Responding to changes in the nature, numbers and spending power of the average Chinese tourist, a new Siem Reap-based venture that wants to bridge the linguistic and cultural gaps that prevent local businesses from reaching this lucrative market is launching on November 1.
Using a card, a QR code and an App that is already installed on the majority of all smartphones in China, Wow! Siem Reap provides a medium for delivering information and recommendations on restaurants, bars, hotels, and activities in Siem Reap that is tailored to the specific requirements of the user.
It provides a means for businesses to connect and communicate with the growing Chinese independent tourist market through the visitors’ smartphones.
“The idea is to give users an expert in their pockets,” said founder Kurt Xu Jiatian, who has lived in Siem Reap for four years and is a co-owner of 1961 as well as a company that brings young Chinese volunteers to work on projects in Siem Reap.
His idea was prompted by a fundamental change in the way that the Chinese tourist market is developing.
That market has long been seen as beyond the reach of most businesses outside of a small and closed network of shops and hotels with links to the package tour companies that sell holidays cheaply but gain from heavy commissions from Siem Reap shopping outlets.
In 2011, it was estimated that as much as 90 per cent of visitors from China were arriving on package tours like this.
But the Chinese government does not approve of the format and two years ago imposed a ban on the practice.
Xu Jiatian said that the changes can already be seen and that last year, 58 per cent of Chinese tourists in Cambodia were semi-independent or independent travellers. He expects this number to increase as enforcement of the ban filters down.
Moreover, while the number of Chinese tourists travelling to Cambodia – and worldwide – is exploding, so too is the amount of money they are spending. Last year, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation noted that in 2012 Chinese holiday makers spent $102 billion, for the first time overtaking the former big spenders, the USA and Germany.
The report, UNWTO World Tourism Barometer 2013, noted that the number of Chinese travellers had grown from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012, a growth rate that is exceeded in the Cambodian context.
In 2013, China accounted for more than 460,000 travellers to Cambodia. In 2014, that number increased by an average of 18.5 per cent or the first six months of the year.
This change in the nature of the typical Chinese tourist, coupled with the explosion in their numbers, should bring renewed opportunities for businesses to interact with this valuable market, but obstacles can persist, especially when it comes to communication and cross-cultural barriers.
This is where Xu Jiatian steps in.
“Everyone sees the Chinese market, but they can’t access it. On the other side, these new independent travellers are going to need information on where to go, where to eat, where to shop, and what to do,” he said.
“So we looked at what was there, and it was really bad. Resources in China are poor, and there is nothing here that is based on the local market and provides useful and relevant first-hand information in Chinese.
“We decided to solve this problem by creating solutions to problems that we perceived to exist on other platforms that respond to other markets. Things like media that contains static information or direct advertising that users have to wade through.”
The result is dedicated digital content that feeds through WeChat, a networking App that is similar to WhatsApp, but with many more features. The App allows users to chat, share, shop, play games, pay for goods and services and even do their banking, and is popular in China.
It also provides a platform to undertakings such as Wow!
From November 1, 3000 cards will be distributed each month to Chinese arrivals at Siem Reap International Airport. The card carries a QR code which travellers scan into their phone, linking them directly to the Wow! content through the WeChat App.
Travellers can then navigate that content based on their own requirements – do they want breakfast late, or a burger, or to find something to do, or to buy something to take home?
Wow! responds with targeted recommendations based on content that is developed in coordination with the business owner.
“We talk in depth with the business owner or manager and we develop the information based on our conversations with them. It is all unique content that is translated into beautiful Chinese, and accompanied by professional photography that we set up,” said Xu Jiatian.
The App continues working even after users have made their choice of where to go. For example, users will not need to read restaurant menus as the App already contains photographs of selected dishes from each restaurant. With this, users can order food and drinks simply by pointing to the image on their phones.
Wow! also has a feature that allows businesses to communicate directly with users in Siem Reap through the “Daily Deal” which provides information on events, promotions and discounts directly out to users’ phones.
For listings, businesses pay an initial set-up fee, and then a monthly maintenance fee. They will then receive monthly reports on who is checking out their content and recommending it.
But Xu Jiatian says Wow! Siem Reap is limiting the businesses that can be listed according to whether it’s considered appropriate to the market.
“We are curating the content, so that it only relates to businesses that we are happy to recommend,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this and observing this market since I arrived here. The number of visitors is only going to rise, and there’s no low season.”