As a provider of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), you know that attracting international students is critical for the success of your business. Chinese students, in particular, represent a rapidly growing market with thousands of students from China flocking to study abroad in the UK, US, Australia, and other countries every year. While many providers have traditionally relied on Chinese booking agents to reach this market, there's an alternative approach that offers greater control over your pricing, branding, and marketing efforts.
But why look for an alternative? It largely comes down to building an impactful brand. By taking control of your own marketing efforts and leveraging the latest digital tools and platforms, you can showcase your PBSA accommodations to Chinese students and build a strong brand identity that resonates with this market.
In this article, we'll explore some key strategies that you can use to market your PBSA accommodations directly to Chinese students. We'll discuss the main points when working with PBSA booking agents plus take a look at the current Chinese student market and the unique preferences and needs of this demographic.
Whether you're looking to expand your business or simply attract more Chinese students to your PBSA facilities, this article will provide you with actionable insights and tips to help you succeed.
By taking control of your marketing efforts and tapping into the power of digital tools and platforms, you can maximise your PBSA bookings and establish your brand identity as a provider of high-quality accommodation for Chinese students.
A Closer Look at PBSA Booking Agents
If you're looking to get the most out of your PBSA bookings, having a thorough understanding of all the different marketing options is essential. Let’s first take a look at the more traditional approach of using a PBSA booking agent to secure leases for your accommodation.
A PBSA booking agent serves as a valuable intermediary, assisting students in finding and booking accommodation in purpose-built student accommodation facilities. By collaborating with a range of PBSA providers, these agents offer students a diverse selection of accommodation options. Booking agents typically earn a commission from the PBSA provider for each successful booking they facilitate.
PBSA booking agents can be found both online and offline, operating either independently or as part of a larger organisation. Many agents specialise in specific regions or universities, allowing them to deliver a more targeted and personalised service to students.
The services provided by PBSA booking agents vary, depending on the agent and the PBSA provider they work with. While some agents may primarily provide a list of available accommodations and assist with the booking process, others offer more comprehensive services such as property viewings, advice on local amenities, and ongoing support throughout the tenancy period.
Working with booking agents can offer significant advantages in promoting and filling vacancies in your PBSA properties. They serve as a highly effective marketing channel, reaching a wider audience and increasing the likelihood of bookings. However, it is essential to understand all of the elements involved in the partnership before engaging with booking agents, such as commission fees and housing law compliance.
While booking agents can be highly effective in helping to promote your rooms to a broader audience, there is a potential drawback concerning brand exposure. Students may be unaware of the specific PBSA brand they will be living with until they arrive, which can undermine brand continuity and messaging. Embedding your brand in the hearts and minds of the target audience is a vital aspect of effective marketing. Therefore, it remains advantageous to develop methods to push your own branding efforts to maximise valuable brand exposure.
By combining the following advice with the expert assistance of an experienced booking agent, you can ensure that your bases are all covered when it comes to PBSA marketing success.
How To Maximise PBSA Bookings (With Or Without A Booking Agent…)
There are a number of ways that you can maximise your PBSA bookings, with or without using a booking agent. The most important thing is to make sure that your property is prominently listed on leading online platforms, such as marketing on WeChat. This is the best way to ensure that it is seen by the largest number of potential guests.
Another way to maximise your bookings is to offer special deals and discounts. This could be for longer stays, or for groups of students travelling together. You can also offer package deals that include additional services such as airport transfers or tours of the local area.
It is important to respond quickly to any enquiries that you receive. Potential guests will often compare a number of properties before making a decision, so if you can get back to them promptly you stand a better chance of securing the booking.
1. Marketing on WeChat for Lettings
WeChat is a widely popular Chinese social media platform, with 1.3 billion global WeChat users recorded in 2023. The vast majority of these users will be based in China, where the app enjoys huge popularity, making it a powerful tool for businesses to market their products and services.
