Tencent, a Chinese Internet and telecommunications conglomerate that owns WeChat, doubled down on its work with U.S. and European tourism organizations this year. In September, Tencent announced a suite of advertising tools for U.S. tourism boards to reach Chinese travelers on WeChat, the largest messaging and digital commerce mobile app in China.
With the new tools are designed to make it easier for tourism boards to put content on WeChat and build microsites to help reach WeChat’s nearly one billion users.
Many major U.S. and European cities had already upped their investment in WeChat this year even before Tencent’s new ad products debuted.
Helsinki Marketing, the city’s tourism board, for example, will launch a WeChat microsite in early 2018 and also signed a partnership with Tencent in September to be a test city for the company’s new WeChat tourism products. These include an augmented reality application, panoramic maps, and data-sharing.
Helsinki isn’t a market leader in European tourism like London or Paris, said Aalto, and that gives the city more freedom to experiment with platforms like WeChat. “Destination marketers haven’t been at the forefront of digital evolution, so to speak. There’s not much happening that’s been DMO-driven,” said Aalto. “I think we need to always challenge ourselves because the digital revolution has changed this industry more than anyone can understand.”
Across the pond, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco have also been working on growing their WeChat presence.
San Francisco Travel, the tourism board for a city that’s one of the largest gateways for Chinese travelers to the U.S., had observed how WeChat traditionally made it difficult for tourism boards to work with. But WeChat has recently improved its destination products.
“About a year ago, most DMOs using WeChat were only using subscription account,” said Tyler Gosnell, director of global brand strategy at San Francisco Travel. “But WeChat wasn’t promoting the use of subscription accounts for DMOs. That’s just the category most tourism boards were placed in because they were promoting content rather than product sales. You could push stories but couldn’t build a microsite with that account.”
But that’s changing. “In the last six months, it’s clear that most brands should move towards service accounts if they want to build a microsite,” said Gosnell.
San Francisco Travel is also using its WeChat microsite to promote nearby Napa Valley. “San Francisco is China-ready because we’ve been responding to Chinese travelers’ needs for decades,” said Gosnell. “Agencies have trained Napa Valley on how to be China-ready. But the local coffee shop might not be China-ready, for example, or understand the Chinese consumer behavior.”
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