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DESTINATION BRANDING: REACHING CHINESE

TRAVELERS USING SOCIAL MEDIA



1. Introduction
The prevalence of social media has fundamentally changed the way that travelers access
information about a destination as well as the way they share their travel experience. According to
Brake and Safko (2009), the definition of social media is, Social media refers to activities,
practices, and behaviors among communities of people who gather online to share information,
knowledge, and opinions using conversational media. Conversational media are Web-based
applications that make it possible to create and easily transmit content in the form of words,
pictures, videos, and audios. (p.6).
The creation and development of social media technologies has revolutionized the way of
destination branding. Blain et al. (2005) proposed that Destination branding is the set of
marketing activities that (1)support the creation of a name, symbol, logo, word mark or other
graphic that readily identifies and differentiates a destination; that (2)consistently convey the
expectation of a memorable travel experience that is uniquely associated with the destination; that
(3)serve to consolidate and reinforce the emotional connection between the visitor and the
destination; and that (4)reduce consumer search costs and perceived risk. Collectively, these
activities serve to create a destination image that positively influence consumer destination choice.
(p.337).Traditionally, destination marketing organizations (DMO) utilize Internet as a promotion
tool to build a certain destination image they want. They published travel information on the
Internet with a read-only format. There is no interaction with other Internet users or publishers.
Nowadays, Internet users use social media platform to collaborate, communicate and publish
original content such as blogs, videos, wikis, reviews, or photos (Boyd and Ellison, 2008). Social
media websites are widely used by travelers to share travel experience by sharing photos as well
as videos and writing travel blogs and travel reviews.
Social media platforms in China have different features, but one of the biggest differences is the
way Chinese Internet users interact with brands on social media websites. While Americans might
write comments on a brands Facebook page, Chinese consumers use social media to actively
obtain information. This made them become more sophisticated and knowledgeable about the
travel destinations they visit.
Xiang and Gretzel (2010) identify that social media has become an important promotional tool
especially in the tourism industry. According to Thevenot (2007), with the popularity of the social
media, marketers no longer have ultimate control over the image of their destination or product,
users now gain more power compared to marketers. Consumers now play an important role in the
development of destinations identity and image. Tourism marketers have started to understand the
influence of social media and to adopt social media practices in tourism marketing.
The following are three cases from Australia, New Zealand and California, illustrating how they
successfully promote the destination to Chinese using social media platforms.



2. Case Studies
(1) Australia
In 2012, China surpassed the UK to become Australias second largest inbound market after
New Zealand. Tourism Australia estimates in its "China 2020 Strategic Plan" that 860,000 Chinese
tourists would fork out approximately AU$8 billion annually in the country by 2020. Their main
target is big-city "affluent couples" from mainland China, who are envisaged as experienced
travelers between the age of 30 and 49. (Tourism Australia, 2011).
While Australia had success in the western worlds social media platforms, it is also one of the
most followed destination on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent Twitter micro-blog, used by over
30% of the internet population in China. In 2012, Australian Tourism Commission invited
Taiwanese pop stars Show Lo and Rainie Yang to shoot an Internet mini drama Heartbeat Love
to promote the country's scenery. The drama consists of five 10 minutes episodes, together with
five five-minute destination videos, getting across Destination Australia content to a large audience,
estimated at up to 10 million, across Greater China. China's microblog network Weibo was buzzing
about this popular sitcom. The sitcom is also published and promoted on a popular Chinese online
video sharing site called Tudou.
The Chinese audience appears to be in love with this love story. For a period, Heartbeat Love
continued to be a top ten Weibo trend for days after the premier of part two. This campaign was a
real success because Tourism Australia saw the potential and high engagement of online video
portals and platforms in reaching Chinese consumers nationally in China and across the region.
Influential celebrities generate word of mouth, not only for the China market but also amongst the
Greater China region. According to Leo Seaton, manager of media relations for Tourism Australia,
Advocacy from influential celebrities and their own social media platforms greatly enhance
product awareness and preference. The drama content and associated travelogue will also build
knowledge of Australian travel experiences for consumers. (Sauer, 2012).

