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Social media’s complex web in Asia/Pacific
April 4 2013

Hotel marketers in the Asia/Pacific must balance their presences on a web of local and global platforms.

  • Asia/Pacific leisure travelers are twice as likely as their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, the Middle East and Africa to use social media platforms for travel inspiration.
  • Hotel operators in the Asia/Pacific must use a mix of global social media platforms  and local social networks to engage guests.
  • Global social networks like Facebook and Twitter are unavailable in China, so using local platforms such as Sina Weibo and RenRen is important.
By Elly Earls
HNN correspondent

GLOBAL REPORT—While the likes of Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media spotlight in the U.S., Europe and even the Middle East, hoteliers are navigating a much more complex—and crucial—landscape in the Asia/Pacific region.

Leisure travelers in the region are more likely to use social media for travel inspiration and to seek out advice on hotels, according to a report.

Nearly half (44%) of leisure travelers in the Asia/Pacific made use of social media platforms for advice and inspiration regarding travel destinations, more than double the percentage who did so in the U.S. and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, according to Text100’s “Digital Index: Travel & Tourism” study, conducted in October 2012. More than one-third of those also drew on information from social media to get ideas on where to stay.

The platforms they used varied considerably, given the region’s web of local platforms such as Sina Weibo and Renren in China and Cyworld in South Korea.

“While Facebook, Foursquare and other leading platforms are great for engaging international guests, you can’t discount the value of engaging with in-country guests who may stay at the hotel through local platforms,” said Marc Ha, VP and managing consultant at communications firm Text100 Singapore.

Going local
This is particularly relevant in China, where global social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible and local platforms like microblogging website Sina Weibo, which reached more than 500 million registered users at the end of 2012, are becoming increasingly popular.

Barbara Iliopoulos

“China is the country that stands out in the social media landscape,” said Barbara Iliopoulos, social community manager, Asia Australasia, InterContinental Hotels Group. “Facebook and Twitter are not accessible, so local equivalents are where China (Internet users) spend their time.”

Sina Weibo features heavily in IHG’s social media strategies in China. For example, in January 2013 the company rolled out a “5 day sale” promotion campaign on the Priority Club Rewards Sina Weibo page that offered a 50% discount at all Greater China hotels for stays booked from 22-26 January.

“The campaign post we released achieved 1,773 forwards, 694 comments and generated significant room bookings,” Iliopoulos said, adding that using the local language in a market like China is also extremely important.

Mixing it up
Conversely, in countries like Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Malaysia, Facebook has huge penetration.

“India and Indonesia sit at third and fourth place on the most Facebook users by country  so, in these markets, our team uses international social media platforms while ensuring the content is locally relevant to create maximum engagement,” Iliopoulos said.

Text100’s Ha agreed that a combination of global and locally relevant content is key for a successful social media strategy in the Asia/Pacific region.

“While it’s very important to tailor campaigns specifically to the demographics and preference of your target customers, it’s equally important for hotels to include content about local events, festivals and traditions,” he said.

“Hire in-country staff to run local social media channels; they will be able to provide content that is more interesting and useful to travelers, such as tips on proper etiquette. Also think about using local terms for certain posts to educate international travelers. For example, if a hotel in India were to write a post about ‘The Festival of Lights,’ it would be helpful for the traveler to know this festival is known as ‘Diwali’ to locals.”

Ongoing research essential
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, said Mac Joseph, senior manager of social media marketing at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

Mac Joseph

“Our (Asia/Pacific) strategy is one that combines multiple interconnected sub-strategies,” he explained. “By the simple fact that China users overwhelmingly prefer Weibo and countries such as Thailand favor Facebook, the regional strategy at large must incorporate the most relevant from all areas. The target audience and type of any individual message will then determine the platform through which it will be communicated.”

For example, Mandarin Oriental’s three properties in Hong Kong maintain a dual focus on global platforms like Facebook and Twitter and local platforms in China such as Sina Weibo and Youku.

“The makeup of their target audiences requires this focus on both sets of platforms,” Joseph explained.

Of course, what works for one hotel group might not be so effective for another, sources said. Moreover, the social media landscape in the Asia/Pacific is always evolving, making constant research crucial for operators in the region who want to stay ahead of the curve.

“Businesses must spend time researching and identifying those social media platforms that are most relevant to their consumers,” Joseph said. “For Mandarin Oriental, we have found particular success thus far with Sina Weibo, Youku, Sina Blog, Tencent Weibo and Kaixin, but we are also well aware of others currently on the rise, such as Jiepang and WeChat.”

According to Ha, keeping on top of social media trends is only going to become more important for operators.

“Asia/Pacific travelers have consistently been shown to have the highest rate of adoption when it comes to digital technologies for travel,” he concluded. 

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