And for PBSA providers looking to target Chinese students, marketing on WeChat for lettings can be a highly effective channel to reach out to this audience, due to its wide range of features and functionality that provide a seamless and interactive experience tailored to a Chinese audience.
One of the key features of WeChat is the ability to create "Mini Programs", which are small apps that can be accessed directly within the WeChat platform.
Mini Programs are specifically designed for WeChat, providing businesses with the opportunity to reach a vast audience within the platform.
With the help of Mini Programs, PBSA providers can showcase their properties via a number of interesting features, such as the following:
A WeChat Mini Program can offer virtual tours of your PBSA accommodations. This feature allows students to view the accommodations in detail without having to physically visit the location. By offering a virtual tour, you can showcase the features and amenities of your PBSA accommodations in a visually appealing and interactive way.
A WeChat Mini Program can also offer interactive maps that show the location of your PBSA accommodations. This feature is particularly useful for students who are unfamiliar with the area and need help finding their way around. By offering an interactive map, you can make it easier for students to find your PBSA accommodations and showcase the proximity to universities, shopping centres, and other local amenities.
A WeChat Mini Program can allow students to select their room and make a reservation directly within the app. This feature simplifies the booking process and makes it more convenient for students to reserve a room at your PBSA accommodations. By offering a room selection feature, you can provide a personalised experience for students and showcase the range of options available at your PBSA accommodations.
Amenities and Services
A WeChat Mini Program can showcase the range of amenities and services available at your PBSA accommodations. This feature can include information on the fitness centre, study areas, laundry facilities, and other amenities that students may be interested in. By highlighting the range of amenities and services available, you can differentiate your PBSA accommodations from competitors and showcase the value you offer to students.
Reviews and Ratings
A WeChat Mini Program can also showcase reviews and ratings from previous students who have stayed at your PBSA accommodations. This feature allows students to read about the experiences of others and gain insights into the quality of your accommodations. By showcasing positive reviews and ratings, you can build trust with potential customers and increase the likelihood of bookings.
2. Leverage the Power of Social Media Influencers
In recent years, the popularity of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) has increased significantly due to the growing number of students studying abroad. As the number of Chinese students studying abroad continues to rise, marketing PBSA to this demographic is becoming increasingly important. One effective strategy is to partner with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and influencers, who have a significant influence on social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin (TikTok).
KOLs and influencers are individuals who have a significant following on social media platforms and are often regarded as experts or thought leaders in their respective fields. They are trusted by their followers, who often look to them for advice and recommendations on various products and services. By partnering with a KOL or influencer who has a significant following of Chinese students, you can leverage their influence to effectively market your PBSA brand.
One of the primary benefits of partnering with KOLs and influencers is the credibility they bring to your brand. These individuals are seen as credible sources of information by their followers, who trust their opinions and recommendations. By partnering with a KOL or influencer who has a large following of Chinese students, you can build credibility and trust for your PBSA brand.
Another benefit of partnering with KOLs and influencers is the ability to increase brand awareness. These individuals have a significant following on social media platforms and can share information about your PBSA with their followers. They can also create sponsored content, such as videos and posts, that showcase the unique features and benefits of your PBSA. This can help increase brand awareness and generate interest among Chinese students studying abroad.
KOLs and influencers can also help generate leads for your PBSA brand. By promoting your PBSA to their followers, they can encourage students to visit your website or social media page and learn more about your accommodations. By including a call-to-action in their posts, KOLs and influencers can encourage their followers to book a room at your PBSA.
Social proof is another benefit of partnering with KOLs and influencers. By sharing their own experiences and positive reviews of your PBSA, they can help build trust and credibility with potential customers. This is particularly important for Chinese students, who may be hesitant to book accommodations without first seeing reviews or recommendations from others.
Finally, KOLs and influencers can help you target specific demographics of Chinese students. By choosing influencers who have followers within your target demographic, you can effectively reach and engage with this audience. For example, if you are targeting female Chinese students studying abroad, you could partner with a female KOL or influencer who has a large following of female Chinese students.
