What do you do when you have a popular destination and a newly wealthy region in China with high demand to travel there, but no connecting flights? In China, you crowd-fund your way.
One of the latest and most interesting recent developments in the China travel market is the emergence of crowd-funded travel, and it makes perfect sense. In a market developing as rapidly as the Chinese outbound tourism market, airlines are always going to be a quagmire to work through before the legendary ‘Chinese inbound sales explosion’ happens in your region.
However, you don’t have to wait for airlines to open up a connecting flight if you can charter a flight, which is easier than it sounds in China. We’ve all heard of Kickstarter, and like many Western online platforms, there’s a homegrown copy of Kickstarter in China built by Chinese major e-commerce player Jing Dong (jd.com).
Initially, Jing Dong’s crowd funding platform was just a Chinese clone of Kickstarter and nothing more. If you were a film student looking to make your first short film or an illustrator trying to fund a book – you logged onto Jing Dong, wrote a good pitch, set a funding target and hoped people would finance your project in return for a copy of the final product. Now, however, you can find New Zealand honeymoon packages, Hainan beach wedding packages and itineraries such as Maidou Trip’s recent Tahiti itinerary that raised ¥ 6.6 million in 34 days. Maidou will use that neat sum to, cash in hand, simply charter flights and bypass the long wait for airlines to set up flights to Tahiti. They can also book accommodation, activities, and destinations.
Why this hasn’t ever been done before is surprising. The mechanism of crowd funding is suited perfectly for driving sales, simply because it’s a lot more social than just rummaging around on booking.com all alone trying to find a good deal.
Any Jing Dong project is shareable instantly via China’s major social media networks such as Weibo and WeChat, both mobile and desktop. The progress bar of the funding for a project immediately creates trust for the product – the further it is, the more people want it, the more reliable it is. An added bonus is the time limit that creates urgency to get this brand new product before anyone else does. Chinese people also trust Jing Dong more, as it’s one of China’s most reliable e-commerce platforms.
Why does it work so well in China? The main reason is that Chinese social media and e-commerce is light years ahead of the West, whether we like it or not. As we speak, all payments are starting to go mobile. You can swipe your phone instead of your card when buying groceries, get a cab, book tickets or even support a charity without leaving WeChat or using your credit card. We’re already seeing WhatsApp starting to copy the Chinese WeChat’s features. With the super fast, streamlined mobile consumer experience developing in China, crowd funding becomes something we can take seriously. Projects are shared via mobile and supported with mobile payments, which increases exposure, support and interaction.
There are two winners here. One is dream destinations which are difficult or time consuming to reach. The other would be newly wealthy Chinese tourist markets that have the money and the desire to travel to these destinations, but who have been put off by the lack of ready-to-use, direct travel packages.
It remains to be seen whether crowd funded travel will morph into a long-term, mainstream consumer habit, or whether something better will take its place. Nonetheless, its social, low-risk and timelimited nature has set a new standard for pushing outbound travel sales.
Michael Jones is the c0-founder of Create Consulting, a Beijing-based agency focused on promoting travel and tourism companies in the lucrative Chinese outbound tourism market. www.cconsulting.com.cn