Why The Chinese Market Is Important: Puamau

We remain hopeful that there will be pockets of opportunities in 2020 that we can develop that will allow us to continue delivering growth from the land of the dragon espe­cially during our low and shoulder season where we need help the most.
26 Dec 2019 15:58
Why The Chinese Market Is Important: Puamau
Rosie Holidays General Manager Eroni Puamau.

When Eroni Puamau started with Fiji Visitors Bureau in 1994, for him, the world then was very different compared to our lives now and what is to come!

One thing for sure, the general manager for the Rosie Travel Group and Discover Fiji, noticed that the expectations of people and response times have dramati­cally changed. “And will continue to become even more shorter than before (I downloaded a 2.5 hour documentary movie in Shanghai a few weeks ago in 5.6 seconds on my 5G bandwidth!).

“As the world becomes more im­patient and harassed for time, I see a great opportunity for Fiji to re-define the true meaning of happi­ness to the world. This is through how we live and the authentic ex­periences that we have to share as long as we don’t lose these experi­ences as we try and become like everyone else,” Mr Puamau said.

“We created Rosie Living as our platform to identify and develop these authentic experiences where we are working with our local com­munities to present these experi­ences in a way that will inspire our international visitors.

“We also need to personalise our experiences.

“One thing I have seen done very well in Asia is how they are very good at personalising experiences.

“Everyone is different in terms of their preferences and what they are looking for and personalisa­tion is going to be the new frontier of tourism value and success for those who do it well.”

Mr Puamau continues to be re­sponsible as GM for the marketing worldwide of Rosie Holidays prod­ucts but his major legacy is the development of China as a source market for Fiji. Below are excerpts from an extended interview with Mr Puamau:

  1. How has the China market fared this year?

2019 has been a very challenging year for our China inbound market not just for Fiji but for the overall outbound leisure travel market from China in general. The Chinese outbound travel market has shrunk by 15 per cent year on year and outbound traffic from China to and via Hong Kong has declined by over 50 per cent in recent months. This is based on our own monitoring through our office in China.

The protracted trade war between the US and China and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong have had a direct negative impact in our business from China this year. Ad­ditionally, the withdrawal of the three weekly Korean Air Services have also had an impact especially from the Northern region of Chi­na. I understand that many other destinations have been similarly affected and this shows how sensi­tive the tourism environment is to these external disruptions which are well beyond our control.

What we have also seen is an in­crease of domestic tourism with­in China where the Chinese are traveling more within their bor­ders to their own tropical destina­tions like Hainan Island.

We remain hopeful that there will be pockets of opportunities in 2020 that we can develop that will allow us to continue delivering growth from the land of the dragon espe­cially during our low and shoulder season where we need help the most.

  1. Was there an increase in visitors from China?

Table 1 was presented by Tour­ism Fiji at their Forum event in Chengdu, China last month and clearly shows the general decline in visitor arrivals from China. Whilst Fiji is showing a very mini­mal decline, this will become more in line with our competitor desti­nations as our October arrivals from China were down 20 per cent and for November down by five per cent according to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

One thing that these statistics do not capture are the many lost quotations that the tour operators have lost where the Chinese tour­ist is opting out of Fiji and choos­ing to travel within China.

  1. Which cities in China now are connected to the Rosie Holiday network?

Since 2004, Rosie Holidays was the first Fijian tourism company to deliberately target the Chinese market well before Fiji was grant­ed ADS by the Chinese Govern­ment.

We identified a growth opportu­nity on the Korean Air network into China which allowed us to establish our first market in China which was Beijing. A mega city of over 300 million residents!

For the past 15 years, we have been engaged in both destination marketing as well as product de­velopment.

So it was a very encouraging sign that Tourism Fiji have now established a permanent office in Shanghai with their Regional Director, Vincent Zheng oversee­ing all the destination marketing work. China on a map resembles the profile of a rooster and given the vast expanse of territory and populace. We quickly realised that operating out of Beijing would not be adequate and so we developed a more regional strategic focus where:

  • Beijing office would cover the Northern China region (head of the rooster),
  • Shanghai office covers the Central and Eastern China re­gion (chest and main body of the rooster),
  • Guangzhou office covers the Southern region of China (lower body and legs of the rooster),
  • Our Chengdu office covers the Western region (back of the rooster).
  1. What has it been like as far as promotions this year in China?

It has been a very busy year for marketing and promotions espe­cially with the current outbound climate.

Our sales teams have had to work three times as hard to win new business and get bookings across the line.

We have worked very closely with both Tourism Fiji and Fiji Air­ways to aggressively go after as many opportunities as we can se­cure but it hasn’t been easy as we are up against competitors with bigger budgets and who are after the same business.

