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Attracting Chinese Tourists to Canada Post-Pandemic Critical for Retail Growth: Expert

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Some sectors of the Canadian retail industry have been particularly hard hit this past year or so as a result of the huge decline in Chinese tourists, and shoppers, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And Edmonton entrepreneur Jingjing Zheng is working on a new digital platform through WeChat to connect those Chinese shoppers to Canadian retailers.

In 2019, there were about one million people from China, Macao, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who visited Canada. But in 2020, that number dropped to 150,000, she explained.

That plunge has a significant impact on the retail sector in Canada.

Banff Canada Goose Store at Cascade Plaza Mall (Image: Adam Metropolis)

“If we look at the spending of the group, in 2019, tourists from China, their spending was $1.9 billion in Canada. In BC, the spending in 2019 was $850 million. Obviously a lot of people were coming to BC and Ontario as well. We don’t have the data or the spending for 2020, but obviously if you look at the drop in the number of people, the spending is probably a significant drop as well,” said Zheng.

“If you look at spending, trends with tourists from those locations, they’re quite known for their spending power. They will eat, they will go to hotels but the amount of luxury goods that they buy, and the gifts that they buy and bring back, is a huge chunk within that $1.9 billion – about $570 million was spent on clothing or gifts in 2019.

Jingjing Zheng

“We don’t know exactly but I think a lot of the people who actually came here in 2020 were probably on business trips or out of necessity. So the spending I think got harder hit during COVID and also some of the stores were closed. And Chinese consumers tend to be more conscious in terms of their safety and health and they’re used to strict regulations in China and coming here if they don’t feel like it’s safe enough to shop and to go around to visit different places, they’re more conservative in that as well.”

Zheng runs an agency called Hexie Digital that focuses on Chinese language marketing in North America. She provides the following services to clients worldwide: Marketing translation, localization, Chinese copywriting and editing; Brand strategy for the China market; China entry strategy and market research; Chinese digital marketing and social media strategies; Interpretation between English and Chinese; and bilingual conference facilitation (in Alberta).

Holt Renfrew at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

Zheng said it will not be an easy recovery following the pandemic.

“It will eventually but there needs to be some effort to be made from a policy perspective from both sides of the government. From the Chinese side, if they are encouraging people to travel abroad more of course with the pandemic being in control. People need to be encouraged to travel abroad,” she said.

“And from a Canadian policy perspective, what are we going to do to make sure that it’s safe and what are we going to do to make sure that we attract tourists to these different locations? A special draw to have Chinese tourists come to Canada? If we’re looking at 2018 and 2019, China was the largest source of tourists to Canada. How we attract Chinese tourists is quite crucial I think for a speedy recovery. Over time things will pick up and things will go back to normal but if we want a quicker recovery we need to do something special to make that happen from a policy perspective.”

Zheng said the company is building a digital platform on WeChat to connect Canadian brands, and eventually brands across North America, with Chinese consumers. 

“Trying to attract consumers to experience the brands they may not be familiar with. A way to introduce things that normally wouldn’t be easy to access for them if they’re not familiar with the brands and they’re not familiar with some of the retailers here in Canada. It makes them like almost top of mind when they’re coming to visit. They know about Canada, they know about the Rockies, they know about Vancouver, but they may not know a specific mall in Vancouver or the West Edmonton Mall,” she said.

“So putting that retail, or the specific retail, in the mind of the tourists when they’re coming here and planning their trip. They will have a plan to stop by those places. Put those locations in their trip plans.”

Zheng said there is also a huge population in Canada that are recent Chinese immigrants and also international students. 

“These groups have similar characteristics as some of the Chinese tourists. Their spending habits are quite similar and a lot of them have very high spending power. Those people are also an important target for retailers in Canada.”

Zheng said the platform on WeChat will likely be launched some time in the fall.

She also said that retailers need to utilize WeChat, the Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app, to connect with Chinese consumers, adding that there are 1.2 billion users active every month on the social media platform. 

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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