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Travel Retail Marketing in China- Trends, Strategies, and Insights

What is Travel Retail Marketing: Trends, Growth & Strategies

Table of Contents:

1. What is Travel Retail Marketing?

2. Different Channels in Travel Retail

3. The Digital Influence in Travel Retail Marketing: Engaging Chinese Travelers

4. Data-Driven Strategies in Travel Retail Marketing for Chinese Consumers

5. Trends and the Future of Travel Retail: The Chinese Market Perspective Becoming More Experience-focused

6. Selecting the Right Travel Retail Marketing Agency for Chinese Markets

From the mesmerizing allure of boutique window displays in international terminals to the intrigue of the latest smartwatch featured in your inflight catalog – the journey of the traveler is paved with captivating marketing moments. 

But behind these ephemeral experiences lies a meticulously crafted strategy: travel retail marketing. Intrigued? Well, fasten your seat belts, and let's take a journey through the bustling aisles of travel-centric commerce.

1. What is Travel Retail Marketing?

Travel retail marketing is a strategic approach aimed at engaging travelers through a seamless blend of digital and physical shopping experiences in duty-free zones like airports and cruise terminals. It focuses on providing a memorable and convenient shopping experience for travelers. 

However, when it comes to Chinese travelers, the strategy requires customization. This niche market is unique, requiring tailored strategies to effectively tap into the lucrative and growing segment of Chinese globetrotters. The unique behaviors and expectations of this growing group of consumers demand specialized marketing tactics to harness the potential of this significant market segment effectively.

The Chinese Traveling Consumer

Travel retail marketing isn't your standard mall shopping. It’s more nuanced, especially when considering Chinese consumers who have specific preferences and purchasing habits. For the Chinese traveler, this blend of convenience and luxury is not just appealing; it's expected. 

Here's a thought-provoking stat: 41% of Chinese travelers say they shop at duty-free stores while traveling, and they tend to spend more than other nationalities. Furthermore, over 60% of Chinese outbound tourists prefer duty-free shops as shopping destinations during their travels.

And here’s where things get interesting: the adoption of the Online-to-Offline (O2O) model. Imagine the convenience of browsing and pre-ordering a product online, then picking it up at an airport duty-free store.

They're clicking online and collecting offline, with a significant percentage preferring to pre-order their luxury goods and pick them up as they traverse the globe. This approach is particularly appealing to the tech-savvy Chinese consumer who values both efficiency and the physical shopping experience.

Discover how iClick Interactive's tailored solutions are revolutionizing travel retail marketing for Chinese travelers.

The Travel Retail Market

The Travel Retail Market - Woman enjoy shopping concept
Image by on Freepik

So, what's the buzz around the travel retail market? Think of it as a melting pot of cultures, tastes, and purchasing power. With airports turning into mini-cities, the potential is sky-high (pun intended!). From luxury brands making a statement to local delicacies finding a global audience, the travel retail market isn't just surviving; it's thriving.

A striking example of this growth is seen in Hainan's duty-free shopping market. According to recent reports, Hainan has emerged as a duty-free shopping haven, especially in the post-pandemic era. The island province reported a remarkable surge in duty-free sales, reflecting the robust recovery and expansion of the travel retail sector in China.

In 2021, Hainan's duty-free shops witnessed a monumental increase in sales, amounting to billions of yuan, as travelers flocked to take advantage of the unique shopping experience. This surge is not just indicative of pent-up demand post-pandemic but also underscores the evolving preferences of consumers, especially in luxury segments.

This trend in Hainan is reflective of a broader shift in the travel retail market in China, which according to a report from Mordor Intelligence, is set to hit USD 64.23 billion by 2028. The blend of traditional luxury shopping with innovative, pandemic-adapted strategies is reshaping the landscape of travel retail, making it an even more enticing proposition for brands and consumers alike. 

2. Different Channels in Travel Retail

Channels in Travel Retail
Image by Freepik

The landscape of travel retail is vast – stretching from the crowded corridors of airports to the confined spaces of inflight shopping. Each of these channels has its charm and challenges. And for Chinese consumers, who are reported to make up 13.2% of duty-free sales share, these channels are goldmines of opportunity.

