It's becoming increasingly common in China for middle-class parents to send their highschool-age teens on tours to the USA to visit and learn about various colleges. Most of these tours are organized by secondary schools or specialized travel agencies, and typically cost parents upwards of US$5000. As many as 1M Chinese teenagers could be coming to the USA on these tours by 2020. These trips give US destinations a great opportunity to get onto the radar of these Chinese teens, connect with them, create favorable impressions of their regions, and acquire a competitive edge in the very valuable future market of Chinese millennials and older travelers.
The most recent edition of the Journal of China Tourism Research contains a report by Zhuowei Huang and Qian Li of the University of Illinois into the reasons why so many highschool-age Chinese students and their parents have so much interest in tours of American colleges.
Here are the researchers' findings from interviews with 30 Chinese teenagers and 20 parents:
- Motivations for Chinese teenagers to participate in tours of US colleges include:
- Getting a preview of college life
- Interest finding out what living in a foreign country might be like
- Opportunity to socialize with American students
- Improve English language skills
- Traveling without their parents
- While motivations for their parents include:
- Creating best future for child
- Social development of child
- Broadening the child's education beyond that provided by the Chinese system
- Living vicariously a lost college dream of their own
In the near term, these tours in and of themselves provide tourism revenue to the college towns visited. Destinations could work with Chinese tour operators or receptives to organize experiences that will appeal to the teens during their visit. DMOs could also pitch this college experience directly to parents in China, stressing educational and career benefits to their children.
But the bigger opportunity lies in the potential for facilitating today's visiting teenagers (1) returning for leisure or bleisure trips after they've joined the workforce and have lots of disposable income and (2) becoming tomorrow's ambassadors for the regions visited: spreading the word to parents, relatives and friends in China by both traditional and social media.
Done well, an ongoing marketing campaign aimed at those objectives could eliminate for some destinations the need for translating collateral and learning how to use - and paying for - Chinese media for destination marketing in China.
That "paying for" item is important, because in 2018 agencies in China are quoting MINIMUM annual budget figures for their smallest clients of US$15K for a social media campaign only, US$25K for a broader campaign.
So, college towns: Create pull by going directly to Chinese teens in English via Internet and social media, get educated on the cultural adjustments you'll need to make to make Chinese teens feel welcome, get some good contacts in the travel trade, work with your colleges to develop interesting programs of activities for visiting students, and start welcoming Chinese teens.