From China to Europe by train: Thom Valks explains Eurail.com success in Chinese market

07/12/2017

Buy european ticket train on Chinese e-commerce platform? Yes it’s possible, and this is Eurail.com. The based in Dutch fast-growing company, is one of the biggest online travel companies in Europe, with a total revenue of 88 million euros in 2016. And China is becoming one of main market. The Dutch company was part of 2017 live show organized by Alibaba to close off Double 11 (Singles Day). In the final ten minutes of the event, right before announcing the bargain festival’s total revenue, five international partners did a presentation on their cooperation with the Chinese web store giant. In 2015, the Dutch e-commerce company was the first European travel company to launch a flagship store on Fliggy. But Eurail.com also uses popular Chinese social media channels, such as Aliwangwang (an Alibaba messenger service), Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter), and Youku (the Chinese version of Youtube) for customer contact and marketing activities. How to approach chinese markets? Today we’re talking with Thom Valks, Customer Service Coordinator for Eurail.com

What is your usual target in China in terms of demographics?

This is already an interesting one. Eurail.com sells three types of products, Eurail Passes (for non-Europeans), Interrail Passes (for Europeans) and German Rail Passes (which is a Germany One Country Pass for non-Europeans). For Chinese customers we do not have a specific target group. We believe that our products should be suitable for everybody and all kind of travel. Naturally Eurail is the most logical option for Chinese citizens, and Interrail can also be used for Chinese overseas students.

What is your digital marketing mix in order to reach this target? Just out of curiosity: I’ve read on the PR Eurail is not on WeChat, is there a specific reason for this?

That’s right. Ever since we started in the Chinese market we have step by step expanded our marketing mix. We started with a Chinese website and customer service on our side to adding Chinese social media channels and local services. Wechat is next on our roadmap. The channels we do customer service on for the Chinese people are currently Weibo and Aliwangwang (connected chat service of Alibaba) so far.

The 11.11 campaign got some interesting results. What were the projections before you run it?

We were hoping to beat our performance last year. To do this we took a far more integrated approach that we started up months in advance. We were able to get good placement on the product pages, and also participated in the so-called ‘reservation period’ that precedes Double 11. This caused a lot more traffic before the day itself as well. The results that we got far exceeded what we expected.

Have you been planning similar activities in other markets? Are performances during a Singles Day comparable to Black Friday or other global shopping festivals in your opinion?

Good question! In general, we see local sales events becoming more global. For example. Black Friday and Cyber Monday used to be typical US phenomena. In recent years we’ve seen more web-shops outside the US boosting their sales with this type of event as well. Double 11 (Singles Day) used to be a typical thing for China, but this is also being adopted by web-shops worldwide, boosting sales in European countries as well. This year embraced Double 11 and Black Friday. And this worked out well for both events. We continuously look in to new ideas to improve results, including joining this type of shopping ‘festivals’.

China is the world’s largest source of outbound tourism: what are the biggest challenges in building a business in the high-end tourism market in China?

For us, the biggest challenge has been to show that the concept of train travel in Europe with one Pass is unique and new. We spend extra effort to explain this concept to our audience so they are fully prepared when they start their Eurail trip. China is traditionally a country that has a culture of group travel where everything is arranged, and using a Pass is the opposite in that it requires a lot of planning yourself, and is quite autonomous. There is a trend where is becoming more popular now because people are resisting this group mentality that was there before. What is also helping is the exchange students using our Interrail Passes during their stay in Europe and then when they go back home they share their experiences there. And of course, word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools to have.

Tell us a bit more about Chinese consumer: what are Chinese millennials looking for when they plan a trip to Europe?

Millennials are still going for the big cities in western Europe. France, Italy and Switzerland are the most popular countries for Chinese travelers. However, we see Chinese travelers more and more adding upcoming and less well-known destinations to their itinerary. For example Krakow (Poland) and Prague (Czech Republic) are also becoming more and more popular.

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