Michelle Xu, Atlantis Sanya’s director of public relations, speaks to WARC for the Marketer’s Toolkit 2022 about the Hainan resort’s wide range of attractions, as well as the opportunities and challenges during a period of sporadic virus outbreaks in China.

Toolkit 2022

This interview is part of WARC's Marketer's Toolkit 2022. Read more.

Key insights

  • Chinese consumers are undergoing a shift in mindset from "value for money" to "satisfaction-to-price ratio".
  • Post-epidemic, consumers expect hotels to provide a high-quality life experience with material and spiritual functionality.
  • Brands are no longer solely focused on traffic growth but are now more consumer-focused.

WARC: What is the status of the Atlantis Sanya brand in China and how does it aim to highlight its uniqueness in the current phase of the Chinese tourism market?

Michelle Xu (徐翔宇): Atlantis Sanya officially opened in 2018 and has played an active role in promoting the development of Hainan's tourism by providing outstanding product competitiveness while continuously improving services, revenues and visitor numbers, setting operational records in all fields.

Our resort, which is located on scenic Haitang Bay, is themed on the mystery of the vanished continent of Atlantis, and consists of eight major businesses: a hotel, a water world, an aquarium, an international convention and exhibition centre, catering, entertainment, shopping and performing arts, plus professional marine facilities.

Michelle Xu, Director of public relations, Atlantis Sanya

Aquaventure Waterpark covers 200,000 square metres, the Lost Chambers Aquarium contains a total of 17,500 tons of seawater, and the C Show theatre’s capacity is 1,800 people per performance.

It is a one-stop destination for entertainment, leisure and a comprehensive vacation experience, a high-end resort and development project which has injected vitality into the local tourism industry.

Our Lost Chambers Aquarium and Aquaventure Waterpark are open all year round and are very popular, while Aquaventure After Dark is open every summer and has been well-received. In addition, Atlantis has been collaborating with brands such as Lanvin, Shede Wine and Bubble Mart, accelerating the integration of culture and entertainment to provide guests with innovative and diverse resort experiences.

We operate with a global perspective, exploring new and innovative resort experiences around iconic ocean-themed products such as the Water World, Aquarium and Underwater Suites, which give guests access to our core resort themes and provide high-quality sensory experiences.

In 2020, despite the impact of the pandemic, Atlantis Sanya recorded a full-year turnover of over $1.2 billion and an adjusted pre-tax profit that rose rather than fell, resulting in its best financial returns since the resort opened. A total of 2.6 million guests visited Atlantis Sanya in the first half of 2021 and we had an average occupancy rate of 79.9% – a 34.8% increase over the same period the previous year.

WARC: How did Atlantis Sanya tap into consumer demand and come up with the idea of staging the world record for the "largest underwater mermaid show"?

Michelle Xu: The underwater mermaid show has always been a popular attraction at the Lost Chambers Aquarium and our Ambassador Lagoon is one of the most iconic parts of Atlantis Sanya, with its 16.5-metre long, 8.3-metre high transparent acrylic viewing wall. So on our third anniversary in April this year, we wanted to showcase our unique ocean culture to more guests in an ambitious format and we broke the world record for the largest underwater mermaid show.

According to the 2021 China Consumer Trend Report, Chinese consumers are undergoing a shift in mindset from "value for money" to "satisfaction-to-price ratio", so we are committed to meeting all of our guests’ needs while always looking to create a dream holiday experience that exceeds expectations.

WARC: With occasional localised virus outbreaks posing a challenge to tourism, what are the areas that Atlantis Sanya is focusing on to adjust its marketing to ensure brand growth and provide a consistently good experience for users? What new characteristics of tourism consumerism are reflected in these adjustments?

Michelle Xu: As virus prevention becomes the new normal in people's lives and large numbers of formerly outbound tourists stick to the domestic market, the "internal circulation" pattern of tourism consumption continues to grow.

The growing demand of Chinese consumers for leisure activities and vacationing continues to drive the transformation and upgrading of the domestic tourism industry. In the post-epidemic era, the expectation of consumers is that hotels are no longer just a place to rest and relax but a high-quality life experience with both material and spiritual functionality.

With the recurrence of the epidemic, we introduced special rates for local residents for some of our entertainment programs to encourage "local vacationing" and reduce cross-province travel. At the same time, to ensure we are always at the forefront of the market and that we continue to offer a high-quality brand experience, Atlantis Sanya is constantly introducing improvements to meet potential consumer requirements, adding rich and innovative activities and products, as well as developing existing programs, including the “largest underwater mermaid show” world record, the comprehensive upgrade of the iconic "Aquaventure After Dark" event and the new immersive experience space "Deep Sea Scream Night" designed for Halloween.

In terms of “new retail”, we hope to leverage brands that span multiple categories of consumer groups, while constantly offering new and creative products and experiences for our guests. In this regard, we are currently promoting the development of a new retail area through cooperation with such brands as Kaola, Pop Mart and Lanvin.

We are always committed to exploring diversified paths of development and collaboration based on consumer demand so that we can provide personalised and varied vacation experiences.

WARC: Atlantis Sanya has partnered with The Ultimate Challenge, Guinness World Records and Pop Mart. What kind of customer profiles are you looking for in creating cooperation strategies with such partners?

Michelle Xu: Atlantis Sanya is fully committed to exploring new development and cooperation paths. In this year's series of co-branded promotions, we have used different cooperation strategies tailored to the characteristics of different brands and IP.