And given the last minute book­ing nature of the Chinese, it boils down to price, value for money and whoever is the quickest to confirm is who wins the most!

  1. An estimate on the Budget Rosie Holidays spends on promotions in China this year and in total, if pos­sible from when you first ventured there?

Our cost of marketing and pro­motions in China over the past 15 years has grown significantly and also in line with our expectations and targets from this market.

Rosie Holidays was also the first Fijian company to operate char­tered flights from China to Fiji which we started in 2015 with our first chartered flights with Fiji Air­ways from Shanghai to Nadi dur­ing the Chinese New Year period.

Since 2015, Rosie Holidays has op­erated chartered flights every year during the Chinese New Year peri­od with Fiji Airways from selected cities and regions across China as part of our strategic plan to de­velop the greater China markets beyond their Tier 1 mega cities.

These chartered flights are not cheap and our investment with Fiji Airways over the past five years has been over FJ$10 million alone in operating these charters.

We continue to see potential for charter flights in 2020 despite the softening market and will be work­ing closely with Fiji Airways to grow this segment of our business from China.

  1. Has competition from other holiday destinations been more competitive this year and how has Rosie Holidays countered this?

Fiji is always under constant com­petitive pressure from other simi­lar holiday destinations and when it comes to China, there is a long list of competitors!

One of the great things about not being the most popular in China is that we can learn from the mis­takes of our larger competitors and adjust our approach to be more customised to the niche markets that we are tapping in China on this long journey that we are on.

Our key focus is to deliver a qual­ity authentic experience that these Chinese travelers can relate with and learn from so they go back with a renewed perspective which they are inspired to share with their peers, family and friends.

  1. What has the response been like from Chinese visitors on their return from Fiji?

The responses that we have been tracking with our clients is that Fiji is indeed very beautiful and pure where they mean un-spoilt.

There is a general positive feeling that many hotels have made very good effort to improve their china friendly services where they have items on their menus for Asian guests as well as within their over­all amenities.

This shows that the tourism in­dustry is maturing in its under­standing and catering for this very important market.

One very big positive feedback has been our introduction of chi­nese friendly payment systems where Rosie’s is the first Fijian company to be offering AliPay and WeChatPay digital wallet payment solutions for the Chinese visitor.

This is very big news in China as this is their way of life and so to be able to deliver this in Fiji where they can pay for all their ground services is massive positive im­provement on their rating of Fiji as a destination.

  1. What do the Chinese really look forward to in Fiji when on holiday here?

The new generation of Chinese visitors that we are targeting are looking for customised authentic experiences which they not only enjoy learning a new perspective but also one where they can share live with their peers and friends.

I recall a group that we took to experience a traditional fish drive with a local village here on the mainland.

That experience sparked the ar­rival of close to 2,000 additional visitors from China because it was something that they had never seen before and something that was very authentic for them.

It went viral through their shar­ing of this one authentic experi­ence!

    9. How many Chinese visitors have been to Fiji this year through Rosie Holidays?

Rosie Holidays handles close to fifteen thousand Chinese visitors which is approximately one third of the total Chinese visitors’ arriv­als into Fiji.

  1. Further comments on the China market if possible.

When you go shopping in a super­market, you obviously don’t buy everything on the shelves that’s on offer.

In the same way, China is very much like a Supermarket!

And so we need to be very deliber­ate in the type of Chinese traveler that we want to bring to from this super economy.

Another challenge that the tour­ism industry is facing is the need to improve regulations where a busi­ness is deemed to be an inbound tour operator by their business li­cense without any further require­ments for service standards.

This is where we have been a strong advocate that any new busi­ness that wants to establish an inbound service must pass the re­quirements of the Society of Fiji Travel Associates (SOFTA) which is the standard bearer for inbound operators in Fiji.

As an industry, we need to be de­liberate in our continued develop­ment of the Chinese market to Fiji and work together as a united front to help ensure that proper develop­ment of key standards that will en­sure our long term mutual success from this great market.

  1. What of other markets, includ­ing the top two – Australia and New Zealand?

Australia continues to be a chal­lenge for Fiji where our growth this year has been flat and has been the case for the past few years.

It’s not good for Fiji that our larg­est source market remains stag­nant.

Having said that, there is some encouraging signs of change with the news of Rob Thomson coming in to take charge of our destination marketing with Tourism Fiji in Australia and the introduction of the new A350 fleet by Fiji Airways on their Sydney service which will hopefully improve our fortunes.

  1. Has this year been good for the other markets?

New Zealand, North America and United Kingdom have been very positive growth markets for Fiji and for our business.

Japan is also seeing some promis­ing growth.

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