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15th December marked the beginning of a month-long global campaign run by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Thai Hotels Association (THA) to encourage tourists to return to the area following the floods that ravaged parts of the country from July to December.  Most three and four star hotels that are members of the THA are expected to take part, where they will offer ‘buy one get one free’ deals on normal room rates from 15th December until 15th January 2012.  This should encourage many tourists to hurry back to the country at a time which is normally high season.


The organisation will be promoting the offer worldwide from their 26 offices, but will focus on countries close-by such as Hong Kong, Singapore and China, and hope that the campaign will boost tourism by up to 30%.  This estimation will assist in the huge losses that hotels experienced during the floods which took away more than an estimated 400,000 tourists from the country.  TAT reported that although almost all tourist destinations were not directly affected, visitors may still avoid travelling to Thailand and they have estimated a drop of around 300,000 people.

 
TAT organised a “mega-familiarisation” trip which brought around 500 travel agents and media representatives from all over the globe to Thailand, and will be adding further marketing activities in January and March to increase visitor figures again.  TAT are confident that by the end of March 2012, the sector will have fully recovered and hope that this marketing campaign will help them on their way.

 
A beach in Phuket, south Thailand

 

Read the full article at http://www.phuketgazette.net/archives/articles/2011/article11565.html

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One of the places tourists can visit on the Buddhist Train (www.buddhisttrain.com)

China’s outbound tourist numbers are growing at an exponential rate with travellers flying all over the world for shopping, safaris and health treatments.  But when it comes to India, only about 102,000 Chinese people travel there – less than 0.21 per cent of the total number going abroad.  This is a tiny share of the massive $40 billion that is spent overseas each year by Chinese tourists.

 
India Tourism are getting spiritual to help them succeed in the future by launching a campaign which targets China’s fast-growing Buddhist population and asking them to ‘visit India and reconnect with your faith’.

 
The ‘Buddhist Circuit Train‘ stops along several pilgrimage sites in northern India and has been open since 2007.  Over the course of a week it takes travellers to a number of cities related to Buddha’s life from New Delhi to Nepal, where Buddha was born.  India Tourism and the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (ITRCT) are promoting this to Chinese Buddhists as a way to reconnect with their faith in comfort, and hope that it will help the dwindling tourist numbers. Since there are up to 200 million followers of Buddhism in China, if even a small percentage of this number travel to India, it would boost tourist figures dramatically.

 
The campaign launched in China on Monday with Rakesh Tandon, managing director of the IRCTC addressing a number of Chinese tour operators and travel agents.  Mr Tandon assured the audience trains would be “safe and fully air-conditioned”, hoping to put potential travellers minds at ease about the idea of going to India – two of the biggest concerns are lack of safety and the climate.  “India is blessed to have a lot of pilgrimage sites connected with Buddha’s life,” and India Tourism hope that they will be blessed with a bigger chunk of Chinese travellers following this campaign.

 
Original article at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2650921.ece 

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

As the US Visa discussion continues (described in an earlier post), more experts are chipping in their own takes on potential benefits of eased rules, sizing up the volume and impact of the Chinese tourists’ colossal spending.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Travel Association urged the government to overhaul its visa system, saying it serves as a virtual “keep out” sign.

Chinese travelers are among the world’s biggest spenders. snapping up Louis Vuitton LVMH bags and jewelry at Tiffany & Co in the world capitals they visit.

They are set to overtake their Japanese counterparts as the second-largest luxury spender behind the United States within a few years.

“Quite frankly, the Chinese tourist is today the dominant influence in the gateway cities,” Polo Ralph Lauren Chief Operating Officer Roger Farah said on a call with Wall Street analysts on Wednesday.

“Our sales at duty free are mindboggling,” said Bernd Fritz, chief executive of the perfume company Coty.

source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/26/us-luxury-summit-visas-idUSTRE74P6RO20110526

North Queensland Tourism picks Canto-pop stars to promote the region’s beauty to Australia’s fastest-growing tourist market

The Twins pop stars, Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung

The Twins will appear in social media and TV campaigns promoting the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns. The stars have been filmed in music videos and photos at various tourist destinations.

“The Twins have already come over to Cairns to shoot their new music videos and have done photo shoots for their online photo album,” said Tang.“There will be a TV program that will debut the girls’experience in the region as they work on their videos.”

“They will also give their fans updates on China’s Twitter site Weibo to promote their experiences in the Great Barrier Reef region.”

On May 18, the Twins officially launched their new music videos and promote their 10th anniversary via video conference from Shenzhen, China.

[tweetmeme source=”astronauttravel” only_single=false]

Sources:
http://www.cnngo.com/sydney/visit/oz-tourism-finally-gets-it-right-canto-pop-bait-123715#ixzz1MakQuEW7
http://www.qutnews.com/2011/05/11/qld-tourism-hopes-chinese-twins-a-star-attraction/

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

According to Egypt’s Tourism Minister Munir Abdel Nour, a sharp fall of tourist arrivals early in the year had caused economic losses of more than one billion U.S. dollars.

From February to April, an further estimated reduction of 3 million tourists, lead to estimated losses of 2.3 billion U.S. dollars, he added.

Last year, the country hosted 12.7 million tourists and reaped 13 billion U.S. dollars, or 11.3 percent of its gross domestic product. The number of Chinese tourists to Egypt last year stood at 106,000.

A Chinese delegation of 18 journalists arrived in Cairo on Monday for a five-day tour, at the invitation of Egyptian authorities.

The delegation came from 12 media organizations.

For the full article, please click here.

[tweetmeme source=”astronauttravel” only_single=false]

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

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