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The US Embassy in Shanghai has set up a pilot project for group visa interviews for Chinese nationals at the end of last year – a move that will shorten US Visa application times.

This is in response to Chinese travel agencies’ call for a simplified visa process and a larger quota in order to match the growing demand of Chinese travellers.

A survey by the United States Travel Association (USTA) of 1,500 travellers from Brazil, China and India suggests that an overwhelming majority of travellers find the US a tough place to visit. An astounding 94% of Brazilian travellers said they found it “somewhat difficult”, “very difficult” or “nearly impossible” to travel to the US. Roughly 80% of Chinese and Indian travellers echoed those sentiments.

“Increasing travel to the United States is the most effective form of economic stimulus supporting communities, injecting billions into the US economy and creating millions of new American jobs,” the report says. “Recapturing America’s historic share of worldwide overseas travel would create up to an additional 1.3 million US jobs by 2020 compared with 2010 and produce $859 billion in cumulative additional economic output.”

The average Chinese tourist spends $7,000 in the US – well above the 2009 average of $2,580 per overseas tourist. Of course, faced with onerous visa restrictions, that tourist is in the minority to begin with: Of the 30 million Chinese who traveled abroad in 2009, merely 735,000 came to the United States.

[tweetmeme source=”astronauttravel” only_single=false]

Read more:
http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/economics/237219/us-urged-to-ease-visas-for-three-giant-markets
http://www.visabureau.com/america/news/19-01-2011/us-embassy-in-china-seeks-to-streamline-us-visa-process.aspx
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2011/05/14/2011-05-14_roll_out_the_welcome_mat.html#ixzz1MZPI6eIJ

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Japan recieved two Chinese tour groups in Kyushu and Kansai regions Friday, the first group travel to Japan from Chinese mainland since the March 11 catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. These familiarization trips are part of Japan’s active efforts to restore its tourism industry.

Hiroshi Mizohata Commissioner of Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) traveled to China and South Korea in early April, meeting government officials, media and travel agents. The two countries made up about 40 percent of all foreign tourists visiting Japan in 2009 and Chinese tourists are regarded as the biggest-spending among foreign visitors.

The company has sent people to the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong to make sales calls and invite media and travel agencies to visit Okinawa and Hokkaido.

Meanwhile, Shinkansen bullet train services on the disaster-stricken Tohoku Shinkansen line fully resumed Friday, the first day of Japan’s Golden Week holiday season, between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori for the first time in 50-days since the mega earthquake and tsunami.

On the popular Rakuten website’s travel page, a large number of popular Onsen hotels in the Tohoku region are shown to be fully booked during the Golden Week holiday.

Read the full Xinhua news article here.

The Wall Street Journal reports that spending of Chinese tourists increased by 64% last year, over 2009. Spending for China thus broke into the $1 billion category in 2009, along with Australia and France (but the latter two countries’ increases were much less spectacular: up 32% and 6%, respectively).

See the article here.

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

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.

The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) reported that earnings from tourism in 2010 rose by 15% above 2009, reaching US$ 876 million.

By promoting itself as a regional conferencing hub, Kenya attracted 1,095 million tourists in 2010. (952,481 tourists had visited in 2009.)

In response to serious economic challenges in key European markets, Tourism minister Najib Balala, revealed plans to invest more resources in growth markets this year, and diversify the marketing pitch. “We have done well especially in India, China, and Africa,” he said.

Tourism was the leading foreign exchange earner until it was hit hard by 2008 post election violence and the global financial crisis. In 2010, tourism was the third forex earner.

Source: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate+News/Tourism+earnings+miss+the+Sh100bn+full+year+target/-/539550/1120868/-/item/0/-/1jrixjz/-/index.html



Japan is actively promoting its tourism in China, with impressive success. This post outlines Japan’s efforts and results, as described in the Japan Times.

Promotional Efforts

Visas

In July 2010, the Japanese government lowered the income bracket requirement for granting visas to individual tourists from China. In July 2009, Japan had begun granting tourist visas to high-income individual Chinese.

Promotion of Hokkaido

A tip of the hat in thanks from Japan goes to the hugely successful 2008 Chinese movie, “If You Are the One,” set largely in picturesque Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan.

In September 2010, Hokkaido held a three-day event at the Japanese Pavilion in the Shanghai World Expo. In August 2010, the hot-springs resort area of Atami held a promotional week at the Expo.

Chinese Credit Cards

As of the end of April 2010, about 17,300 stores and facilities across Japan accept the Chinese UnionPay credit card. In addtion to businesses in major cities, more establishments in Hokkaido and Kyushu are making the move to accept the card.

Well Worth the Effort

The number of Chinese tourists to Hokkaido in 2008 was 47,400 (an increase of 75 percent over the previous year), and officials saw a similar trend in 2009. In comparison, visitors to Hokkaido from Taiwan and South Korea in 2008 were 227,600 (down 18 percent) and 139,100 (17.8 percent) respectively.

