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Returning from a Chinese Tourism Mission where I spoke to travel industry officials in Beijing and the Anhui Province, I was fortunate to begin correspondence with Adhiraj Singh, Director of Revenue Management for the Ningbo Marriott Hotel. Since Marriott is an international hotel brand, my subsequent interview with Singh allowed me to learn how one major hotel brand utilized social media in a country whose Internet restrictions differs markedly from other parts of the world.
Singh echoed a lot of the same feedback I received from the hoteliers I spoke to during my visit – namely, that China is just beginning to test the boundaries of Social Media for branding and business communications purposes.
This interview will provide travel industry professionals in the States with a snapshot as to how a Marriott business professional perceives the emerging social media practices in China today.
What are the most popular social networks in the Zheijang Province and does this differ from those used in metropolitan urban areas, such as Beijing and/or Shanghai?
Renren seems to be the leader by far in popularity.
Since US ex-pats and International travelers use VPNs in China to access Twitter and Facebook, would it be wise for Chinese hotel brands to have a presence on these two giant social networks?
It would certainly make sense for presence on such portals. However, practically speaking the issue of managing pages and Twitter accounts in the face of a ban gets challenging.
Are social networks utilized in China by companies for branding, promotional and CRM purposes?
There is a lot of advertising on Chinese social media. However, I have yet to see an active effort in terms of branding as is seen with FB and Twitter.
Is travel a popular topic on Chinese social networks?
I personally am not active on any Chinese social media network but based on my interactions with colleagues and friends, yes travel does seem to be high on the discussion lists. This does come after music and shopping though.
What type of social media initiatives has Marriott rolled out internationally- and are they effective in China?
Marriott has dedicated FB, LinkedIn and Twitter pages. In addition, Mr. Marriott and the President, Arne Sorenson blog on a weekly basis. While the FB and Twitter pages are not as effective, LinkedIn seems to be getting a lot of hits, specially for job queries. China is Marriott’s largest market outside North America and growth here is fast paced.
According to a recent report, Marriott has 55 hotels / 21,000+ guestrooms in China. Does this group of Chinese hoteliers work collaboratively in developing marketing plans to stimulate increased foreign travel into China?
That is a fair estimation of the hotels in China. There are many more in the pipeline. Marriott China has a dedicated Ecommerce team in place to facilitate Pan-China promotions, track online performance and allow Marriott to leverage its scale in the country.
What types of marketing campaigns seem to be most effective? Is there a difference between how hotels target local travelers vs. foreign tourists?
Marketing campaigns depend on the destinations being sold. Larger cities benefit more from web based campaigns while secondary cities still rely on traditional intermediaries such as Travel Agents. This is certainly attributable in a large part to the mix of nationalities that use hotels in these destinations. Gateway cities tend to have more foreign customers thus electronic sources work better here.
Are competing Chinese hotels active on social networks? Do you think its on their near-term radar? Marriott’s?
Hotels do seem to be starting to compete on social networks. However, most of the activity seems to be driven from global chains, filtering down to the China market. It is (and should) definitely be on a priority list. The market is big and there is still a great scope to grow.
Are you familiar with any other social media services like Flip.to available in China today?
I personally am not aware of any other such service.
Up till now social media strategies, like PR have been focused on ROE (return on engagement) – has Marriott explored or been successful in identifying any social media services that produce an ROI? (if so, please detail the initiative)?
Marriott is trying to measure its social media quotient and has partnered with Brand Karma. Weekly reports give GMs, Sales and Revenue Leaders detailed reports on strengths and opportunities highlighted by customers. This feedback is valuable to drive operational performance, optimize pricing decisions and be aware of markets that may be developed in the future.