• Matthew Grandage

History and fresh air (but not cycling) – advertising Derby to Chinese visitors

My recent interview with Nottingham's Rob Avery-Phipps ("We want to be the most China-friendly city in Britain") generated quite a bit of interest on LinkedIn, so, at the risk of this turning into a bit of an East Midlands face-off, I'm following it up with another – this time with Wang Chao, the brains behind Derby's Chinese-language tourism website.

I begin by asking - how did she go about advertising Derby's delights to potential visitors from China? Who were her targets? "Geography-wise, two groups of Chinese people" she replies. "The first group was Mandarin-speaking Chinese from Mainland China aged between 40 and 55 – the 'parents' group. The second group was Chinese students based in the UK aged in their 20s".

That illustrates a good point already – it's not helpful to see Chinese customers as a single homogenous group (obviously they are no more uniform that British people), but which specific groups should be targeted when you're marketing a product? a city even? That's when most UK-based projects will need specialist help. As another example, Grandage Consulting and Knowledge Power helped a tourist attraction in Hampshire choose and define 4 distinct groups to aim their Chinese-language marketing at. Chinese visitors are not just a busload moving at high speed, who occasionally hop out to take photos and shop.

"Yes, Chinese tourists have this reputation – shopping and taking photos, the two main things when they travel abroad", she laughs, "but things are changing".

"You have to be creative and find things that are attractive to the audience. Like when I did advertising for the city of Derby – I looked at Derby's selling points, and then thought about the potential visitors from China. For example, we know that the air is polluted in Chinese cities, so we promoted Derby as a city with clean air and the beautiful Peak District countryside nearby, where they can go and relax and enjoy a healthy lifestyle."

Does that include cycling? Derby is very hot on cycling.

"Actually no, nowadays in modern Chinese life, riding a bicycle – like to work and back – is not something they are proud of, so it's a bit hard to promote this kind of thing". I suggest to her that in recent years in China, though daily cycle use has dropped dramatically, cycle touring for fitness has taken off. So there may be a way to offer that to a niche group, but probably not the idea of leisurely cycling round a city.

"The main thing that Chinese people associate with visiting the UK is its history, the Royal Family, traditions and so on. So tourists appreciate old buildings, old-fashioned architecture – countryside with 12th- and 13th-century churches, and things like that", she says. "Sometimes the way Chinese people know about a British city is through classic English novels".

Rather than "translation", Wang uses the word "transcreation" to describe the cross-cultural marketing process, and I think it’s a good one. Marketing across cultures has to begin from the beginning, rather than being a direct translation from the original (100% accurate? 50% useful). "Simple translation isn't good enough" she asserts, "you have to find the right thinking and the right message, then you'll get the right marketing answer".

Wang Chao also had the smart idea of linking the VisitDerby page with a Derby page on the popular Chinese travel website QiongYou (, a site which aims at footloose, discerning Chinese travellers rather than the mass-tour market.

Ms Wang comes from the North East of China and studied in Sheffield before moving to London last year, from where she now runs Smart Mandarin Solutions. They provide "ongoing Chinese language and culture support for businesses" including website translation (English to Chinese), Mandarin tuition and Chinese culture training. Earlier this month she even hosted a "Learn Chinese culture through stand-up comedy" event at Victoria Library in London; to be repeated soon.

My thanks to Wang Chao for this interview.

#tourism #2ndtiercities #marketing #culture