Malaysian, Thailand, Vietnam have been hit hard by PR catastrophes

This year multiple catastrophes have hit the southeastern countries, scaring away Chinese tourists. Riots, multiple plane crash, a military coup. It is a hard hit for those countries hoping to take their share of the Chinese tourists spending.

But these countries haven’t given up just yet, as a proof they are putting in place different strategies to get the tourists back.

Let’s not forget that the situation was good before this series of unfortunate events :

Chinese tourists were massively coming to Thailand with a reported 68% YOY growth in 2013 totalling 4.7 million arrivals. Prior to the multiple plane crashes Malaysia enjoyed a 14.9% growth rate in the number of Chinese visitors reaching a nice total of 1.7 million. Meanwhile Vietnam had a quickly expanding tourism industry with new facilities and casinos that appealed a lot to Chinese tourists, translating into a 34% growth rate this year

A streak of event that hit hard south eastern countries


January this year saw the beginning of the end for those countries, with first Thailand uprisings going into a military coup that caused a fall of Chinese tourists by 25% YOY with Bangkok suffering a larger penalty of 40%.

Malaysia had it bad in March this year with the massive boycotts of its resorts and airlines after the crash of the MH370 worsened in April by the kidnapping of a Chinese tourist which translated into a 19% drop.

For Vietnam May was the bad month with huge anti-China protests after an oil rig problem in the Vietnamese water that caused the death of Chinese workers followed by the massive evacuation of Chinese tourists. Mainland visitors rate were cut by 30% as a result and there was a 72% drop of visitors from Hong-Kong.

These major catastrophes impacted the nearby countries since they were often part of multi countries tours. As an example Singapore saw a 1.7 YOY drop from January to May 2014

Tourism officials fight hard to win their most important customers back

Even though the situation is bad in those countries they are not ready to give up just yet and are putting in place strategies to repair this PR disaster. Indeed for a lot of these countries the Chinese tourism is a vital part of their tourism industry.

Chinese tourists are :

  • 1st largest group for Thailand and Vietnam
  • 3rd most important group of tourists in Malaysia

Despite its previous declarations about stopping all of its promotion efforts until the MH370 was found the Malaysian government resumed its efforts to conquer this vital clientèle. The celebration of the 40th anniversary of China-Malaysia relations was a golden opportunity for the Malaysian prime minister to go to Mainland China to tighten the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The second Malaysian plane however did not influence the Chinese tourism like this article from the Time shows.

Singapore, on the other hand took advantage of the poor situation of Malaysian Chinese tourism to launch a campaign whose objective is to convince the Chinese tourists to favour Singapore and simply ignore Malaysia.

Strong marketing campaign helps reduce the damage done by the catastrophes


The military in Thailand have also their eyes on the Chinese tourism market with a visa fee waiving for Chinese tourist between the peak travel dates of August 1 and October 31 as a promotion move. The local tourism authority launched in parallel a shopping campaign offering many discounts, something that Chinese are always looking after. They also used a Key Opinion Leader, the Olympic Gold Medallist Guo Weiyang. In a PR effort they have invited the Chinese tourism officials to take part in various activities in order to demonstrate that visiting Thailand is safe

What about Vietnam? Officials have focused their efforts on marketing activities to send a strong message of Vietnam as a safe destination

What is bad for one may well be a good thing for another

While these countries had to set severe damage control campaign to win the back the heart of Chinese tourists others have been enjoying the increasing interest of mainland visitors for them.

For instance Sri Lanka has seen a startling 137% increase in its number of Chinese visitors for the first part of 2014. Others wants to experience other destinations than the traditional Thailand and have chosen Bali instead. Thus the island enjoyed a 41% YoY increase of arrivals.

Cambodia was able to benefit from the problems in the standard destinations fro Chinese tourists by marketing itself as another choice for Chinese tourists. This success caused a 18ù rise in Chinese tourists arrival in April this year.

Despite all the bad, officials have optimistic forecasts for the second half of 2014


Finally, against all bets, the officials from the countries hit by the catastrophes of this year are optimistic and foresee a growth :

  • Malaysia is hoping for a whopping 2 million Chinese tourists
  • Thailand predicts growth as well.
  • Only Vietnam stays cautious in the potential number of arrivals

This year has seen an important shift in the South eastern Chinese market that is difficult to measure in the long run. Will this shift cause a lasting change in the destinations most chosen by the Chinese tourists? It is hard to truly predict since there is so much competition and the hard data available is so small.

Digital marketing strategies to improve the countries reputation explained.

What it is possible to do however is to understand how these country who took a hard hit in their image could try or have already tried to repair their reputation as tourism hotspots.

From a digital marketing point of view you have the following situation :

  • A really bad PR that needs damage control.
  • Your tourists are customers very much into the digital world (China has more than 500 million netizens)

How do you solve this problem?

Well as you have read in this article several steps must be taken :

You must understand that the Chinese like to share their opinion and experiences about a wide range of topics. Here it will be about the turmoil that happened in those countries. You need first to have a damage control operation.

How does it work?

When you type the countries names on Baidu, the most favoured Chinese search engine you will have all the bad comments about those countries on the first pages.

Posting good comments in the relevant communities and social networks is a first step to push those back comments back away from the first few pages so that customers looking for a destinations or information about the country, like Thailand, Malaysia or Vietnam may not see those but only the good comments posted for damage control.

Managing discussions and promoting the tours via several means

  • Online PR : publishing articles about the beauty and attractiveness of the different countries in trouble
  • Using people of influence such as KOL like what the Thailand military did when inviting the Olympic Champion Guo Weiyang or the Chinese tourism officials. Their good opinion about the countries will be a key factor in restoring the reputation of the countries since they have a reputation, a credit that Chinese highly esteem.
  • Finally, paying attention to how the Internet Word Of Mouth propagates through those actions will allow to correct and intensify the actions as needed

Further readings

  • If you want to know more about the strategies to attract Chinese tourists go here
  • If you want to know more about the boom of Chinese tourists go here



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