Airports, for instance, are prime spots for luxury brand showcases, aligning with the preferences of many Chinese consumers. But the real game-changer? Customizing these spaces and offerings to resonate with cultural nuances and preferences, thereby turning browsing into buying.

Differentiating between travel retail channels can get complex. Let's break it down:

Duty-Free Shops: 

Accounted for 64% of global travel retail in 2020. These are tax-free zones offering a range of products from cosmetics to liquor.

Inflight Shopping: 

While it witnessed a decline due to the pandemic, it's poised for revival with airlines teaming up with renowned brands.


Popular for quick purchases and last-minute souvenirs, they cater to the 36% of travelers making impulse buys.

Exclusive Lounges: 

These premium spaces offer luxury brands a unique opportunity to target high-net-worth individuals.

However, the challenges are as diverse as the opportunities. While the appeal is high, so are the expectations for a seamless experience. Studies indicate high-friction customer journeys result in high drop-off rates, emphasizing the need for low-friction, easy-to-navigate in-store touchpoints, due to the typically short dwell times in travel retail spaces. Digital extensions of the customer journey offer more engagement opportunities, being critical for repeated and persistent customer interaction in travel retail​​.

Whether it's the limited time a traveler spends in duty-free areas or the logistical constraints of inflight shopping, understanding and adapting to these challenges is key to success in travel retail, especially when your audience is as discerning as the Chinese traveler. 

3. The Digital Influence in Travel Retail Marketing: Engaging Chinese Travelers

The Digital Influence in Travel Retail Marketing: Engaging Chinese Travelers
Image by Freepik

In today's digital age, ignoring the power of online platforms is like sailing without a compass. This is particularly true in travel retail marketing targeted at Chinese consumers.  Chinese travelers are digital natives, leading the charge in mobile engagement. 

Our report shows that Chinese tourists prefer to use mobile payments when traveling, with 61% using these compared with just 11% of tourists from other countries. With a strong preference for mobile payments and a tendency to share shopping experiences online, travel retail brands should leverage this opportunity.

And here's where brands can truly shine. By leveraging popular Chinese OTA and social media platforms such as Ctrip, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) and Douyin, businesses can craft a journey that starts long before the traveler leaves home and continues well after they've returned. 

Imagine integrating WeChat or other popular Chinese platforms into your marketing strategy. Suddenly, you’re not just a store; you’re part of their digital journey, from planning their trip to sharing memories post-travel.

Successful digital integration in travel retail goes beyond mere online presence. It’s about creating immersive, interactive experiences that resonate with the Chinese traveler. Think augmented reality trials or QR codes offering exclusive deals – these aren’t just gimmicks, they’re pathways to engaging a digitally-savvy audience.

4. Data-Driven Strategies in Travel Retail Marketing for Chinese Consumers

Data-Driven Strategies in Travel Retail Marketing for Chinese Consumers
Image by jannoon028 on Freepik

Data is the new currency in marketing, and in travel retail targeting Chinese consumers, it's no different. Utilizing advanced technology and data insights, as showcased in our “China Marketing Solutions" section, can revolutionize how you approach this market.

At iClick, we go beyond mere analysis of purchasing patterns. We help brands identify and engage potential consumers right from the pre-traveling stage when they are planning their journeys. This proactive approach allows for crafting tailored marketing messages that resonate with consumers at every stage of their travel experience.

By leveraging our official partnerships with key digital giants and top-tier Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) in China, such as Group, Qunar, and Fliggy, we offer unparalleled insights into the Chinese travel market. This unique positioning ensures that our data is not only extensive but also highly reliable, enabling precise targeting of Chinese travelers.

By utilizing our technology, brands can effectively capture sales opportunities by engaging with travelers early in their journey-planning process. This method ensures that your marketing strategies are not just reactive but predictive, placing your brand at the forefront of the traveler’s mind even before their journey begins.

Our data-driven insights are not just a shot in the dark; they are a precision tool for hitting the bullseye of consumer engagement and conversion. With a deep understanding of consumer behavior and preferences, we enable brands to tap into the lucrative market of Chinese travelers effectively.

Learn how iClick’s technology can enhance your strategy targeting Chinese travelers.

