US hotels bending over backward to win the hearts of Chinese travelers

Major hotel brands are bending over backward to cater to the needs of the world’s most sought-after traveler: the Chinese tourist.
Now arriving on American shores in unprecedented numbers thanks to a streamlined visa process and a rising Chinese middle class, Chinese tourists are being treated to the comforts of home when they check in at the front desk. That means tea in rooms, congee for breakfast and Mandarin-speaking hotel employees.
Chinese “welcome programs” at chains like the Marriott and Hilton even address delicate cultural differences: No Chinese tour group should be placed on a floor containing the number four, which sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.
“They’re very relieved, like finally somebody’s doing these things that make sense,” said Robert Armstrong, a sales manager who handles bookings for Chinese travelers at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
More than a million Chinese visited the US in 2011, contributing more than US$5.7 billion ($7.2 billion) to the economy. That’s up 36 per cent from 2010, according to the Department of Commerce. By 2016, that figure is expected to reach 2.6 million Chinese.

In a striking departure from the traditional Chinese business traveler, a growing number of them are coming to America for fun – with lots of cash. (The average Chinese visitor spends more than US$6000 per trip.)
“Chinese Social Media networks are very important to help Chinese travelers to choose their hotel in the U.S.” said Pierre Gervois, Chief Executive Officer of China Elite Focus, a digital marketing agency based in Shanghai and Hong Kong. “New social media networks focused about travel in the United States have emerged last year, and are now very popular, such as Luxury Hotels of America (美国奢侈酒店), or Niuyue Mag (纽约志), and VIP Golf USA (美国VIP贵宾高尔夫). These social media networks allow Chinese travelers to ask for advice to other Chinese tourists coming back from the U.S., and also to rate hotels, golf courses, and retail stores. They are much more influent than travel agencies.”
And so hotels are competing to win the hearts of the Chinese. That may take the form of slippers and a tea kettle in the room or a Mandarin-speaking employee at the front desk.
“They drink tea. Eastern style, everything cold,” explained Charlie Shao, president of Galaxy Tours, a New York City-based Chinese tour agency. “They don’t walk inside the room with bare feet.”
It’s rare that Shao has to ask hotels for anything anymore. Marriott International, for example, now offers several Chinese breakfasts, depending upon which region of China the traveler hails from: there are salted duck eggs and pickled vegetables for eastern Chinese, for example, and dim sum and sliced pig’s liver for the southerners.
Major chains are also training employees to avoid cultural missteps that would offend a Chinese visitor. Superstition is a big one: Red is considered a lucky colour, along with the number eight, which signifies wealth. The colour white, meanwhile, is frowned upon.
Failing to respect the pecking order in a Chinese group is another common blunder.
“We try to make sure nobody’s on a higher floor than their boss,” Armstrong said. “Even if the boss is on a beautiful suite on the eighth floor, if the assistant is in a standard room on the 38th floor, it doesn’t translate.”
The race is also on to build loyalty within China’s borders. Last year, Starwood Hotels, which has a Chinese “specialist” at each American hotel, relocated its senior leadership team to China for a month. The Ritz-Carlton rotates general managers and other hotel staff into its Chinese hotels for three-year stints at a time. And both chains are banking on the success of their customer rewards programs, which have been a big hit in China.
“It’s important for our leaders to understand what’s going on there at a more personal level than just the statistics,” said Clayton Ruebensaal, vice president of marketing for the Ritz. “Everybody’s going after this market because of the sheer volume of luxury customers. At the same time, it’s a very crowded landscape.”
In response to the surge in Chinese visitors, the State Department decided earlier this year to spend US$22 million on new facilities in several Chinese cities and add about 50 officers to process visa applications. And in February, the US government said Chinese visitors who had obtained an American visa within the last four years did not have to reapply in person but could apply via courier.
As a result, visa interview wait times in China are just under a week.
But some experts say the US still lags far behind other countries, especially in Europe, when it comes to attracting Chinese tourists. America is woefully ill-prepared to welcome China at an industry-wide level, especially at restaurants and major attractions, said Rich Harrill, director of the Sloan Foundation Travel & Tourism Industry Centre at the University of South Carolina.
“We’re not as ready as we should be,” Harrill said.
“We don’t have the language skills. We have an opportunity to be on the ground floor of something that could be very, very big.”

