China: 120 million international travelers and just getting started

In 2016, more than 120 million Chinese traveled internationally. which is roughly the entire population of Japan (or Canada, Italy and Australia combined).

And only 10% of the country has a passport.

Imagine the travel industry when 25% of Chinese residents are traveling abroad. Where will they go? What will they want to see? To help shed light on these questions, Hotels.com recently interviewed 3,000 Chinese residents who traveled internationally over the past year.

It published these findings in the 2017 edition of the Chinese International Travel Monitor report. If you want to better understand Chinese travelers, where they’re headed and why, this report is a must read.

Here are a few items that jumped out at me:

  • China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries.
  • Yet only 10% of the Chinese population had passports in 2016.
  • Shopping is no longer the prime attraction for a growing number of travelers
  • Nor is group travel, which is quickly losing favor among older travelers. Translation: Chinese travelers are tiring of those buses.
  • Independent travel is very popular among millennials.
  • And eco/green tours are becoming quite popular, particularly among older travelers. I’m very happy to see this.
  • The most welcoming countries to Chinese travelers, based on survey respondents, are Thailand, Japan, Australia. The USA made the top 5, though I suspect that ranking might be slipping based on current events.
  • The top landmark in the US:  Grand Canyon.
  • The top landmark in Australia: Great Barrier Reef.
  • And in France: the Louvre.
  • Chinese visitors spend more in the US than visitors from any other nation, approximately $7,200.

So what does this mean for hotels and other travel segments? It means you have be curious, nimble, and you had better support Chinese — both on your website, in your call center, via social media, and with in-house Mandarin speakers.  Survey respondents ranked poor hotel localization as a top 5 problem.

Chinese is also not as well supported across many of the global travel websites I reviewed two months ago. As shown here, based on our new report Destination: Marketing, Chinese is found on only 64% of the leading tourism websites.

Also, accepting Visa or Mastercard is not good enough. Most Chinese travelers prefer to pay with UnionPay.

Click here to download the report.

And if you’d like to know which tourism and destination websites are the most world-ready, check out our new report Destination: Marketing.

Finally, if you want insights into localizing your website for China, check out Think Outside the Country.

Booking.com: The best global travel website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 24 travel websites:

  • Air France
  • Airbnb
  • American Airlines
  • Avis
  • Booking.com
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Enterprise
  • Expedia
  • Four Seasons
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Hotels.com
  • Hyatt
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Marriott
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Sixt
  • TripAdvisor
  • Uber
  • United Airlines

This is the third year that we’ve combined web-based travel services companies with the travel companies they represent. And while OTAs (online travel agencies) have long dominated this category, we’re seeing airlines and hotels become much more competitive in the fight for customer relationships, and not just in developed markets.

Booking.com emerging number one overall. It leads all other websites with support for 41 languages and  leverages global templates across all local websites. The mobile website is also lighter (in kilobytes) than most competitive websites giving Booking.com a potential performance advantage. Following close behind in score is Hotels.com.

The travel industry is by definition a global industry. When your customer may be located anywhere in the world and traveling to any other place in the world, you need to support not only a significant number of languages but also currencies, time zones, and mobile devices. A number of the companies in this sector have been aggressive in using geolocation and content negotiation to greet visitors with the right language, region and currency. But they also provide a great deal of flexibility. For instance, Booking.com and Hotels.com allow you to change your currency using what I call the currency gateway:

But Booking.com is far from perfect. It buries its global gateway on its mobile website, which is not ideal for visitors who need to quickly change settings. Instead, I recommend including the global gateway link in the header, as shown here with Emirates:

I recommend a more generic globe icon than the one used by Emirates, but this is far better than most other mobile travel websites.

American Airlines does not use a globe icon, but does at least make its global gateway available in the header, as shown here:

I do not recommend using flags for navigational purposes and many travel websites continue to use them today. Flags do not scale well and flags convey meaning that often goes far beyond mere navigation — a reason why a number of websites intentionally leave the Taiwan flag off of the global gateway, even though it includes all others.

A number of companies have been quite busy expanding their linguistic reach; websites that added languages over the past year include:

  • Emirates
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Uber

KLM, by the way, leads all airlines with support for 28 languages. And Hilton leads all hotels with support for 23 languages (though if you include Airbnb as a hotel brand, it emerges on top).

Websites that scored on the negative end of this list include Four Seasons, Enterprise and Avis.

To learn more, check out the Web Globalization Report CardTravel and travel services is the largest sector covered by the Report Card, a section more than 50 pages long.

Hotels.com, Hotels.ng and the value of country codes

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I read today about the Nigerian startup Hotels.ng and my first thought was why Hotels.com didn’t already own the Nigerian country code.

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After all, Hotels.com owns country codes for France and Italy and Japan, among others.

But was apparently late to registering country codes for Germany and Netherlands — as well as Nigeria (Africa’s most populous country).

Now, in Hotels.com’s defense, its global brand is “com.” And its global gateway strategy is intended to reinforce this fact; country codes are used as redirects only.

I should also note that Hotels.com finished in the top 10 in this year’s Web Globalization Report Card.

Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that .com is the best global strategy — particularly in emerging markets, where country codes are strong indicators of local companies.

For large multinationals, ccTLDs are trivial expenses, even if you have no short-term plans for using them. Speaking of, the ccTLD for Hotels.bw (Botswana) is for sale for roughly $2,000.

Which leads me to wonder who is going to register the new generic top-level domain .hotels.

This seems like a natural fit for Hotels.com, and yet Booking.com has applied for it (although the application status is on hold).

PS: I recently completed a book (review coming) that talks about the threat that emerging market companies post to established multinationals. I wonder if this is one such future case study.