Travel retail marketing is an ever-evolving arena, and keeping a finger on the pulse of current trends is crucial, especially when considering the Chinese market. 

Trends and the Future of Travel Retail
Image by Lifestylememory on Freepik

Embracing Technology and Online Experiences

One of the most prominent trends is the integration of O2O experiences. This approach blends the convenience of online browsing and purchasing with the tangibility of offline, in-store experiences. It's a powerful tool in engaging the modern traveler who seeks both the efficiency of digital platforms and the sensory engagement of physical shopping environments.

Emerging technologies are also playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of travel retail. Innovations like augmented reality, virtual try-ons, and personalized AI recommendations are not just enhancing the shopping experience but are also transforming how consumers interact with brands.

Furthermore, collaborations between different platforms are becoming increasingly important. By partnering with popular Chinese social media and e-commerce platforms, travel retail brands can create seamless, integrated experiences that cater to the unique preferences of Chinese consumers. These collaborations allow for more targeted marketing, improved customer insights, and enhanced consumer engagement.

These trends are not mere passing phases but are indicative of a deeper shift towards a more integrated, technology-driven, and consumer-centric approach in travel retail. Understanding and embracing these trends will be crucial for brands looking to succeed in the evolving Chinese market.

Becoming More Experience-focused

Looking ahead, the travel retail landscape for Chinese consumers is set to become even more personalized, experience-focused, and tech-integrated.

Beauty Brands in Travel Retail

This evolution presents exciting opportunities and unique challenges, such as adapting to fast-changing consumer preferences and navigating the complexities of a diverse market. One notable trend is the rise of experiential marketing in travel retail, particularly in the beauty sector.

Beauty brands are increasingly setting up stunning pop-up stores equipped with AR and VR technologies to enhance the shopping experience. These immersive technologies not only attract customers but also offer them a unique way to interact with products. Additionally, brands are driving footfall to these pop-up stores through strategic use of social media, live streaming, and WeChat mini-programs, creating a buzz and drawing in a tech-savvy audience.

These innovative approaches are highlighted in showcases like the Moodie Davitt Report's 2023 Travel Journey Omnichannel Awards, which exemplify how brands are successfully blending technology and experiential marketing to captivate consumers.

For a deep dive into the latest trends and how to capitalize on them, check out iClick Interactive's comprehensive solutions.

6. Selecting the Right Travel Retail Marketing Agency for Chinese Markets

After journeying through the nuances of travel retail marketing for Chinese consumers, the final piece of the puzzle is choosing the right agency to navigate these waters. A specialized focus on the Chinese market isn’t just beneficial; it’s essential.

When it comes to iClick, we are an agency that doesn’t just understand the terrain but also knows how to speak the language – both culturally and digitally. By choosing a partner like iClick, you’re not just gaining an agency; you’re gaining a navigator, a translator, and a strategist all in one.

In other words, are strengths include:

  1. Global Presence: With a wide-reaching global network, we bring a blend of international best practices and localized strategies to the table.

  1. Dedicated Business Unit for Travel Retail Clients: Our specialized unit focuses exclusively on the unique needs of travel retail, ensuring tailored solutions and expertise.

  1. Partnership with China’s Digital Titans: Our status as an official partner of China’s digital giants grants us exclusive insights and capabilities in the digital arena.

  1. Deep Understanding of the Chinese Audience: Our profound knowledge of the Chinese market means strategies that resonate deeply with local consumers.

  1. Award-Winning Agency: Recognized for our excellence, including accolades from the Moodie Davitt Report's 2023 Travel Journey Omnichannel Awards, we are proven leaders in our field.

In the vast ocean of China's social media, iClick stands as a beacon, guiding brands through these complex waters. Whether you are a global brand embarking on your first journey into the Chinese market or a seasoned player, our expertise and innovative solutions ensure your voyage is successful and impactful.

With iClick, you gain more than an agency; you acquire a navigator, a strategist, and a partner adept in both cultural and digital fluency, ensuring your brand's message not only reaches but also resonates with the Chinese audience.

Get in touch with iClick Interactive for specialized travel retail marketing aimed at Chinese consumers.

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