New Zealand urges to attract affluent Chinese tourists

Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, speaking at TRENZ 2012

Visiting tourism experts from Asia are urging New Zealand to focus on attracting high-end Chinese travellers through premium marketing and by gaining a better understanding of the market’s potential – forecast to reach 80 million outbound travellers by 2013.
Supporting this view is Auckland Airport with the launch of a highly-targeted premium programme as part of its Ambition 2020 initiative outlined last week, which aims to showcase “luxury New Zealand” to young wealthy Chinese. The airport has also launched complimentary three-day “China Ready” workshops designed to help tourism businesses learn more about marketing to and servicing Chinese travellers.
Speaking at TRENZ as part of the Auckland Airport International Speaker Series and as a partner in the Airport’s premium programme, Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, provided conference delegates with insights into targeting the new generation of affluent Chinese.
“Chinese people love to travel, and given China’s location in the world they have unlimited holiday options to choose from. New Zealand is a similar flying time to other must-see destinations such as London, Paris, New York and Las Vegas. That said, only a relatively small number of Chinese can afford a long-haul holiday, and those that can demand luxury over camping and outdoors holidays.”
“To compete, New Zealand needs to be less shy about marketing its premium offer and dare to sell to this affluent audience. The super wealthy in China – about 0.5 per cent of the population – would only consider a minimum $US50,000 a week holiday package or it’s not of the right value for them,” he says.
Through his company China Elite Focus, Mr Gervois and Auckland Airport’s promotion of luxury tourism in New Zealand to affluent Chinese travellers uses premium marketing and targeted social media to reach this extremely discerning audience.
“Luxury New Zealand is a highly-targeted initiative designed to reach Chinese travellers interested in New Zealand and luxury travel. Predicated heavily on social media, Luxury New Zealand was able to tap into an exclusive invitation-only network of very wealthy young Chinese. Since launching in May 2011 the feedback has been positive with many I’ve spoken to pleasantly surprised to learn New Zealand is a luxury destination, not just a family-orientated place, good for camping, biking and so on.”
Also speaking at TRENZ was Trevor Lee of TravConsult, specialists in international customer service and tourism development who are also running the China Ready workshops for Auckland Airport. Mr Lee says New Zealand, like many markets, needs to better understand what Chinese are looking for when they travel.
“There are more than one million millionaires in China and another 60,000 Chinese who are classified as ‘super-rich’, with more than $15 million dollars’ worth of assets to their names. These people expect a level of service and product quality when they travel. Our advice to New Zealand tourism businesses is to invest what you can now to enrich your offer to suit Asian markets including accommodating multiple languages and different cultures.”
“Not all Chinese travellers are the same but their language is by-in-large universal. Where possible, ensure your product can communicate with them from basic translated factsheets to multi-language audio guides and personal translators. A Chinese traveller isn’t going to truly appreciate an $800 scenic helicopter trip if they can’t understand what they are seeing or experiencing,” says Mr Lee.
Auckland Airport has some ambitious targets to significantly grow the value New Zealand sees from Chinese travellers as part of its Ambition 2020 initiative.
The Airport believes by 2020 Asia, especially China, will provide the largest growth potential both in visitor arrivals and in the amount they spend when they’re here. Asia could provide $2.9 billion of the projected $8.5 billion in inbound tourism value by 2020, with China providing the lion’s share at $1.5 billion.
Glenn Wedlock, Auckland Airport General Manager Aeronautical Commercial, says China is a vital market for New Zealand with annual growth of about 20 per cent likely.
“Auckland Airport has a number of initiatives in place to promote New Zealand to Chinese travellers including the Luxury New Zealand initiative, as well as our work in growing air links with China. We are also investing in helping the industry become better equipped to market to and service the Chinese traveller through the launch of our market intelligence workshops.”

