By Julie Grieve,
As published in The Scotsman, June 3, 2017
News that Edinburgh Airport has signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing Capital International Airport brings the prospect of direct flights from China to the Scottish capital ever closer.
With a non-stop route in place, we can expect the number of Chinese visitors to rise even further than the 160,000 welcomed to Edinburgh last year.
For the local travel industry it is a massive boost. China is a very influential, high spending market. In 2014, 100,000 Chinese nationals visited Edinburgh Castle alone. Total estimated spend by Chinese visitors that year topped £62m.
Proof that we must be ready for more.
The Destination Leaders Programme has already laid the foundations, and at the heart of this strategy is the need to deliver a local experience in a way that is relevant to today’s traveller.
Worldwide, holidaymakers turn constantly to their smart phones and tables: tech-savvy, they want seamless booking – to check-in processes, free in-room wifi and instant access to information.
VisitScotland’s 2015/16 visitor survey, found that when choosing a holiday, 63 per cent sought out online travel reviews to help them decide upon a destination, while the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) in its China-Ready report found that 75 per cent of Chinese travellers rely on blogs, websites and social media platforms to make their choice. As proof of this, content shared by Chinese bloggers after visiting the 2015 Hogmanay has been viewed 20 million times.
What is of growing importance for a great holiday experience, however, is local knowledge.
Travellers value personal recommendations and guidance above all else, and technology gives us the opportunity to curate and offer this to guests. Uploading and sharing an insiders’ guide to Edinburgh through pictures, stories and videos is easy. With technology, too, language doesn’t have to be a barrier.
Such availability of authentic information is now critical to visitor satisfaction and loyalty. Otherwise, as VisitScotland found, the customer can be ‘indifferent’.
Unquestionably, there is a very clear link between digital communication and visitor experience and one which still needs to be developed across the tourism industry.
The best customer experience we can hope to offer the growing numbers of Chinese visitors is not simply a matter of traditional, personal interaction and face-to-face service. Being customer focused in the travel sector today means having an understanding of customer needs, being able to facilitate this and presenting it in a compelling way through online content and the proliferation of social media platforms.
Technology is the enabler for bringing an authentic, local and relevant experience to today’s traveller. For the Chinese market, it will be essential.
- Julie Grieve is the founder and CEO of Information Apps