With Chinese tourists spending $215 billion last year, up 53 percent from the year prior, WeChat is becoming a key channel for hotel chains including Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton and Shangri-La to stay connected with customers in the Asia.
Marriott has two WeChat accounts that it uses, one to communicate with customers and the other for employee retention and recruitment. The Marriott Rewards WeChat is aimed at Marriott customers and loyalty program members, while the Marriott Careers WeChat is for Marriott staff and potential employees, said Anka Twum-Baah, vp of customer loyalty and content at Marriott International in Asia.
While Starwood and Hilton have generic hotel accounts on WeChat, Marriott uses its Rewards account to tell members about hotel openings, new Marriott brands and opportunities for members, such as exclusive access to NBA games and events in China. The account also dispenses travel tips, such as the best ways to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Japan in March.
“Millennial travelers are expected to comprise more than 60 percent of our business over the next few years,” said Twum-Baah. “They are looking for unique experiences when traveling.”
The Marriott Careers WeChat, meanwhile, is used to communicate with, recruit and retain its Asia-Pacific employees. The Careers WeChat account sits in the Subscriptions section of the app and lets followers get notified on recruitment information in real time. Marriott Careers recently added “Craig’s Corner” that includes blog posts (translated into Chinese) and quarterly videos (with Chinese subtitles) from Craig Smith, president and managing director of Marriott International APAC.
In January, the Marriott Careers WeChat hosted its first live group chat between Smith and employees and prospective employees in the mainland of China and Hong Kong. The chat was done via texts with a Chinese native translating for Smith in real time. Nearly 400 people participated in the live chat (the maximum number allowed in a chat room on WeChat is 500), and 661 messages were shared within 45 minutes, according to the company.
Aside from WeChat, Marriott Rewards uses Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and Instagram to communicate with loyalty members in APAC. Marriott International APAC uses YouTube and its Chinese counterpart YouKu. Marriott Careers uses Weibo. Individual hotels choose their channels depending on the market.
Marriott’s in-house social media team tracks all social mentions for Marriott Rewards, individual Marriott International brands and keywords, looking at brand performance by region within APAC based on the amount of user-generated content and sentiment comparisons with competitors, Twum-Baah said.
As of March 2016, WeChat had more than 700 million monthly active users, up 34.2 percent from the same period a year prior, according to Chinese research company QuestMobile.