The number of Chinese inbound tourists to the United States is projected to grow nearly three-fold during the next five years, and hotel companies are working hard to better understand the segment to capture their fair share.
NEW YORK—Inbound Chinese tourists contributed 5% to the total market share of U.S. travel and tourism exports during 2010, and travelers from the rapidly emerging country appear to be occupying a far greater share of attention from leaders of major hotel chains.
Chains such as Hilton Worldwide and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide earlier this year announced programs designed to cater to the unique needs and preferences of Chinese guests.
While the programs have been met with success thus far, according to company executives, more important is their abilities to capture part of the 274% projected increase in inbound Chinese travelers to the U.S. during the next five years.
Some of that increase is due to a Memorandum of Understanding which in 2007 opened group leisure from China to the United States. Previously only individual tourists and group business could enter the U.S., said Julie Heizer from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries during a breakout session at the 2011 International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show.
The move, in part, helped fuel a 53% increase in Chinese visitors to the U.S. from 2009 to 2010. China was the 11th market in terms of visitation to the U.S. during 2010 and eighth in terms of receipts (US$3.6 billion), according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
The Chinese traveler
Capturing a fair share of those receipts isn’t a matter of sitting back and waiting for the guests to roll in. It requires a proactive effort to better understand Chinese guests and ensure their experiences include some of the preferences and comforts of home.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts attempted to do that while launching its Hilton Huanying program. The company conducted a global research initiative, the findings of which were commissioned in a recently released blue paper.
“If Chinese people are more welcome around the world in every part of the travel industry, we’re all going to benefit,” said Andrew Flack, VP of global brand market for Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
Some key highlights from the blue paper include:
• Chinese outbound travel and tourism reached record levels in 2010, totaling 57.39 million, an increase of more than 20% compared with 2009.
• China is now the largest outbound tourist source country in Asia, having overtaken Japan.
• Total outbound tourism during 2011 is expected to reach 65 million visitor trips.
• During 2010, Chinese outbound tourists spent €35 billion (approximately US$47 billion) on their travels, up 14% from 2009. The figure is expected to reach €40.2 billion (approximately US$54.3 billion) during 2011, a rise of 14.6%.
A completely copy of the blue paper can be accessed here.
As part of the IHM&RS panel, Flack outlined three additional insights from Hilton’s findings about the Chinese travel experience:
Shopping is an extremely important part of the Chinese travel experience—but not for the material reasons one might expect. On the contrary, Chinese travelers shop to buy gifts for family, friends and business associates.
The dining experience is another important aspect of Chinese culture. Flack emphasized the importance of authenticity in this regard. Chinese food as many Americans know it is a far cry from the offerings served on dinner tables on the other side of the world.
For this reason, Hilton created an authentic menu designed by Chinese chefs for its Huanying program. Offerings include such items as two varieties of congee with condiments, dim sum, fried dough fritters, fried rice and fried noodles.
3. Social recommendations
“It’s very important in Chinese culture to make the right choice and be seen making the right choice,” Flack said.
Chinese travelers rely heavily on social media to research travel.
“If you’re marketing yourself in that market, you have to be very visible in social media channels and everywhere that Chinese people are searching for the right choice for them,” Flack said.
Dos and don’ts
Panelist Todd Kohr, marketing manager at The Hershey Company, shared the dos and don’ts he learned while launching Hershey’s Chinese Visitor Ambassador program:
• Do: Treat business cards with respect. When a Chinese guest offers his or her business card, accept it with two hands, take a few seconds to review it, and then carefully place it in an area such as a card wallet to show you intend to keep it.
• Do: Build in more time for picture-taking and shopping into package-group excursions.
• Do: Offer authentic Chinese food options.
• Do: Offer hot water for tea and dried noodles.
• Don’t: Feature prominently the color white, which is viewed as unlucky.
• Do: Feature prominently the color red, which is viewed as lucky.
• Don’t: Seat or arrange Chinese guests in groups of four; the Chinese word for “four” sounds like “death” and has a negative connotation.
• Don’t: Offer dairy, particularly cheeses, which typically aren’t a favorite food class among Chinese.
• Do: Address guests by family instead of first name. Employee name tags should reflect that as well (e.g. “Mr. Smith” as opposed to “Tom.”)