Blessed with an idyllic climate, an unrivalled culinary scene, and 840 miles of breathtaking coastline, the draws of a Californian vacation are many.

Chinese made 1.6 million trips to California in 2018 — aided by 150 direct weekly flights — and the challenge for regional DMOs rests not in selling the merits of a Golden State trip, but in connecting and communicating direcly with China’s Free Independent Travellers (FITs) many of whom have already visited California.

When traveling in the United States, Chinese FIT tourists visit an average of 2.5 cities and this data point served as an inspiration for a recent campaign that saw San Francisco Travel Association and San Diego Tourism Authority join forces to launch “Best of California”, a program advertising the virtues of a holistic trip to the West Coast.

The two cities are connected by 55 daily flights and the DMOs looked to Hylink Digital, China’s largest independent agency, to coordinate their efforts in convincing Chinese travelers to take in both cities in a single trip. Hilton Hotels was brought in as a partner and aside from boosting room bookings, it sought to create a continuity of experience.

More broadly, one of Hylink’s campaign strategies was to bring attention to complementary and contrasting experiences available in the two destinations. For example, alcohol connoisseurs were encouraged to think about both Napa Valley wineries and San Diego craft breweries, outdoor enthusiasts could contemplate a North Coast hike and kayaking in La Jolla Cove.

San Diego and San Francisco

Chinese FIT tourists were encourage to sample the best of both San Francisco and San Diego. Image: Hylink Travel

The campaign launched on Ctrip in August with custom creative products and landing pages allowing travelers to customize their ideal Californian vacation. Directly bookable travel packages were created on a campaign page for both cities, which also provided additional itinerary information. The campaign drew more than 31 million engagements according to Ctrip data. San Francisco boasted more than 11,000 room night bookings, a 34 percent year-on-year increase, and San Diego saw a 40 percent year-on-year increase with more than 4,200 room night bookings.

The campaign won U.S. Travel’s 2019 ESTO Awards in the International Marketing category and stands as a strong example of how a well-connected and market savvy agency can boost Chinese FIT visitation with a focused campaign. At first glance, promoting Californian tourism may seem unnecessary given the state’s enviable attractiveness as a tourist destination, but as the “Best of California” campaign shows, fresh and creative promotions are capable of producing remarkable results.