Attracting Chinese tertiary students to museums: what does the research (and students themselves) say?


UNSW’s winning Univative presentation

In 2015 China was Australia’s second largest inbound market, with 60% of these in New South Wales. The number of Chinese International Tertiary Students (CITS) attending university in Australia sits at around 34% of the total international student population. In 2015 there was an increase of 34,000 CITS in New South Wales, making it the state with the most enrolments in Australia (39%), growing by 17% from 2011.

The Australian National Maritime Museum is located in the heart of Darling Harbour, Sydney. While visitation is mainly from Australian-based audiences there are a significant number of tourists visiting the museum, with the Chinese market one of the strongest and fastest growing. The museum has a “China-ready” strategy in progress which includes:

  • developing educational programs specifically for Chinese school students visiting Australia
  • having key texts in most exhibitions and significant signage around the museum translated to simplified Chinese
  • Action Stations website available in Chinese
  • targeted campaigns aimed at tour operators to increase the numbers of Chinese-speaking visitors to the museum
  • research with Chinese audiences and operators
  • converting a marketing role to a tourism/marketing role

The project

While the museum reaches traditional audiences of families and adults with a specific interest in maritime heritage, as well as a substantial number of international tourists, there is a noticeable gap in attracting younger audiences to the museum, and especially Chinese tertiary students, many of who live and study within the museum’s geographic catchment area. To address this, the museum commissioned consulting work from teams of students across four universities in Sydney who were competing under the Univative program, an “… inter-university consulting competition, engaging with real organisations and working in small teams to solve actual business problems”. The task set by the museum was undertake research and provide ideas for a strategy to Attract Chinese tertiary students (aged 18-25) studying and living in the Sydney area to the museum.

Research findings

Three of the teams conducted studies with CITS (sample sizes of n=191 and 2 x n=100) finding that:

  • Trying new restaurants and eateries (21%), followed by visiting Australian landmarks/places of interest (18%) and going to the cinema (18%) were the ways they preferred to spend their leisure time
  • Conventional youth / backpacker activities (drinking, partying, clubbing, beach culture) do not appeal to CITS – more interested in sightseeing and nature
  • Avoid public transport in favour of car travel
  • 76% reported attending the Vivid Sydney festival
  • 74% attended an AFL game – this very popular activity is seen as a sport only available to go to when in Australia (find out more on the AFL here)
  • Being introduced by a friend (63%); an official website (27%) or suggestions by a social network (9%) were ways they like to find out about places to visit
  • CITS expect that their relatives and friends will visit at some time during their study period
  • More than 90% intend to travel beyond Sydney with family and/or friends
  • 61% had heard of the museum, of these 20% had visited and 40% intended to visit
  • Reasons to visit the museum are as a tourist attraction (40%); a learning activity (19%); a social outing with family and friends (18%) and involvement in a festival or event (16%). Only 7% would visit the museum to practice their English
  • CITS were most interested in food pop-up events at the museum followed by “explorative” events; historical exhibitions; special movies and social events hosted by their university societies
  • A visit to the museum was seen to be more attractive if there was a combined ticket with other attractions in the vicinity – cheap and discount tickets are very important to CITS
  • Students wanted to be able to read both English and Chinese on texts, labels and signs in the museum (72%) followed by English only (29%)
  • When visiting the museum they would prefer to eat Australian cuisine (77%)
  • 88% were interested in volunteering at the museum

Social media platforms

The key finding across all studies was the prevalence of WeChat as a platform for social engagement (26%) by CITS. Some interesting WeChat stats:

  • 468 million monthly active global users
  • 46% use WeChat more than any other app
  • 63% have 50 or more contacts
  • 57% found new friends / reconnected with old friends
  • 86% say they interact more with friends due to WeChat
  • 73% use WeChat daily
  • Over 60% of users open the app more than 10 times daily
  • 80% follow official accounts (brands) primarily to get information
  • 86% of users are aged between 18-36 years

(SOURCE: Blog)

[Addendum: Excellent piece from The Economist – WeChat’s World]

However many still use ‘traditional’ social media platforms – Facebook (26%), Twitter (23%) and Instagram (14%). Due to the majority of CITS having local friends, they find Facebook a better way to connect with their Sydney-based contacts. PokemonGO (which was all the rage at the time of the project) was acknowledged as a great way to engage with CITS, however all groups recommended giving associated discounts and offers so players didn’t just “loiter around the site”.

We will be using these findings, as well as other work we are doing, to continue being China-ready both as a museum and as a key destination in Darling Harbour.


I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the teams from the University of Sydney; University of Technology, Sydney; Macquarie University and the University of NSW (the winning team!), as well as the University of Sydney Careers Centre staff who have coordinated the museum’s involvement in Univative for the past three years. Also, the involvement of my museum colleagues Alex Gaffikin and Hyewon Chang was much appreciated.


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