Chinese social media use has taken off in recent years and is an increasingly important tool to reach and shape opinions within the Chinese market. However, a recent ‘China Edge’ study shows that Chinese social media platforms have so far been almost entirely neglected by London hoteliers: China Edge surveyed the Chinese social media engagement of 102 hotels in London, including 87 five-star and 15 four-star properties. Out of this pool, only six of the properties had registered Sina Weibo accounts, and none had WeChat accounts.
These two social media platforms are China’s largest, with 500 million users and over 400 users, respectively. China’s explosion of social media—Weibo launched less than five years ago, and WeChat has been around just over three years—also comes at a time when more and more Chinese are travelling abroad. There were 97 million outbound China travelers in 2013, and this number is expected to reach 100 million in 2014.
Still, London hoteliers have been slow to engage. Of the six properties with Weibo accounts, two have yet to post any content. Additionally, three of the other hotels repost the same content from all three accounts as opposed to generating original posts. Only one hotel, the May Fair Hotel, posts regularly, and occasionally assesses their competitors’ marketing campaigns. The remaining properties are not active, and do not have obvious Chinese social media posting strategies. The London hotels on Weibo also currently have far fewer followers than most hotel accounts in China—even the most-followed accounts have only around one per cent or less of the followers of popular hotels in Beijing or Shanghai.
While Weibo remains China’s most popular social media platform for now, WeChat has caught up quickly and has seen more growth and increasing popularity in the last year. The ability of businesses to sign up for official accounts on this platform has allowed them to connect with a target audience on what started out as a free messaging and private micro blogging service. Major international hotel chains such as Marriott and Four Seasons have Weibo and WeChat accounts for both the chain and some individual properties in China, but no major hotel group has registered Chinese social media accounts for their individual hotels based in the UK.
The most influential social media marketing tools for Chinese audiences, Weibo and WeChat have yet to be utilized to their full potential by London hoteliers. As a market, London does attract fewer Chinese visitors than cities within Asia or even Western Europe. Still, Britain’s capital does attract a higher percentage of independent travellers that are highly responsive to social media engagement. Reaching them through Weibo and WeChat is a low-cost, fast and effective method that more hotels should be taking advantage of. As the Chinese outbound travel market continues to grow, engagement on social media will no doubt become an increasingly valuable tool and pressing need for hotel properties in London and other major destinations for Chinese travelers.