How Airports Are Using Social Media

travel_index_807Beijing (China) – January 17, 2014 – Last year, Chinese tourists overtook their peers from the USA and Germany as the top global tourists spending over $103 billion dollars abroad. As a response to the ever-increasing number of Chinese tourists heading abroad, marketers from airlines, hotels, restaurants and transportation (rental cars) are all scrambling to accommodate these new international travelers, causing a massive shift in the way the hospitality and travel industries think, operate and spend. In this mad dash, many have overlooked the initial point of contact: Airports.

Airports are usually the first experience Chinese tourist have with their international travel destinations. They may also represent the first opportunity for domestic marketers to interact with Chinese tourists and for airports to create loyal customers. It is a well-documented practice for airports to use social media marketing but less than 1% of airports worldwide are active on Chinese social media sites. Airlines, hotels and other players in the hospitality industry are actively engaging these international travelers on Chinese social media sites (some with great success). So, what is stopping airports? Nothing. Airports should be engaging with and providing valuable information to Chinese tourists on a regular basis. Creating Chinese language apps that help tourist navigate the airport with ease, linking with tourists through WeChat and therefor allowing the airport to send welcome messages directly to tourists upon arrival or directing them to the nearest duty free shop before departure are just a few ways airports could engage in social media marketing with Chinese tourist.

According to research by Nigel Halpern, “Almost one-fifth of airports use at least one type of social media; 13% use Facebook, 12% use Twitter, 7% use LinkedIn and 4% use YouTube. There is a greater use of social media by airports in North America and Europe, by larger airports, and by airports that are owned and operated by private interests.” The research has shown that some airports have already seen the value of social media marketing but the next step is to integrate Chinese social media into the marketing mix. According to TripAdvisor, “91% of travelers post pictures of vacations, 57% post status updates and 34% check-in while travelling. Additionally, 75% of business travelers and frequent fliers carry smartphones today. Just as many of them log-on to airport Wi-Fi when it is free.”

In the world of the connected traveler, it’s not just about making guests happy with free wifi or Chinese language information in shopping centers. As travelers have ever more choice about where and when to fly, airports will have to compete. Actively engaging in social media will help airports win and retain customers. For example, several high profile airports have embraced this trend including Singapore’s Changi Airport which has 100,000 followers. The Hong Kong International Airport and Melbourne Airport also have accounts. These airports are listening to what connected travelers are saying about travel and specifically what they are saying about the airports they travel though.

Social media marketing is about communicating and actively participating in conversations. The new push is to attract international Chinese tourist but how can companies communicate and converse with Chinese tourist, if they are not on the same platforms. Social media marketing will allow airports that are willing to engage with Chinese tourists an advantage. The Chinese tourist are some of the most connected travelers in the world and airports that are willing to listen and connect with them will become the new transit hubs for the international Chinese jetsetter.

Author: Dr. Mathew McDougall
Although a native of Australia, Dr. Mathew McDougall has been involved in the Chinese Internet and media industries for nearly 11 years. Dr. McDougall is currently the CEO and founder of Digital Jungle, a leading Chinese social media marketing agency.

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