Travel driving Chinese seafood consumption

Seafood marketers should look at cooperating with tourism trade groups to benefit from a rising surge of outbound Chinese tourists. China, according to the World Tourism Organization, will by 2020 become the world’s No. 1 source of outbound tourists as well as the most visited destination.

In monitoring Chinese travel media over the past several months, SeafoodSource discovered a preoccupation with seafood in titles like Travel Plus and Travel & Leisure, which cater to wealthier Chinese travelers more likely to travel independently. Photos of shrimp, lobster and oysters, common in high-end Chinese cooking, accompanied reports on destinations as varied as Australia and Malaysia. Seafood was also featured prominently in a four-page report on Mozambique, which appeared in Travel Plus, a weighty glossy monthly. Aside from detailing the country’s clam, urchin and octopus harvests, the article detailed restaurants and resorts serving lobster.

As their wealth grows, Chinese consumers are becoming a coveted source of tourism revenues. Outbound travelers from China totaled 70.25 million in 2011, up 22.85 percent year-on-year, according to data published by the China Outbound Tourism Yearbook 2012. Wang Xinjun, director of Ivy Alliance Tourism Consulting Co., which publishes the yearbook, points to appreciation of the renminbi as a driver; the number of Chinese tourists visiting the European Union and United States increased 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in 2011. Looser visa policies for Chinese tourists have also helped, he explained.

Mainland Chinese tourists tend to stick to tried-and-tested destinations with food and language familiarity. Hong Kong and Taiwan are the top two destinations, according to Chinese-based and Tripadvisor-style travel website Qunar. Third-place Maldives is followed by Singapore and Dubai in the fourth and fifth spots. The rise of the Maldives has been due to its prominence as a Chinese honeymoon destination. The only other two non-Asian destinations in Qunar’s top 10 were eighth-ranked Paris and 10th-ranked Sydney.

Meanwhile, western style hospitality has been coming to China, a useful beachhead to whet Chinese appetites. Full-page advertisements in the Chinese travel media this summer showcase openings including the Conrad in Dalian and new Westin properties in Ningbo and Wuhan. Indeed, the general manager of the newly opened Conrad Dalian, Vlad Reyes, points to “fierce competition” among high-end hoteliers for China’s second- and third-tier cities.

Fighting for a share of the domestic tourism market, foreign hoteliers seek to impress in smaller cities with fine-dining facilities. Seafood dishes prepared in Western styles in China feature prominently in the Chinese travel press. For instance, Van der Laan Rembrandt, a French chef at the Shanghai Royal Meridien hotel, mentioned his favorite seafood recipes, including sea bass and scallop sourced locally, in a recent issue of Travel & Leisure. Chef Andreas Fuchs at the Park Hyatt hotel in Shanghai, meanwhile, explained to the magazine how he makes his dishes from seafood sourced locally while also importing Botarga from Spain.

Mandarin-language signage at the destination as well as effective offline and online marketing campaigns in China are vital to lifting numbers. Likewise, it’s important to target wealthy, cosmopolitan niches, said Adam Wu, a director at CBN, a consultancy focused on Chinese inbound and outbound business and incentive travel. Dubai, which hired TLM China as its local marketing agency, recorded a 27 percent increase in Chinese inbound travel numbers in 2011, while Australia has identified wealthy Chinese as a key source of new tourism numbers.

While Chinese tourists are drawn by the familiarity of Hong Kong and Singapore, they’re also keen on ostentation. Others point to a Chinese propensity for man-made attractions as well as upscale, air-conditioned malls and hefty dinners.

“They’re quite like the Singaporeans in that respect. They like big buffet dinners but don’t typically go for the great outdoors,” explained Li Mingxia, editor of Metrostyle, a Beijing lifestyle magazine featuring advertorials paid for by international food and wine brands and tourism agencies.


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