Sharjah eyes massive Chinese tourism market

The number of Chinese travelers to Sharjah has seen a dramatic increase in recent years in tune with the growing phenomenon of Chinese visitors flocking to exotic destinations around the world. The number of Chinese visitors to Sharjah has jumped from 8,231 in 2009 to around 30,000 last year, over a period of three years whereas the emirate recorded a 5% increase in the Chinese tourists last year.

The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority hopes to exploit and expand this promising market further in months and years to come.

“Our objective is to make the most of the growing Chinese and Asian interest in Sharjah and to benefit from the immense potential the fast burgeoning Chinese and Asian tourism market,” said SCTDA Chairman HE Mohamed Ali Al Noman. He pointed out that with 20 million tourists a year, a figure that is projected to cross 100 million by 2020, today China is easily the biggest tourism market in the world. “We need to tap into this massive market,” he added.

The SCTDA is leading a delegation of high fliers from the emirate’s travel and tourism industry and government agencies to BITE for the seventh consecutive year as part of the Authority’s strategy and efforts to enhance Sharjah’s profile on global tourism map and attract more visitors from Asia and China.

Al Noman said that in recent years Sharjah has seen a surge in Asian and Chinese tourist interest in the emirate.

Al Noman said: “Our participation in BITE is in line with our commercial and tourism marketing strategy and is aimed at keeping ourselves abreast of the new trends, ideas and opportunities in the global tourism bazaar. In the past few years, Sharjah’s tourism industry has witnessed rapid growth in infrastructure and service sectors. This in turn encourages and drives new investment opportunities in the tourism industry in the emirate.”

The SCTDA is looking to use its presence at BITE as a focal point to attract more Asian and Chinese tourists to Sharjah. The Authority will showcase the cultural capital of the Arab and Islamic world at the Beijing exhibition from a uniquely designed stand, which received the Best Exhibitor Award last year for its design excellence. The SCTDA launched its Chinese website last year to cater to this growing tourism market.

The Sharjah delegation, led by the SCTDA, will include Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority), Sharjah Museums Department, Coral Beach Resort Sharjah, Hotel Holiday International, Golden Tulip Sharjah, Sharjah Grand Hotel and Fairmont Holidays.

Established in 2004, the Beijing expo has emerged as one of the major international tourism and travel exhibitions and networking events of the industry, bringing the best and brightest from the East and West together in the Chinese capital.

China Travel Retail’s inaugural event in Shanghai from the 24th – 25th July 2012

China Travel Retail (CTR), the most focused networking event for travel retail brands, concessionaires and retailers targeting Chinese travellers, unveils the lists of world-class speakers and companies that will be involved in its inaugural event taking place in Shanghai on 24th and 25th July, 2012.

Joining the Moodie Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie, who together with Deputy Publisher Dermot Davitt will moderate proceedings, will be a host of world renowned industry speakers and panelists.

“We are delighted to have so many well respected industry speakers and companies participating at CTR”, said Jeffrey O’Rourke, Chief Executive of Ink. “This world-class line up of speakers, the superb agenda and the number of Chinese airports and duty free operators already attending, is fast establishing CTR as a definitive date in the Travel Retail calendar. We are hoping that over the coming weeks we will be able to announce more high profile speakers, delegates and sponsors coming to shanghai in July to attend our event”.

The China Travel Retail event and exhibition, taking place at the prestigious Marriott City Centre in Shanghai, will showcase best practices both domestically inside China, at Chinese airports and airlines, at sea, as well as how companies are successfully selling to Chinese consumers travelling overseas.  The two-day schedule for this event will include a mix of keynote speeches and master classes.

“Affluent Chinese travellers are looking for a better quality of service during their duty free shopping experience, and a better selection of products. In particular, they are looking for limited edition watches, or rare premium spirits, and not only from well known brands, but from more exclusive brands”, said Pierre Gervois, Chief Executive Officer of China Elite Focus.

“We believe that there is a need for an event that does not just showcase existing best practise within Chinese travel retail, but also helps companies to network, develop relationships and establish a footprint in this ever increasingly influential market”, said Nick Tan, President of GIS Events. “At CTR we will be bringing together for the first time, the most important decision makers from the Airports, Airlines, Duty Free operators, brands and Concessionaires in china and looking to break into this market.”