For Chinese visitors, Australia is typically thought of as a top nature and wildlife destination. However, while its iconic beaches, Great Barrier Reef, kangaroos, and oh-so-cute koalas continue to draw throngs of tourists from mainland China, there is growing number of Chinese visitors equally interested in diving deeper into Australia’s culture, heritage, and history.

Given this, Australia’s museums and galleries have increasingly become a major draw for both Chinese group travelers and free independent travelers (FITs), mainly millennials traveling without rigid schedules, and important venues, such as the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), are benefiting from this influx of new visitors.

Although the NGV has been on the itinerary of Chinese group trips for some time, the advent of more and more independent and small group self-organized trips has made the NGV rethink its marketing approach. The museum started working with the Gaibo Agency, an Australia-based marketing agency that specializes in connecting Australian tourism businesses with government agencies in the Chinese tourism market to develop a fully integrated marketing, communications, and PR strategy to create awareness of the NGV’s importance as a must-see destination and to ensure that visitors are engaged before, during, and after their visit.

Over the last couple years, the Gaibo team, led by Jessica Xue, has developed a strategy for the NGV to reach this rapidly growing and lucrative travel segment — and with winning results. The NGV is now one of the most visited museums by Chinese tourists in the world, as ranked by China-based digital marketing agency Dragon Trail Interactive. Additionally, NGV’s WeChat account is one of the top five destination WeChat accounts in China, and is regularly featured on Weibo, WeChat, and even Little Red Book — a popular social media plus e-commerce platform — as a fashionable destination.

wechat museums

Dragon Trail’s statistics on WeChat engagement in the third quarter of 2018.

The NGV is a regular host of major blockbuster traveling exhibitions and touring art shows like the 2017 exhibition “The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture,” which had a huge impact on Chinese visitation and was one of the year’s most successful touring exhibitions. For the exhibition, Dior created limited edition merchandise available in the museum’s gift shop and organized a major gala event, inviting Chinese VIPs and influencers from all over Australia to attend. The team also marketed the exhibition in China directly with consumers and trade.

Other blockbuster shows included an exhibition of works by Vincent Van Gogh (a popular and well-recognized exhibit with Chinese art lovers) and a 2017 commissioned installation called the “Flower Room” by Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama for the NGV’s Triennial. These important and highly recognizable shows were huge draws for the museum, and while they weren’t particularly chosen to attract the Chinese market alone, each exhibition had diverse and unique appeal that Chinese visitors could relate to and found highly shareable on Chinese social media.

Integrated with these shows has been an active influencer program, and interestingly, this has been focused predominantly on local Chinese micro-influencers who are predominantly female and focused on fashion and lifestyle.  These millennial and Gen-Z visitors were invited to attend and promote the museum’s ticketed Friday night program, which hosts live music, drinks, dining, and late night access to current exhibitions. “To align with key blockbuster exhibitions, quality content was regularly posted to NGV’s WeChat account and was shared amongst the user base,” Xue told Jing Travel. “The NGV understands that Chinese reading habits on WeChat are more visually focused and therefore prefer video and high-quality images instead of simply text.”

The NGV — via Xue’s team — continues to manage their very successful and active WeChat account, which is regularly updated with the latest exhibition and event information. The first step in ensuring the account’s success was a well-planned content and follower acquisition strategy. The museum placed carefully designed QR codes throughout the art gallery to encourage Chinese visitors to follow the account, which also has an app function that translates artwork captions into Chinese. As followers of the account increased, the museum introduced strategies to build on that engagement, utilizing targeted campaigns that offered followers behind the scenes access to exhibitions, discounted tickets to exhibitions, live events for WeChat followers, and discounted offers at NGV’s retail outlets.

Now, the Gaibo Agency is working with NGV to collect a range of data to improve the brands ROI with WeChat. “We’re currently developing a program to determine follower profiles to identify if a follower is a resident of Melbourne or an inbound visitor,” said Xue. “This important information will enable the gallery to create specific content or more personalized offers to each of the two segments.”

A good example of this was a special discount offer provided to local Chinese for NGV’s Escher X nendo: Between Two Worlds exhibition. These promotions are tracked within NGV’s CRM booking system to measure conversion of the promotions. There is also a strong brand action measure in place for reach, engagement, and conversion. NGV is also working with Australian banks and third-party suppliers on Alipay and WeChat Pay, and they’ll soon be able to measure additional revenue from popular NGV design stores via Chinese mobile payments.

Another particular focus was to ensure that key travel agencies and other inbound partners would follow the account to stay informed of future NGV exhibitions. “What is critically important to cultural destinations marketing to Chinese visitors is to have a strategy that communicates to them in an authentic way and is well integrated with offline activities and events and travel trade but without leaving behind the local market,” said Xue. These strategies have been successful beyond the NGV’s wildest dreams, as they currently own one of the largest WeChat follower bases in the museum sector — not just in Australia, but in the entire world.