Film and TV open Chinese tourists’ eyes to new destinations

Movies and TV series are powerful tools when presenting potential new tourist destinations to a Chinese audience. This photo is from the work with the first Chinese feature film shot in Denmark.  Lifelong Learning

Fewer visa restrictions and higher incomes mean that many Chinese are looking for new destinations to visit. Oftentimes, the inspiration for new places to go is found on social media, but also through more traditional media, like film and TV. This is something that the Danish island of Funen takes advantage of.

“This market is changing hugely. Now Chinese people, especially better educated, more experienced travellers and younger ones, are looking to really involve themselves in the countries they travel to and experiencing something different and more unique than the Eiffel Tower,” explains Christopher Ledsham.

As Chief Communications Officer at the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) in Hamburg, Germany, he follows the trends and terms of the way that Chinese tourists act.

In 2017, 130 million Chinese travelled abroad, and they are known to be big spenders. According to the UN’s tourism organisation, Chinese tourists spent US$258bn abroad last year, nearly twice the amount that tourists from the US, who were the second largest spenders on outbound trips that year, spent.

The wealthy and adventurous new generation of independent Chinese travellers go to places like Chiang Mai, seeking adventures like the ones shown in the Chinese movie hit Lost in Thailand, or they travel to South Korea, inspired by K-pop and soap operas.

They might also go to Denmark to see the sights featured in the Chinese TV series, Flowers on Trip, with their own eyes, or explore the Danish castle, where the plot of a new Chinese film unfolds.

Becoming the next big thing

The Danish island Funen, which markets itself as “Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown”, hopes to become the next big thing for Chinese travellers. The island uses social media, but also movies and TV series, to reach potential visitors from China.

More than 140 million Chinese have already encountered the hashtag #安徒生故乡# (Āntúshēng gùxiāng) on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, where stars such as Jackson Yee from the Chinese boyband TFBoys and the Danish world champion in badminton, Viktor Axelsen, are among the contributors to Funen’s account.

In 2017 – officially China-Denmark Tourism Year - Funen also attracted the popular TV series, Flowers on Trip.

The Chinese travel reality show, watched hundreds of millions of times on Dragon TV and Chinese video platforms, follows seven Chinese celebrities exploring different countries. When the 70-member film crew visited Denmark last summer, they did not only visit the capital Copenhagen, but also dedicated almost two full episodes to the 470,000-inhabitant island of Funen.

“In the long run, we hope that the Chinese will be inspired by the program and will want to go here,” says Xiaowei Liu Lolk from the island region’s tourism organisation, Destination Fyn.

Though the island has already seen more tourists from China in April and May this year, she thinks it is still too early to see the full effect of the Chinese reality series on tourism to the area.

Another project that could open Chinese tourists’ eyes to Funen, is the first Chinese feature film made in Denmark, which was shot on the island in 2016. The romantic comedy, called Bao Zang (堡 藏), has received a so-called Dragon Mark from the Chinese authorities, which means that it might be shown in Chinese cinemas any time soon.

“Such a project generates attention to the country as a film location, and the Chinese notice what Denmark has to offer,” says Lisa Johansen from the firm Lifelong Learning that co-produced the film.

“Sometimes you might even be so lucky that certain locations become popular enough for people to travel to see them,” she adds.



Ready for Chinese tourists

To get the most out of exposure in a movie or series that becomes popular in China, smaller destinations in particular need to prepare well, stresses Christopher Ledsham from COTRI.

“If a place has been featured on a Chinese show, 300 million people might discover its existence from one day to the other,” he reminds.

“You need to make sure that you can adapt your product properly to fit into the itinerary of Chinese tourists. They only want to see a location that they’ve seen in a film or a program for an hour or two, and then they will be happy to move on to the next experience. Locals can profit from this by encouraging people to stay by setting up China ready accommodation.”

In case Funen gets flooded with Chinese fans of the Flowers on Trip show, Xiaowei Liu Lolk is well prepared.

“We have planned package tours related to the reality show, so if the Chinese are inspired and want to visit us, we are ready to give them some products to purchase,” she assures.

Eating oysters with a prince

China is a vast and incredibly diverse place. Yet, only a few foreigners know the characteristics of different parts of China. This is true the other way around, too.

“The difference for a Chinese person between Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands is far narrower than to the locals,” says Ledsham.

He is not in doubt that many Chinese would want to head to Denmark after watching the celebrities from Flowers on Trip visiting Hans Christian Andersen’s childhood home and eating oysters with the Danish crown prince.

“We know that if you have Chinese celebrities eating Danish food or visiting a Danish castle, something very specific like that, it can really help place in their mind what this destination is about,” Ledsham points out.

Since Chinese, according to Ledsham, tend not to trust traditional advertisements, featuring a certain destination in a movie or TV show is one of the most effective ways of drawing affluent Chinese tourists.

“It is far more effective to reach Chinese tourists through film, TV and social media, because they feel that this is something that people that they can relate with, even if they are fictional characters or in a TV program, have recommended.”

This way, Matt Damon’s The Martian turned Abu Dhabi into a place to visit, and Prague became famous through the Chinese film Somewhere Only We Know.

In the footsteps of Luke Skywalker

“Chinese people are often keen to follow in the footsteps of others. They don’t see that as copying in the same way that Europeans or Westerners might. Instead they take it as a strong recommendation,” explains Ledsham.

Tunisia is an example of a destination that has managed to take advantage of this effect. To help fill the North African country’s diminished treasury and restore a tourism sector that had suffered after several terrorist attacks, Tunisia decided last year to offer up to 90 days of visa free travel in the country to Chinese tourists. Now Chinese come in large numbers to see parts of the Sahara Desert that played an important part as the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies.

“You might not be able to attract a large part of the population, but in the case of for example Star Wars fans in China, we are talking about millions of people who might want to go to Tunisia. If you can draw people to a destination based on their taste or a specific program or film they have seen, suddenly, you can multiple your visitor numbers hugely,” says Ledsham

Thanks to the change of visa rules – and Star Wars – China soon became Tunisia’s fastest-growing source country of tourists with a rise in Chinese visitors from 7,400 in 2016 to more than 18,000 visitors in 2017, reports Xinhua.

Will Denmark’s Funen be the next big hit?