Posted: October 1, 2011 |  AUTHOR: KEN FOX | CONTACT ME


Approximately 66 million Chinese are expected to travel overseas this year (2011), an increase of 15% over last year. This number is expected to grow to 100 million per year by 2020. Historically, Chinese tourists have not traveled outside their country for a variety of reasons. These include Chinese government restrictions, U.S. visa availability, high cost of travel, language barriers and access to packaged tours. This has all changed due to a growing Chinese middle class with higher incomes, a younger and better educated population who want to travel, lifting of travel restrictions and easing of obtaining U.S. tourist visas.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Chinese travelers not only are the fastest growing foreign group visiting the U.S. but they are also are among the biggest spenders.” Chinese visitors last year spent n average of $6,243 per person per visit, including airfare, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. The most popular U.S. destinations for Chinese travelers are: New York and Las Vegas followed by Los Angeles. “All nationalities like to explore, but the Chinese like a little of the familiar,” says Andrew Flack, VP for Global Banding at Hilton Hotels & Resorts, based in McLean, Virginia (USA).

At least two large U.S. hotel chains are preparing to attract and satisfy the needs of these travelers, Starwood and Hilton Hotels and Resorts. Hilton has launched its Hilton “Welcome Program,” being launched in 43 of Hilton’s 540 hotels on August 16, 2011. The Starwood Program is called “Starwood Personalized Travel,” which has been launched in 19 hotels, including the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point (CA), where the number of Chinese visitors in 2010 increased 140% from the previous year.

Both hotel chains are offering variations on the following:
1. At least one hotel employee speaks Chinese
2. Each room to have free slippers, a tea kettle and selection of Chinese teas
3. A variety of Chinese breakfast foods, including congee (a rice porridge)
4. Chopsticks offered at all meals

Hilton Hotels offers welcome letters in Chinese to Chinese guests. Starwood Chinese guests will receive a packet of local area information for shopping and sightseeing translated into Chinese.
Hilton and Starwood are also aggressively increasing their presence in China. China is the fastest growing hotel market for Starwood, which currently operates 75 hotels in China and has 100 more under construction. Starwood plans new hotel openings in China every two weeks through 2011. Hilton currently has eight hotel properties in China with 38 under construction. Hilton plans to open approximately 100 new outlets in China within the next five years, especially in second and third tier cities. These hotel chains hope familiarity with their brand names at home may help Chinese travelers when choosing a hotel when they travel to the U.S. or elsewhere.

Other independent consultants offer these suggestions for hotels preparing to welcome Chinese (often first time) visitors to the U.S.

1. Know a tourist’s nationality
2. Know they expect “hot food” at all meals. Cold cereal and sandwiches may not be ideal for Chinese travelers’ expecting familiar foods
3. Add Chinese foods to room service menus.
4. Translate restaurant menus to Chinese

The Chinese tourist does not want to lose face or be embarrassed because they have to do things to be accepted while traveling overseas. One consultant states that even if a hotel offers Michelin awarded Chefs. and a Chinese tourist is spending hundreds or thousands of dollars a night, they may want a noodle dish when ordering from room service.

Lastly, some Chinese hotel companies are forming joint ventures with U.S. companies to offer branded hotels and Chinese ”know how” for traveling Chinese. Shanghai based Jin Jiang Hotels has acquired Interstate hotels through a joint venture with the Thayer Lodging Group. Interstate has a management portfolio of 232 hospitality properties in the U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Russia, India and Mexico. Jin Jian Hotels claims to be the largest hotel group in China with more than 490 hotels affiliated to it and under its management. Jin Jiang will be launching a new business class hotel brand in China called Marvel.

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