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China market will "explode", says Tollman

Brands must show patience with the China market as the travelling habits of its citizens slowly evolve, the chief executive of The Travel Corporation has warned.

Brett Tollman suggested it will take time to dislodge the “dependency” of custom group travel that has dominated the market for so long.

Firms which try and dictate and force products into the market will fair less well than those who bide their time, he said.

But Tollman told Travel Today he does expect the market to “explode” as evidence begins to emerge of a new Chinese tourist.

While The Travel Corp has had offices in China for a decade, only recently have individual brands started to build a presence, with Trafalgar, Uniworld and AAT Kings the priorities.

Tollman said the company is currently working with the major agency groups in China to explain, and establish, the AAT Kings product.

“We are speaking with all the big players to explain what AAT offers and to get them to engage with us, to book those products, rather than working on some of their custom group business,” he explained. “In a market that is so entrenched with custom group travel, it takes time to move that dependency and to change habits. It takes times to establish a brand and explain what the points of difference are.

"It will take a couple of months to see some success and see which of the products they are buying."

The challenge of establishing a brand is particularly acute in China because, historically, it has been lacking in quality products and is heavily price driven, he added.

The China Tourism Law, which came into effect on October 1 and is designed to rid the market of Chinese operators who offer poor quality tours, will help raise standards, Tollman said.

“We are just waiting to see if the Government is going to enforce it.”

The focus on China has already seen the launch of a Trafalgar mandarin speaking program while Uniworld has released a series of special deals into the market.

Tollman predicted that AAT’s Inspiring Journeys product could also resonate with the increasingly sophisticated Chinese traveller.

“I’ve been staying at the Intercontinental hotel and it’s amazing watching the couples coming in on their own with no mandarin speaking guide, and hearing them speak English,” he said. “You can see the Chinese traveller is evolving. There are lots of youngish couples between 30 and 50 and I see them as a perfect fit for Inspiring Journeys. But it’s never easy in a market the size of China to introduce the product, to get it to resonate and for consumers to book it.

“The focus is to take the brands to China and offer consumers a better experience. It will also give us a better margin. Every market evolves slowly but the Chinese market will explode.”

The Travel Corp will look to connect with a “small number” of the 100 million Chinese tourists expected to travel long haul in 10 years’ time.

“Our philosophy is to understand the market and adapt to it. The Chinese certainly tell you that. If you want to do business in China then you have to do to it the way the Chinese want to do business. If as a western organisation you come in and try and dictate how the Chinese should adapt to your products you don’t have as good a likelihood of success.”

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