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13 APR. 2018

The Year of China-Canada Tourism and What It Means for Brands

Sadjéda Umar

Project Coordinator, Vancouver

As an initiative to create closer ties between the two countries, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced 2018 as the Canada-China Year of Tourism. With a goal of doubling the number of Chinese tourists coming to Canada by 2021, many efforts have been made to promote this distinctive year, including opening new visa application centers in China and expanding mutual codeshare flights between Air Canada and Air China. The Canada-China Year of Tourism has its own website, logo, and Twitter hashtag - #2018CCYT – but just what does this year mean for brands in Canada? 

The number of Chinese tourists to Canada continues to grow, and more than 10 million Chinese travelers plan to visit Canada in the next two years. It goes without saying that the Chinese tourist market represents an opportunity for Canadian brands.

In 2016, Chinese tourists who visited Canada spent an average of $2,438 per visitor, with a large portion of these expenses going towards shopping. This article will outline how retailers in particular can enhance the shopping experience to appeal to Chinese tourists, whose expectations and behaviours are unique and evolving, and also touch on how flexible and novel sightseeing is the norm especially for Chinese Millennials.  

Buying Brands in their Countries of Origin

Canada has a number of iconic retail brands that continue to gain traction at home and abroad: Canada Goose, Lululemon, Herschel Supply, and more. For Canadian-born retailers, they stand to benefit greatly by the tendency for Chinese travellers to buy brands at their country of origin, be it Louis Vuitton in France or Burberry in England. 

There are a number of reasons Chinese tourists prefer to shop local brands on home turf: the cost of the products may be less without import tax, the products are guaranteed to be authentic, and even more so, it allows them to showcase shopping for prestigious brands and their international travel with peers and on social media. 

“Retail-tainment”

With line-ups around city blocks for famous luxury retailers in their flagship home country locations, it goes to show just how important the retail experience is for Chinese tourists and customers. This includes not simply shopping and buying merchandise, but also delivering an in-store experience that can be shared and showcased on social media such as WeChat. To meet these expectations, it involves a shift to “retail-tainment”, especially at flagship locations- delivering not only a shopping experience but also amusements and amenities such as technology, arts, education, food and beverage, and more.

The trend towards retail-tainment is not entirely new but is still catching on. It has already been embraced by several shopping malls and retailers in China, such as The Grand Summit or Topwin Center in Beijing, who are attracting customers through diverse outlets including cafes and lifestyle shops, as well as art and tech exhibitions, fitness, pop-up retail spaces and farmers markets. With retail-tainment quickly becoming the status-quo, Chinese tourists also seek out those experiences when travelling abroad.

In Canada we can find several new and old examples of retail-tainment. Of course, there is West Edmonton Mall, which has been delivering a mix of shopping and entertainment for over 35 years. The shopping center features water and amusement parks, ice skating, hotels, food and entertainment, spas and more. West Edmonton Mall attracts tourists and local shoppers alike and should stand to benefit from the China-Canada Year of Tourism.

When it comes to retailers themselves, there are several brands delivering outstanding retail-tainment in Canada, though they are not all Canadian-born brands. For example, MUJI’s flagship store in Vancouver, partnered with Vancouver-based Ethical Bean Coffee for an in-store coffee shop, and also features a relaxing area featuring books from Vancouver-based Raincoast Books for adults and children. The book section is surrounded by wood and plants, with MUJI housewares dispersed throughout, thereby placing the product and brand within a lifestyle context. And that’s not all- MUJI’s Vancouver flagship also sports an Aroma Barwhere customers can create customized fragrance blends by choosing from more than 40 essential oils and scents. Sounds like a good place to spend a rainy day!

Coffee and Books at MUJI Vancouver Flagship

Coffee and Books at MUJI Vancouver Flagship

MUJI Aroma Bar

MUJI Aroma Bar

Dylan’s Candy Bar in the Toronto airport is another case in point – when customers visit the store, it immediately triggers vivid emotions and excitement surrounding eating candy in a memorable way. With atypical and eye-catching decor, customers are immersed into a Candyland. Every corner of the store is candy-themed, from displays to goodies and apparel. With the purpose of making people smile, the founder of Dylan’s Candy bar wants to showcase not only candies but their colours, shapes, textures, smells and packaging, to elevate candy making to an art form. In some other Dylan’s locations you can enjoy a variety of food, drinks and desserts inside cafes and bars and partake of a “Tour de Sweet” – an exclusive, personalized store tour.

Dylan’s Candy Bar in Toronto Airport

Dylan’s Candy Bar in Toronto Airport

On the healthier side, last year in Toronto Lululemon opened a men-only concept store: “The Local”. The store is completely designed for gentlemen, aiming to offer a community focused space where men could not only shop, but also hang out, having a chat at the coffee bar, listening to music on a top of the line sound system, or friendly ping-pong games. Even the fitting rooms are equipped with dark wood finishings for a more masculine aesthetic. 

Lululen "The Local" in Toronto

One-of-a-Kind Experiences

Beyond shopping but tourism in general, Chinese travellers tastes are evolving. They are now seeking more tailored and authentic local experiences, resulting in more independent travellers than large tour groups as was common previously. While mass-group tours only allow very limited time to visit different attractions or take pictures, individual travellers are seeking more autonomy and flexibility. They desire more personal time and freedom to do extra activities at the sites, without being restrained by a tight schedule and navigating with a large group.

The unique experiences they crave are not limited to sightseeing or tasting local foods, but increasingly include exposure to more of the daily local life and culture. In addition to visits to museums, exhibitions, monuments, or attending local festivals, Chinese travellers are now frequenting more exclusive and non-mainstream sites. Especially for Millennials, they constantly strive for original experiences while sharing their discoveries on social media.

Active and Healthy Experiences

Another trend occurring domestically in China and also affecting interests when travelling abroad is the desire for being active and having a healthy lifestyle. This is endorsed by the Chinese Government’s “Healthy China 2030” plan, encouraging people to take part in regular physical exercise. Brands focusing on well-being or healthy lifestyle products and services can benefit from this craze. With Chinese consumers willing to buy premium active and healthy products, tailored experiences such as in-store training classes, special events or demonstrations in stores can have a strong impact. Some Canadian brands, such as Lululemon or Arc'teryx are already well known for this- they host a variety of activities such as in-store classes and workshops, as well as outdoor sports activities like mountain climbing excursions.

Integrating Technology and Mobile Payment

In China, it is already common for retailers to integrate technology into the in-store experience, and Chinese tourists could hope for the same when shopping and travelling abroad. For those travellers whose time of stay is usually limited, it’s important for them to have a journey rich in unique experiences and also as smooth and efficient as possible. One way if for retailers and travel destinations to adopt mobile payment platforms. As mentioned in previous Labbrand and MADJOR articles, mobile payment is highly used and preferred while shopping offline domestically and internationally. With shopping accounting for most of their spending, and Chinese travellers tending to use mobile payment for shopping, it makes it an essential amenity for brands to ensure a seamless travel experience for Chinese tourists.

Making the Most of China-Canada Tourism 2018

For Canadian brands, Chinese tourists represent an opportunity; However, there are considerations such as immersive and novel retail experiences, personalized and original sightseeing, and even mobile payment options, that will allow Canadian brands to better appeal to Chinese travellers.

And what about Canadians visiting China during this year of tourism? They are also sure to have novel experiences, and of course, to shop. 

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