(2) New Zealand
According to the International Visitor Survey figures released by The Ministry of Business,
Innovation and Employment (MBIE), China has become New Zealand's second largest tourist
market. This survey shows that Chinese people spent $555 million in the year to September 2012,
a 37% increase in expenditure over the last year, which for the first time puts them ahead of the
United Kingdom. (MBIE, 2012)
The Tourism New Zealands latest campaign focuses to capture the Chinese overseas wedding
market and promotes New Zealand as a luxury destination for a romantic holiday, wedding or
honeymoon. Opinion leader and Chinese superstar, Yao Chen, became Tourism New Zealands
brand ambassador in August 2011. According to the Tourism New Zealand's General Manager
Asia Markets Tony Everitt, Yao Chen was chosen because of her influence, popularity and vast
audience reach across our target market of Active Considerers. (New Zealand Tourism, 2012).
Having total 66 million followers on Sina Weibo, Yao Chen is one of the top five most followed
micro-bloggers in the world after the likes of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and ahead of President
Obama. In November 17, 2012, Yao Chen got married with her photographer Cao Yu. Their
wedding was held in New Zealand's world-renowned resort town Queenstown. During her
wedding time in New Zealand, Yao Chen posted photos of her wedding and visitor activities in
and around Queenstown on her Weibo account, sparking enormous interest and comment on New
Zealand as a holiday and potential wedding destination.
Her posting of wedding photos resulted in around 7,000 print and on-line media articles across
China, highlighting New Zealand as a wedding destination. Discussion on Weibo topped forty
million items. Tourism New Zealand spokeswoman Emma Carter said between 30,000 and 40,000
tourists came to New Zealand to get married or for a honeymoon in 2012, spending about $130
million. (Tan, 2012). Through aligning with Yao Chen, there is already a surge in interest in New
Zealand as a romantic destination, with travel agents reporting an increase in enquires. Thus,
Tourism New Zealand is able to support this growth, positioning New Zealand as an aspirational
destination for young Chinese. (New Zealand Tourism, 2013).

(3) The United States California
As stated in a report of Visit California (Visit California, 2012), California is now the number
one destination in the U.S. for Chinese visitors. China is the states fastest growing inbound market.
There is about a half million Chinese visited the state in 2011 and around 708,000 visitors spending
$2.4 million in 2012 in California. California projects that the state will receive 1.1 million Chinese
visitors by 2015, making Chinese visitors Californias largest overseas market.
In 2012, Visit California launched its first I want to go to California consumer campaign in
China, and it enlisted Chinese Actress Gao Yuanyuan as Visit Californias first tourism ambassador
to help push its localized social media drive. According to Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta,
Ms. Gao embodies the California brand and spirit and is able to share her authentic passion for
California with the Chinese public, inspiring their California dreams (Skift, 2013).
In June, 2013, Visit California treated Ms. Gao and her family to a California Dream Vacation.
Gao visited Los Angeles, Venice Beach, San Francisco, and Napa Valley, filming a series of videos
featuring stops at Universal Studios and Disneyland in the Los Angeles area and Golden Gate Park
in San Francisco, among other highlights. She posted updates and photos of the trip along the way
to more than 34 million fans on Weibo. Visit Californias Brian Wright considered this trip a
success, calculating the reach to be more than 50 million. (Nelson, 2013)

3. Risks and Challenges
Although social media has positively influenced the global tourism development, it can also
have devastating effect on tourism industry especially when crisis happens and the destination does
not handle well. One of the latest examples is the tragic disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines
flight MH370 on March 8, 2014. More than two-thirds of those on board are Chinese. Chinese
people criticized on Weibo for the way that Malaysia governments handling of the tragedy by
hiding crucial information. The Weibo users even started a discussion topic, named I will never
travel to Malaysia as long as Im alive, which was discussed by 90,000 users on Weibo. This
widespread negative publicity directly affect the tourism industry of Malaysia. According to
Tourism Malaysia Chairman Ng Yen Yen, many Chinese had initially made preparations to visit
Malaysia in the second half of 2014 due to the promotion of Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign,
but The Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association said close to 30 percent of Chinese tourists have
cancelled their bookings to visit Malaysia this year (Lumpur, 2014).
Despite of the above risk, there are also some challenges in using social media for destination
branding in China. First, there is a huge range of social media channels exist in China, for example,
Sina Weibo, Tencent Qzone, RenRen, Kaixin, Youku and Tudou, to name a few. As a result, this
made it difficult for Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) to choose the best portals to
reach Chinese visitors. Also, it is difficult to maintain and to expand the online fans since they
have so many alternative social media websites. Second, having millions of online fans and
followers does not mean they will visit the destination in the future. So DMOs must find a way to
convert those online into people who would genuinely consider visiting the destination. Lastly,
since social media usage on tourism branding is a relatively new phenomenon, there is no
benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of those branding campaign on social media channels.

4. Conclusion
The current development of social media offers numerous marketing opportunities to DMOs.
Because social media platform allows DMOs to have better promotional and transactional effects,
many DMOs are becoming increasingly aware of the significance of social media and its use within
the building of a destination brand in China. In this research report, tourism organizations from
Australia, New Zealand and California seems to have similar strategies in an attempt to draw
Chinese tourists. These three destinations all use celebrity endorsement, not in the traditional
media channel. They use celebrity power in social media platforms, because those celebrities have
followers on social media platforms numbering the tens of millions. For destination branding in
China, DMOs can team up with celebrities, especially those opinion leaders, offers the kind of
access to Chinese consumers that would cost a fortune with traditional advertising campaigns.
Social media marketing is a cheap alternative to traditional marketing with high returns (Weinberg,
2009).With more opportunities than challenges, DMOs need to make better use of social media
platforms for destination branding activities in China.
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