The Japan Times reported in 2010, that each Chinese tourist on average spent at least 30% more than other tourists.

With Chinese customers’ penchant for items made in Japan, purchasing products like US$75 and US$800 pantyhose and US$450 to US$900 basic beauty products, some are ringing up purchases of US$15,000.

Average purchases with the Chinese UnionPay credit card are US$45,500, three times more than Japanese average credit card purchases. A VenusFort general manager reports the average Chinese credit card purchase to be twice the typical amount a Japanese customer spends.

Looking Ahead

Future proposals for Japan to cater to Chinese visitors include installing Chinese language signs on streets and public transportation and hiring interpreters. Japanese businesses are seeking to bridge the culture gap, including table manners, food preferences, and how to use hot springs.

Source: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100617f2.html

interior entrance to Bloomingdale's in the Dubai Mall

The glitsy Bloomingdale's in the Dubai Mall

In response to the surge in Chinese visitors in countries of the United Arab Emirates, businesses are pulling out all the stops to attract more visitors and convince them to boost their spending, with special promotions that run for a couple of weeks into the Lunar New Year, even to the end of the month.

Many hotels are offering special meals and a la carte menus, while others have rolled out golf, spa and overnight packages for guests who visit over the next couple of weeks.

The retailer Bloomingdale’s says it plans to double its number of Chinese-speaking staff to cater for a growing number of customers.

Hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers throughout the Emirates are reporting a surge in Chinese visitors ringing in the Year of the Rabbit.

About 2,500 Chinese visitors have reportedly come to the UAE through Hunter International Tourism, one of China’s largest travel agencies, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which began yesterday, or attend conferences. The numbers are expected to match, if not exceed, last year’s figure.

“China is a massive market,” says Mr Goddard, the managing director of TRI Hospitality Consulting in Dubai, and the Chinese New Year period is “going to be a huge opportunity for getting Chinese nationals to the Middle East. Anything that promotes the Chinese market would be good for the long term.”

Global spending by tourists from China was up 17 per cent in 2009 from 2008 to US$43.7 billion (Dh160.5bn), according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

Overall, the UAE has seen a sharp increase in visitors from China since the autumn of 2009, when the country gained “approved destination” status from the Chinese government to have tourist groups come through the region.

source: http://www.thenational.ae/business/travel-tourism/chinese-new-year-boosts-uae-tourism-industry



UK Retailers are Urging the Government to Simplify the Visa Process

The majority of Chinese people travelling to Europe apply for a Schengen visa, which enables entry to the 24 European countries that have signed the freedom of movement agreement.

The UK is not party to that agreement and a separate visa is required, necessitating a personal visit to one of 12 application centres in China. Application forms are 10 pages long and have only just become available in Mandarin.

UK luxury retailers are pressing the government to tackle visa bottlenecks for Chinese tourists, claiming bureaucracy is causing shoppers to shun London stores in favour of centres such as Paris and Milan, reports the Financial Times.

Retail spending in the UK from Chinese visitors topped £350m last year, according to Global Blue, a financial services company, but retailers including Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason argue this could be far higher if the UK visa process was simplified.

Global Blue estimates the visa application procedure could rob luxury retailers of £165m of sales during the next two years.

the Harrods store at night

The glittering Harrods department store, Knightsbridge, London

source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ae31f484-2c9d-11e0-83bd-00144feab49a.html

The Schengen Area comprises the territories of twenty-five European countries that have implemented the Schengen Agreement signed in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, in 1985. The Schengen Area operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with border controls for travellers travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area

Banpo Rainbow Fountain source: Korean Tourist Board

With South Korea’s promotional three year tourism campaign, Chinese people are taking advantage of this opportunity to live out their own epic Korean soap operas (that have risen in popularity with Chinese teens and grandmas alike). In 2010 – 2013, Korea plans to attract worldwide tourism that once took the world by storm, and it’s working like a charm for their Chinese neighbors. Korea has reported a 30% increase in tourism thus far in 2010 in comparison to 2009, and a whopping 70% increase in the month of May alone. Charm Lee, President of the Korean Tourist Organization, has even said that tourists from China could likely reach 3 million this year – that’s a lot of kimchi that will be dished out to the Chinese. To prepare for this three year event, Korea has made free pamphlets and booklets on traveling in the country. Lee also reassures that traveling in Korea is no longer difficult for foreigners as most Koreans now speak English, and many road signs are in both English and Chinese. It’s a comforting strategy to entice more Chinese tourists, and by the looks of it, this campaign is effectively reaping its rewards with the increasing number of Chinese tourists en route to Korea.

Source: Shanghai Daily, Xinhuanet.com

picture source: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto

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