Four years after China impressed the world with its hosting of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the country continues to emphasize that there’s absolutely no substitute for experiencing what the country is all about without having been there in person.
“You really have to make your own impression of China on your own,” says Weijian Luo, the newly appointed deputy director of the China National Tourist Office in Los Angeles. “You have to really travel there to know what it is to you.”
Luo’s emphatic appeal to attract visitors to China is just one facet of the CNTO’s comprehensive tourism strategy for 2012, following a successful year in 2011 in which the country received 57.6 million inbound, overnight visitors, a 3 percent increase from 2010. Last year, China generated international tourism revenues of $48.5 billion.
Six months into Luo’s appointment as the new Los Angeles-based deputy director, he and his team are hard at work, implementing new marketing and advertising campaigns, and reaching out to tourism partners throughout the U.S. Travel Agent recently sat down with Luo for an exclusive interview at his headquarters office in Glendale, CA.
Focusing on the U.S. Market
Luo says that the CNTO is placing a special focus on the U.S. market, its fourth biggest visitor sector, with a brand-new marketing and advertising campaign—“C”ing is Believing.
“We really hope to invite more American visitors and to have them share their own experiences with their family and friends,” says Luo. “We are supplementing our global 2012 campaign—‘China Happy and Healthy Tour 2012’—with this one, which caters specifically to the U.S. market,” Luo explains.
He adds, “I really want people to know that yes, China is a developing country, but with our incredible development of the tourism infrastructure, all of our attractions, and the hospitality of our people, there is no doubt that you really have to see China to make your own impression of it.”
Exploring Beyond Beijing
“In the past, a lot of visitors traveled to the big cities—Beijing, Shanghai and Xian—but the reality is that people can see so much more,” Luo says. Some examples he cited include the beautiful Karakuli lake in Xinjiang, an impressive mountain and lake resort area; adventurous desert driving tours; hikes along the Yangtze River; and therapeutic hot springs in the Yunnan Province.
Health and Wellness Travel
On a global scale, the CNTO’s 2012 campaign shines a spotlight on health and wellness travel to China, from luxurious spa and beach vacations to adventurous ecotourism activities and even scaling the face of Mount Everest from China.
“There are so many choices for health and wellness travel in China,” says Luo. “This is not an entirely new concept to tourism in China, but we really wanted to raise awareness about it this year.”
An instrumental aspect of the “C”ing is Believing campaign is a brand new radio promotion that the CNTO launched in Los Angeles on March 1, which potentially could expand to other U.S. markets later this year.
“Based on a market study that we conducted, we realized that the North American audience continues to rely heavily on the radio,” says Luo. “It plays a vital role in entertainment and presents an ideal opportunity to introduce China to potential travelers, especially here in Los Angeles, where everyone seems to be driving and listening to the radio at the same time.”
The radio spots debuted on K-Earth 101.1 FM in Los Angeles and will play during rush hours throughout the year.
Reaching Out to Agents
|Weijian Luo, deputy director, China National Tourist Office, says clients should be encouraged to explore less-visited areas such as.|
While the CNTO is investing heavily in raising awareness among consumers in 2012, it is simultaneously investing its resources into working with the travel agent community, says Luo. He adds that Los Angeles recently signed a contract to work with and act as a sponsor for Signature Travel Network, while the New York CNTO office has partnered with Virtuoso.
To help travel agents get the information and training that they need to send clients to China, the CNTO is placing special emphasis on improving its website and specialist training program. Luo says that the CNTO is beginning to develop new digital strategies that could result in such products as smartphone travel apps for China in order to “better serve tourists.”
Just as the CNTO is hoping to encourage consumers to see China for themselves, Luo is encouraging travel agents to do the same.
“We get many requests from travel agents for travel to China and we hope to keep them in close contact so that they continue to send visitors, and that they increase their familiarity with our destination,” says Luo. “I personally welcome and encourage travel agents to come to China, to visit it and to see it with their own eyes,” he adds. “The door is always open and U.S. visitors are always welcome.”