3. Promote What Appeals to Chinese Students
If you are looking to visually showcase your PBSA accommodation to appeal to Chinese students, there are several strategies you can employ:
Use high-quality images
When showcasing your accommodation, use high-quality images that are clear, bright, and visually appealing. Ensure that the images are large and showcase the unique features of your accommodation.
Include Virtual Tours
Virtual tours can be a powerful tool for showcasing your PBSA accommodation to potential Chinese students. With virtual tours, you can provide an immersive and interactive experience that allows potential tenants to explore your accommodation as if they were there in person.
Virtual tours are typically created using specialised software that allows you to create a 360-degree view of each room in your accommodation. The software allows viewers to move around the room, zoom in on specific features, and get a sense of the space in a way that static images cannot provide.
Highlight shared spaces
Chinese students often value communal living spaces, so make sure to showcase any shared spaces in your accommodation such as lounges, kitchens, and dining areas. Highlighting these spaces will show potential tenants that your accommodation is designed to facilitate social interaction.
Highlight security features
Safety is a top priority for many Chinese students when residing abroad due to being in unfamiliar surroundings and in a foreign culture, so make sure to highlight any security features in your accommodation such as CCTV, secure entry systems, and 24/7 security personnel.
Show proximity to amenities
Chinese students often value convenience and proximity to amenities such as public transportation, supermarkets, and restaurants. Make sure to showcase how your accommodation is situated near these amenities.
Highlight academic benefits
Chinese students are often very focused on their studies, so highlighting any academic benefits of your accommodation can be a selling point. This could include proximity to their university or study spaces within the accommodation itself.
4. Analysing Data to Optimise Your PBSA Bookings
Analysing data is an essential process for PBSA owners who are looking to optimise their bookings. By gathering and interpreting data, PBSA owners can gain valuable insights into tenant behaviour, preferences, and needs, which can be used to make data-driven decisions to improve the performance of their accommodation.
Analysing tenant demographics is one of the key ways that PBSA owners can gain an understanding of their target audience. This information can help PBSA owners tailor their marketing and services to meet the specific needs of their tenants and attract more tenants from similar demographics.
Another way to optimise PBSA bookings through data analysis is by monitoring occupancy rates. By analysing occupancy data, PBSA owners can identify trends and patterns in their bookings. This information can be used to adjust pricing strategies and target marketing efforts to fill gaps in the occupancy schedule.
Additionally, analysing data on the usage of amenities within the accommodation can help PBSA owners identify which amenities are most popular among their tenants. This information can be used to prioritise investment in popular amenities and improve the overall experience of tenants.
Finally, analysing data from marketing campaigns is another way PBSA owners can optimise their bookings. Tracking metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and cost per acquisition can help PBSA owners identify which marketing strategies are most effective in attracting tenants. This information can be used to adjust marketing strategies to maximise the return on investment.
When marketing on WeChat for lettings, analysing the data on Mini Programs provides another valuable source of data for PBSA owners looking to optimise their bookings. Analysing data from WeChat Mini Programs can provide insights into tenant behaviour, such as booking preferences, search patterns, and payment methods. This information can be used to optimise pricing strategies, improve the booking process, and tailor marketing efforts to attract more tenants from the Chinese student community.
Making the Most of Your PBSA Potential
In conclusion, maximising your PBSA bookings requires a multifaceted approach that prioritises digital marketing, safety and security, customer service, and providing an immersive experience for potential tenants. While working with a Chinese booking agent is a great option, it's not the only way to attract Chinese students to your accommodation, and by adopting a proactive, holistic approach that leans on the power of Mini Programs, you can ensure you’re set up for the very best results.
By adopting alternative strategies such as marketing on WeChat for lettings, offering virtual tours, enlisting the help of social media influencers, and utilising digital marketing tactics, PBSA owners can take control of their marketing and build a positive reputation within the Chinese student community.
In a highly competitive student accommodation market, taking a proactive approach to marketing and customer service can help to increase bookings, retain tenants, and ultimately, maximise the potential of your PBSA.