Forum: Chinese consumers need to be proactively welcomed in travel retail

By Kristiane Sherry |

Chinese passengers need a warm welcome in international GTR settings.

Chinese consumers who are new to travelling will need a warm greeting, familiar payment methods and signage in their language to feel comfortable in international duty free stores, a panel of experts agreed during today’s TR Consumer Forum session.

The morning discussion saw Johanna Heiser, Head of China Business at Fraport, Trevor Lee, Managing Director at TravConsult, Anna Marchesini, Head of Business Development at m1nd-set, and Sienna Parulis-Cook, Director of Marketing and Communications at Dragon Trail, discuss the needs of the Chinese passenger as international travel resumes.

Marchesini opened by sharing exclusive, detailed insights from m1nd-set commissioned for the session.

She said 66% of Chinese travellers are under the age of 34, and a majority are women.

“Planning is a key characteristic of Chinese shoppers,” she added. Later she detailed that travellers who are familiar with the Hainan tax free shopping complex trust the travel retail environment “a lot”.

Lee then drew parallels between the international air routes that have resumed out of China, and the closeness of countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Basically, the Chinese government has gone in favour of devoting its airlines to those countries that were very supportive,” he explained. 

“That being said, by the end of July, Sydney Airport will have 48 return services on nine individual Chinese airlines, which is a pretty good effort and it’s probably going to end up being one of the top airports for Chinese airlines by late September.”

Price comparison and payment methods

Fraport’s Heiser shared that one of the challenges faced is that Chinese consumers will regularly compare prices with those available in Hainan duty free stores.

In addition, Chinese brands have soared in appeal and many shoppers will seek them out in the channel.

Another barrier in store has been payment method. Chinese consumers tend to be most comfortable with mobile payments. WeChat Pay and AliPay should be adopted as standard, she noted.

“It really is their preferred way to pay,” she said. “It has become a necessity to provide these payment methods.” Signage in Chinese is also important.

Parulis-Cook then shared insights regarding travel activities – and, despite stereotypes, shopping is not a top priority.

“There are bigger reasons to travel beyond duty free shopping,” she said, sharing Dragon Tail data that ranked trying local food, visiting landmarks, family attractions, and beach, sea and other outdoor activities as more important reasons.

She also stated that while many other markets are broadly rebounding to 2019 levels, China’s Covid reopening has only been going for a matter of months.

Delegates in the session. IMAGE: Grant Pritchard Photography

As such, there is also an issue with obtaining visas for international travel as the recovery is ongoing.

“It used to take two days to get a visa for France, now it takes two months,” she illustrated. 

She also noted that other destinations across Asia had been important routes for Chinese tourism. “It will continue to be.”

A warm welcome

For Chinese travellers who do make a long-haul trip, a warm welcome in duty free stores is of the utmost importance, the panel agreed.

“They have to be smiling,” Lee said of duty free store staff. “You don’t need to be multilingual.” 

He gave examples of using translation apps or even WeChat to communicate. “I’ve done that so many times. It helps your Chinese customers, and it’s easy to use. It doesn’t cost anything.”

He continued: “As a non Chinese person helping the Chinese person, you give them more face than anyone else.”

The TR Consumer Forum concluded today in Vienna.

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