The China Outbound Travel Education Series – part 6: Internet, social media and online marketing

This is a basic overview of what travel companies and destinations should consider before embarking on a digital marketing campaign in China:

Due to the fast economic growth and high education levels in China, internet usage has been booming in the past decade. Young urban professionals are morel likely to obtain their travel information online than through any other source. All major cities have reliable and affordable broad band internet access. Most Internet providers are based in Beijing. The internet is also often used for on-line reservations for hotels (FIT travellers). Fees for Internet media advertising are relatively low and enjoy a large, professional and young audience. Payment is normally in the form of space rental rather than pay-per-click as in the West.
The main internet portals are: sina.com, sohu.com, 163.com, online.sh.cn, tom.com,.21cn.com.
At the same time as the World Wide Web is becoming increasingly popular among Chinese, the Chinese central government is getting worried about the negative effects of this new media. While some worries are justified (addiction to online games, internet gambling, pornography and credit card fraud), others stem from the tight control China exercises on all other forms of media.
The result of this concern is a high degree of censorship and restriction of internet content. As China cannot control sites that are hosted outside its borders, it resorts to monitoring and censoring what Chinese can view from external sites. This can lead to certain servers at certain times being blocked. With most websites held on shared servers, any site can be affected by this.
The other issue not yet resolved is capacity – usage outpacing investment in underwater cables and routing systems. This results in frequent bottlenecks and extremely slow uploads of external sites. Companies and organisations that want Chinese viewers to access their site need to consider that it will be frequently unavailable or load at such slow speeds that people may become frustrated and go elsewhere.
The solution is to host a mirror of your site on a shared server in China. To do this, it is important to note:
•    Chinese sites have different design requirements – often very busy sites with animation and colours.
•    Registering your domain with .CN will improve search engine performance in China and avoid your domain name being taken by someone else.
•    Chinese search engines also use registered domains in Chinese – a separate registration is required and this is only available in China
•    Only companies registered in China can legally host a website in China – an ICP license or application number is now required for any site, no matter what the content is provided the site uses a .cn domain name. Application can only be accepted from companies legally registered in China.

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