable to one or both of the following pitfalls: a. if cyberspace PR is not done professionally, the few hundred posts will vanish in the ocean of online content and b. if it is written like content by China’s so-called “water army” (masses of low paid writers that are generating thousands of posts, all positive but without substance, a day about their clients), the public easily detects the real sources, content is seen as mere propaganda, and PR efforts will backfire.

The only way to skillfully and effectively control your reputation is to do professional online reputation management. A professional approach allows you to connect with the online world and engage in the communications that are continually happening about you, even at this moment. This starts with permanently monitoring all new news and posts, and then becoming part of the conversation. When done professionally online reputation management works wonders. Our team at Astronaut continually monitors our clients’ reputations and identifies strategic points where we become involved. Rather than generating a mass of inflated commentary, we skillfully engage the online public, provide them authoritative information that they are looking for on a daily basis, and change opinions.

Evidence shows the significant and measurable results of online PR that is done right. The success of Astronaut’s online reputation management (ORM) program, for one, is clear by examining the following parameters:
a. Online attention. For a recent client, initially extremely low attention levels on the Chinese Internet began an immediate steady rise from the day that we launched our ORM campaign (the dot on the graph).
b. Top query results. Content originating from us showed up at the top of search engine query results (shown highlighted), one of the most influential forces shaping your reputation.
c. Replication. Conversations sparked by us (original content shown in top box) were picked up and reposted by other users, proving that, when done right, quality PR spreads freely and carries good sentiment with it.

Astronaut is the first company to offer online reputation management for the tourism industry on the Chinese Internet. If you would like to find out more, we invite you to get in touch with us.

isabella@astronaut-travel.com

Entering its 7th year, the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market (COTTM) exhibition took place 13-15 April 2011 in Beijing. Astronaut was among the outbound travel industry players at the event.

Poland Tourism Organisation and Tour Operators Pavillion

Ms. Yigit Ilknur; Mr. Jiri Vavra; and Mr. Michael Kaltenhauser, from Astronaut

Display by Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Dr. Abdel Aal Nassar, Egypt Embassy Consular and Mr. Michael Kaltenhauser, from Astronaut

India Ministry of Tourism Poster

Macau Tourism Office Pavillion

For more information, visit http://www.cottm.com.

China’s granting of approved destination status to Canada earlier this year will allow potentially millions of Chinese travellers to more easily visit Alberta.

But it’s not just the majestic Rocky Mountains that are putting the province on the global map. Alberta’s petroleum industry and its oilsands are making Wild Rose Country world famous and drawing big-spending business clientele, according to tourism operators.

Find out more here.

Sites such as eLong let Chinese travelers book air tickets online. How will the online booking market be affected by Google’s recent purchase of the software company ITA?

eLong is Expedia’s exclusive affiliate in Asia (http://www.elong.net/aboutus/index.html), and in terms of shares and votes, is owned by Expedia. In addition to Expedia’s majority control of eLong, an online travel agency (OTA), Expedia’s TripAdvisor unit operates two media brands in China, daodao.com and kuxun.cn. (http://www.tnooz.com/2010/06/01/news/expedia- increases-its-stake-in-china-online-travel-agency- elong/)

“We expect limited financial impact of Google-ITA on Expedia, given only about 12 percent of Expedia’s revenue is from air and with ITA, Google will also become a source of qualified leads for OTAs (similar to Kayak),” said Naved Khan, an analyst at the brokerage firm Jefferies & Co.

In terms of current exposure to Google search, Khan said his analysis using comScore data shows that search phrases on Google containing four common search terms related to air bookings — Air, Air tickets, Flight and Flight Tickets — generated 1 million clicks to Expedia sites in Feb, representing less than 5 percent of total clicks to Expedia from Google search. (http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/132765/20110411/exped ia-online-travel-agencies-google-ita-software-nasdaq- stock-market-buy-rating-expedia-com- hotels.htm#ixzz1K1h3Bms0)

By means of this post, we invite you in on a conversation with Mr. Josef Stockinger, Director of the Austrian National Tourism Office in Beijing, who outlines the major trends among Chinese outbound tourists.

The New Trend for Chinese Travelers

In addition to (high velocity) group travel and (free spending) delegation travel, individual travel is the newest emerging trend, rising in popularity among the educated and higher-income bracket Chinese. These intrepid applicants pass Austria and other Schengen states’ rigorous visas requirements, including personal interviews at the embassy. For maximum enjoyment and safety, they prefer to travel with family and friends and plan their itineraries meticulously, sometimes by the hour (!), with plenty of “face giving activities” (seeing famous buildings and sites). For example, these tourists go to theatres and concert halls, but not for a performance.

How would you like the Chinese to experience Austria?

Mr. Stockinger would like to see Chinese tourists interact with the locals, taking the opportunity to have a conversation in a coffee shop, for instance. And to take a moment to relax, not dashing from place to place.

While the mind shift is still in the future before tourists believe that a vacation can be a vacation, hopefully one day, after paying the VIP price for a European coffee, and after having finished the cup, the visitor will go on to take a quiet moment to linger and mellow… and to take in the ambiance that he or she has just paid for.

a mellow moment

We thank you for taking a quiet moment to linger upon our blog. We hope you enjoyed this as well as the first and second posts in this series.

The Philippine Embassy in Beijing reported that the Philippines was hoping to double the number of tourist arrivals in the Philippines from three million to six million by 2016. It’s expected that China, as a close neighbor of the Philippines with the largest number of outbound tourists in the region, will be a key source of these arrivals.

Although in 2010, more than 200,000 Chinese travelers visited the country and with an annual growth of 18 percent China is one of the fastest-growing markets for Philippine tourism, last years hostage drama and the bad conditions of NAIA 1 airport will make achieving the high task more difficult.

Further articles from the Global Nation Inquirer and the Asian Journal.

Taiwan and China plan to expand cross-strait tourism by allowing individual travel to the island. (At the moment, visitors from the mainland are allowed to enter Taiwan only if  they are part of a tour group.)

A trial will be conducted during the first half of the year and will start with residents from major cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

Taiwan’s individual traveller scheme will start sometime between April and June and it is expected to boost the number of mainland Chinese visitors to over two million this year.

Taipei 101

Taiwan’s iconic landmark, the Taipei 101, has benefited from a surge of mainland Chinese visitors. Thanks to their tourism dollars, the world’s second tallest skyscraper turned a profit for the first time since it was built in 2004.

Taipei 101 at dusk

Taipei 101

For the full article, please see http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/eastasia/view/1121004/1/.html.

China outbound tweeds

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Michael Kaltenhauser

Founder and director of Astronaut, a marketing agency based in Beijing which is specialized on promoting destinations to Chinese outbound tourists

Laura Hine

Online Communications Assistant at Astronaut