Global ho­tels go­ing lo­cal to woo na­tion’s trav­el­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS DIGEST - By LYU CHANG lvchang@chi­

There was a time when five-star for­eign ho­tels made a point of hav­ing their lobby staff sport English names on their work badges, to make for­eign visi­tors more com­fort­able.

Now, the ho­tel gi­ants that came to China decades ago to serve mainly in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers have pulled out all the stops to please Chi­nese tourists.

They of­fer free head and shoul­der mas­sages and a 24-hour con­gee menu to bet­ter suit the tastes of Chi­nese con­sumers.

“We have seen this trend in the past few years, that Chi­nese tourists have be­come a pow­er­house in the ho­tel in­dus­try,” said Paul Richard­son, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for France­based Ac­cor SA’s Greater China op­er­a­tions.

“I be­lieve more ho­tels will adapt their ser­vices and busi­nesses, be­cause no one can suc­ceed with­out fully un­der­stand­ing the lo­cal mar­ket.”

The coun­try’s bur­geon­ing mid­dle class craves a bet­ter and more re­ward­ing travel ex­pe­ri­ence. The Na­tional Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion said that Chi­nese tourists made more than 2.6 bil­lion do­mes­tic trips last year, and that fig­ure is ex­pected to reach 3.3 bil­lion by 2015.

China’s tourism in­dus­try rev­enue is ex­pected to reach 2.5 tril­lion yuan ($397 bil­lion) in 2015, ac­count­ing for 4.5 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, ac­cord­ing to the 12th Five-Year plan (2011-2015).

Last year, Ac­cor, Europe’s largest hote­lier, re­vamped its up­scale brand — