How Dublin Airport can ensure that it’s ‘China-ready’

With Hainan Airlines’ new direct Beijing-Dublin air route launching this week, Fiona Tindall, Head of Domestic Retail at Blackjack UK & Ireland looks at how brands and businesses operating at Dublin Airport can deliver bespoke, tailored service to ensure they are ‘China-ready’.

Airports are a very special space for brands and retailers – they offer a captive audience of consumers with time to fill while they wait for their flights, money in their pockets and an open-ness to new experiences and products.

But if marketers are to reach air travellers in the airport environment successfully, they have to understand that they are not dealing with one single audience, but with many. The demographics of the flying public change hour by hour, day by day, depending on where flights are coming from or going to, therefore adapting to their needs, language and cultural preferences is key to delivering great service.

So the news that Hainan Airlines is now operating twice-weekly direct flights from Beijing to Dublin, starting June 12th, should make those running the retail outlets at Dublin Airport, as well as the marketers behind popular brands sold in those stores, sit up and take notice.

Dublin Airport will become the gateway to Ireland for increasing numbers of Chinese travellers, and it is vital that they get a courteous Irish welcome there – it will be the first experience of Ireland and the Irish for many, so it’s important we get it right.

Getting it right means respecting Chinese customs and culture, while obviously staying true to our own Irish heritage. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it will be well worth it.

Tourism Ireland estimates that about 70,000 Chinese visitors came to the island of Ireland last year, up from 60,000 visitors in 2016. China is the world’s largest outbound travel market, and one of the fastest-growing, with trips from China predicted to grow to 200 million per year by 2020. Ireland also hosts more than 5,000 Chinese students attending Irish educational institutions.

According to the statement from Dublin Airport welcoming the new direct links, two-way trade between Ireland and China is currently estimated to be worth more than €14.9 billion per year, a figure which is only likely to increase with the new flights.

So how can we make sure Dublin Airport – and the wider Irish business community – can welcome our Chinese friends in the right way?

To begin with, different nationalities like to buy different things and they like to be marketed to in different ways. All of them however, really appreciate being able to talk to a sales person or brand ambassador who speaks their own language. At the very least, it would be a good idea to have retail staff, brand ambassadors and also airport representatives on hand when the Beijing flights arrive and depart who can speak Standard Chinese (a version of Mandarin) as well as English.

But it’s not just about selling. It’s about creating an emotional connection with these passengers by providing great, well-trained staff that can also help them with a range of services from navigation to wayfinding and any problems they might encounter on their journey.

Approximately 0.4% of the Irish population is Chinese or of Chinese heritage – that’s around 18,000 people – while, including Chinese workers living in Ireland, the total comes to around 60,000, which means it shouldn’t be that difficult to find native Chinese speakers who also have good English skills.

While increasing numbers of Chinese air travellers will speak English well, many of them will appreciate being able to ask for help from people who speak their language, whether it is while shopping, finding their way around the airport or getting to and from their flights, particularly if tired and stressed by the rigours of air travel.

It’s about more than just being able to speak the language, however: if brands, travel retail stores, and the airports themselves are to add the most value for Chinese passengers, then they need to understand their culture and customs.

The Chinese, for example, have a strong gifting and wrapping culture, so having staff on hand who speak their language and who can also offer to wrap purchases – to a very high standard, it should be noted – would be appreciated.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to identify the products and services that Chinese visitors will be particularly interested in — there is an absolute wealth of information at the fingertips of airports and retailers about the profile of customers from different countries, along with a very good idea of what those passengers like to buy.

Furthermore, there is the all-important airside dwell time pre-boarding where airports and retailers essentially have a captive audience looking for distraction and retail therapy.

High Street retailers and brands view the travel retail industry with envy, because the combined power of these benefits can enable a completely tailored and bespoke sales approach that puts money in the tills and generates a better customer experience.

It is essential, however, that any plans are well researched and well executed – getting it wrong is not an option. Chinese travellers should feel welcomed to Ireland as honoured guests, not as sources of profit.

Don’t forget, though, that Ireland also has a rich and varied culture – it is, after all, why so many tourists come to our shores. We should exploit our own heritage in a dignified way – research with air travellers consistently shows that they prefer airports which celebrate their own national, regional or local identities over those which could be in any city in any country of the world. It’s what we in the travel retail industry call ‘sense of place’.

Planning and research are paramount. Delivering great customer service needs attention to detail, sensitivity to cultures and customs and a focus on how best to achieve the desired outcome.

Never compromise on the quality of an event or experiential activity. Return on Investment will always be greater for a well-executed activity that respects an audience’s traditions and customs than for something at the other, cheaper end of the spectrum.

Fáilte go hÉirinn (welcome to Ireland)!