Waking the Dragon: Preparing Hotels for China's Outbound Tourism

More than a million Chinese visited the U.S. in 2011, contributing more than $5.7 billion to the U.S. economy. That’s up 36 percent from 2010, according to the Department of Commerce. By 2016, that figure is expected to reach 2.6 million Chinese. – Meghan Barr, At U.S. Hotels, Chinese Treated to Comforts of Home | The Seattle Times

Three years ago, when I attended the Rendezvous Canada convention that allows international travel agencies to meet with Canadian tour operators or hotels, the number of delegates from China was very few compared to the companies from Japan and South Korea. It was mentioned several times, however, that tour companies and hotels needed to start preparations for the coming Chinese visitors. There was a sense of skepticism on the floor, so I am happy to read this article about what some of the major hotels have been doing to make the Chinese guests happy.

The article details several things that hotels are starting to do:

  • Have Front Desk agents who are able to speak Mandarin
  • Hot tea and slippers available in the rooms
  • Offering traditional Chinese breakfasts
  • Respect their culture by not placing guests on the 4th floor, and ensuring the boss is never on a floor below their employees

It also mentions that several hotels have been sending people over to China to learn the customs directly and have designated “Chinese specialists” at their properties.

Of course, most of these items are simply not affordable for most properties, and may not be practical if there is a lack of international travelers to your region. There are other ways to attract Chinese tourists to your property though.

Preparation

Something that we did for a client’s website is to develop a Mandarin translation of the main pages. Visitors can select their language preference by selecting a button at the top. With some careful monitoring through Google Analytics, I am be able to see how often those pages are visited and when, so I can develop promotions targeting the visitors from China or make more informed decisions on whether to do further advertising with Chinese operators.

According to the Essential China Travel Trends PDF, a growing number of Chinese are surfing the web more by mobile devices than they are desktop computers. If you are going to develop a site in Mandarin, it may be worthwhile to develop it for a mobile device, as well to maximize your return on investment.

Another ongoing process is staying in touch with the Chinese inbound tour operators to keep a pulse on the interest level there is in your local area. If interest is cool but is building in a different area nearby, you can ask about the reasons why to help your local tourism organizations develop a plan to attract the Chinese market. For example, Yellowknife is a major destination for Japanese tourists when visiting Canada to view the northern lights. Its neighbour, Whitehorse, Yukon, was not as popular of a destination even though the northern lights are just as visible as they are in Yellowknife, plus it was a closer flight from Vancouver. After talking with some of the inbound operators at Rendezvous Canada, it was discovered that Yellowknife has developed viewing stations outside of the city where people can camp overnight while being catered to by other groups. In Whitehorse, there was no such facility and the tour operators were driving people outside of city limits to view the northern lights then driving back to the hotels.

I did not get an opportunity to work with more inbound operators, but the two I can suggest are listed below. The NTA has a specialized program solely for Chinese tour operators. Thankfully, they publish their list of approved operators for people to get in contact with.

For Canadian properties, I would strongly suggest joining CITAP - Canadian Inbound Tourism Association (Asia Pacific). They list their membership and you can filter the results to show only the travel agencies. They have several events during the year which are excellent networking events to put you in touch with operators from China, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific region. If there is an American counterpart to this organization, I am unaware, so please share in the comments.

To get your web pages or other documents translated properly, I would suggest getting in touch with your local college or University to see if they offer Mandarin as a language course. A lot of Universities also have a large influx of Chinese students. Some of them may be fairly fluent in English themselves and able to do quick work with translating the document. There are plenty of companies out there offering translation services and I haven’t worked with any so I can’t personally endorse them, but Globalization Partners International offers website translation and multilingual website design, plus other services.

Further Reading

For people who want more in depth information about the Chinese market potential, their booking patterns, and what they may be looking for when traveling, there is one source I am going to recommend above all others: COTRI - Chinese Outbound Travel Research Institute

On the website, they have a variety of publications available depending on the information you are after. The latest one is The Green Book of China’s Tourism, published in 2011. Here is the description:

The Green Book of China’s Tourism is compiled annually in Chinese by the Tourism Research Centre, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the highest-ranking academic institution in China. Since its first publication in 2000, the Green Book includes authoritative reports on China’s domestic, inbound and outbound tourism. In 2011 for the first time Social Sciences Academic Press (SSAP) of China and COTRI are cooperating to present a selection of the most important articles in English to an international audience. The Green Book of China’s Tourism offers 16 chapters edited by the famous tourism experts Zhang Guangrui, Song Rui and Liu Deqian and written by the foremost academics, administrators and practitioners of tourism in China. Comprehensive analysis, forecast and prospect in key issues on the industry, government policy, destinations and tourism research indicates the state-of-the-art of discussions and plans in Chinese tourism. The Green Book of China’s Tourism 2011. China’s Tourism Development Analysis and Forecast represents a valuable source of information for companies, organizations, universities and individuals seeking to understand the complexities of China’s tourism with current data from 2010 and a forecast to the coming years at an essential and in-depth level provided as seen from within China.

Another publication is their Annual Report of China Outbound Tourism Development 2011. You can read the contents of the report from 2010 at their site in a short PDF which will give you an idea of the contents in the current edition.

Another good read is Essential China Travel Trends. This is a free PDF full of information on how the market is growing and booking patterns. One of the major take-aways for me is that CTrip is the most popular booking site in China. The majority of bookings go through a call centre more than being booked online, and the major international companies (Expedia, Sabre, etc) have been greatly minimized there. It would be worth visiting the site to see if your hotel is listed.