In our partnership with "The Ultimate Challenge", Atlantis Sanya used fan traffic generated by the show and its guests to launch conversations and activities on social media platforms related to playing the Ultimate Challenge. This attracted a lot of buzz and boosted the exposure of all the resort's business lines.

Working with Pop Mart, Atlantis Sanya used the “hip and fun” nature of consumers in combination with our underwater theme and placed the giant “DIMOO” in our Ambassador Lagoon to create a new landmark for tourists to visit.

In working with different brands and IP holders, Atlantis Sanya provides guests with new experiences and allows the unique marine theme of Atlantis Sanya to achieve a critical mass in terms of public awareness and attract many more consumers.

WARC: Atlantis Sanya has done some good content marketing using WeChat, Little Red Book, etc., and is now leaning more heavily on video. How do you reach your audience and create engagement by running quality video content?

Michelle Xu: Atlantis Sanya has wide coverage in many different media, with official accounts on new platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, Douyin and Little Red Book. We target our content and interactions based on the user trends and profiles on each specific platform.

For example, based on Little Red Book’s user profile, our content there mainly involves sharing practical tips in the form of images. WeChat is also one of the most important ways for us to disseminate information because of its almost 1.1 billion daily active users. At the end of last year, we jumped in and started using minute-long short videos as our main content format on the platform.

Short videos are a fast-paced, fragmented form of communication, which are more in alignment with the preferences of modern media consumers, and Atlantis Sanya is using them to showcase the vacation experiences that the resort offers, from different perspectives through a fresh, minimalist video style that fits these preferences.

On the faster-paced Douyin platform, we screen highlighted content and produce shorter videos that are about 30 seconds long. There, we are also doing video content partnerships with popular movies, TV shows, variety shows and major KOLs in various fields to reach a wider potential audience through account interaction, related topics and creative content, further boosting brand awareness and influence.

To date, the total number of plays on the Atlantis Sanya Shake POI is over 3.1 billion and we have more than 500,000 followers on WeChat and Weibo.

WARC: What percentage of content posted on social platforms is PGC (professionally generated), as compared to UGC (user generated)? What are the different functions of these two types of content in terms of engaging with audiences?

Michelle Xu: All of our official social media accounts have mostly PGC-based graphic content, although video content can be a mix of PGC and some UGC, which is mainly used on WeChat and ShakeYin.

People are increasingly demanding quality content and Atlantis Sanya provides guests with fresh, accurate and detailed first-hand information through high-quality PGC, and also different perspectives of the resort experience through quality UGC. It’s a way of bringing our guests together and providing a more multi-faceted view of Atlantis Sanya.

WARC: Livestreaming is becoming a more popular form of visual content. How is Atlantis Sanya utilising it and are there specific times when you use it over short videos?

Michelle Xu: Currently, Atlantis Sanya's short video creation and communication is mainly aimed at conveying the brand's leisure resort culture. Our livestreams are longer and more interactive with viewers, focusing more on introducing and promoting the resort's new products and activities, as well as providing viewers with exclusive benefits and offers during the stream.

Through partnerships with developed platforms and using hosts and celebrities in various fields, we are actively using livestreaming to reach consumers and maximise the impact of all kinds of marketing.

In addition to livestreaming on Atlantis Sanya's official WeChat and Douyin accounts, we work with anchor hosts and celebrities in various fields to present guests with a more up-close and authentic resort experience from the consumer perspective. Over the past two years, Atlantis Sanya has participated in over 400 livestreams.

WARC: In running its media operations, how does Atlantis Sanya handle follow-up and repurchasing after attracting traffic?

Michelle Xu: The 2021 China Integrated Marketing Trends Report shows that brands are no longer solely focused on traffic growth but are now more consumer-focused.

Brands want to get closer to consumers and channel "public domain traffic" into "private domains" and create long-lasting relationships but consumers also want something similar in terms of a two-way relationship with brands.

Atlantis Sanya continues to expand its brand and product power through content marketing, while actively interacting with consumers to find out what works for them. This improves brand recognition and attracts more purchasing power, satisfying a consumer's non-material needs while also effectively converting traffic.

WARC: As a physical brand, how does Atlantis Sanya integrate its online aspects with offline so that customers can get their experiences and needs met in a closed-loop environment?

Michelle Xu: With traditional brick-and-mortar brands, consumers often only experience what the brand has to offer once they arrive. But survey data shows that many consumers' pain points actually occur before they get to the consumption point for a product.

We want to create a complete and worry-free closed-loop experience for our guests by combining and promoting online and offline. Online, we can provide detailed event information, a variety of product choices and convenient booking methods, so that guests can easily arrange their trips and gather all relevant information before they travel. Offline, Atlantis Sanya will provide guests with an unparalleled vacation experience through the eight major business areas I mentioned earlier.

WARC: Do you see the current stricter requirements for data privacy from the government and platforms as an opportunity or a challenge for brands?

Michelle Xu: There are both challenges and opportunities involved with the enhanced requirements for guest data privacy being promoted by the government and implemented by platforms. Atlantis Sanya will continue to upgrade its data security-related technology, improve our adherence to relevant regulations and increase the brand's internal supervision of the area.

But such upgrades also lay a solid foundation for us to provide better services so guests can come to Atlantis Sanya and not have to worry about their data privacy. They will be able to just enjoy the quality service and experience that the brand can provide.