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Marketing to Chinese travellers: Tourism Australia’s success

September 8, 2017 |   Andrea Hoymann

When it comes to organisations that have managed to capitalise on the Chinese travel market, Tourism Australia is an exemplary success story. In 2009, the overnight expenditure of Chinese tourists was contributing about $3 billion to the Australian economy, and was projected to reach $9 billion by 2020. Today, that initial projection has already been outstripped, with Chinese overnight spend now worth about $9.7 billion, and expected to rise to $13 billion by 2020.

At the inaugural Access China Summit, John Mackenney, general manager of digital transformation, spoke about how Tourism Australia have managed to effectively engage Chinese travellers, and shared some of the secrets to their digital marketing success. Find out how you can too succeed in marketing to Chinese travellers. 

Here are 4 of the key takeaways from his presentation:

  1. Focus on unique, high-quality user experiences 
  2. WeChat and Weibo are ‘must-win’ platforms
  3. Leverage local partnerships
  4.  Develop for the East, adapt for the West

Focus on unique, high-quality user experiences

Tourism Australia is highly focused on providing high-quality user experiences for Chinese consumers, particularly when it comes to their digital assets, like their website and social media.

A few years ago, Tourism Australia had a global website, which was hosted outside of China. The website was highly visual, and largely driven by video, but this resulted in a frustratingly slow experience for Chinese consumers. The design of the website was also uniform globally, and did not cater specifically to the Chinese market. Both these factors were having a negative impact on engagement, so Tourism Australia made the decision to create a website dedicated to Chinese consumers in China, designed and built by Chinese companies and hosted on Chinese infrastructure.

The result has been a much higher visitation rate, engagement rate, and conversion rate than any of their other global platforms. boasts 9 million unique visitors, and generates 1.1 million leads to the tourism industry, making it a very high-performing asset.

Creating unique experiences has also been a large factor in their marketing to Chinese travellers success. In 2016, Tourism Australia became the first national tourism office to use virtual reality and 360º videos on their website, in partnership with a Chinese production company. This again had an impressive effect on engagement, with visitors spending an average of 12 minutes per session on the site.

Creating unique experiences has also been a large factor in their marketing to Chinese travellers success.


WeChat and Weibo are ‘must-win’ platforms

When Chinese apps are discussed by Western media, it is often in terms of proximities to other well-known platforms: ‘X is like Facebook, Y is like Twitter’ etc. But these types of approximations are highly limiting – the truth is, apps in China function very differently to platforms we might be familiar with. A Chinese consumer might be able to organise dinner with a friend, book a restaurant, place an order, pay for the meal, and order a cab home, all without ever leaving WeChat. This type of immersion in a single app is (as of yet) unparalleled in the Western world.

That is why it is crucial for anyone wishing to capitalise on the Chinese market to develop a good understanding of platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, to be able to exploit the huge opportunities that they represent. To give an idea of the scale of these opportunities, one video that Tourism Australia posted on Weibo, of the Chinese president’s visit to Australia, garnered 120 million views in just 6 days.

It is crucial for anyone wishing to capitalise on the Chinese market to develop a good understanding of platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.


This is an area that Tourism Australia are taking great pains to explore. They currently have 1.1 million followers on WeChat and Weibo combined. They are also playing a role in facilitating the use of these apps within Australia; for example, by attempting to introduce WeChat Pay into retail spaces around the country.


Leverage local partnerships

In order to facilitate the conversion of leads into sales, Tourism Australia has leaned heavily on local expertise. They have 32 ‘key distribution partners’ – primarily travel agencies, which cater mostly or exclusively to the Chinese market – that work closely with Tourism Australia to develop and deliver saleable itineraries. They are also one of the first tourism boards to have their own ‘pavilion’ – essentially a sales area – within Ctrip, a leading provider of travel services to China. What’s more, 2017 is the China–Australia Year of Tourism, a program that has been developed in partnership with the China National Tourism Academy.

Tourism Australia has leaned heavily on local expertise.


All of these measures support a highly localised approach, and serve to underscore the importance of the Chinese market for Australian’s tourism industry.

Develop for the East, adapt for the West

When attempting to break into the Chinese market, most Western organisations typically think about how to adapt what they’re currently doing to China. Tourism Australia have taken a reverse approach, with all their global campaigns originating in Shanghai, and being rolled out to the Chinese consumer first, before then being adapted to Western consumers. ‘That’s how important China is to us as a market,’ said Mackenney.

China is what Mackenney calls an ‘innovation hub’ – in many ways, it is ahead of the curb globally, so focusing on this market and on the unique opportunities it presents encourages innovation, allowing Tourism Australia to be successful not just in China, but globally.

Putting Chinese consumers at the core of marketing efforts

All these key takeaways can effectively be boiled down to a single fundamental philosophy: putting the Chinese consumer at the core of your marketing efforts. By engaging them where they ‘live’ on social media applications, creating dynamic and unique experiences for them, using local expertise to garner a deeper understanding of them, and developing within and for their environment, you can tailor a marketing experience that is sure to convert to sales.

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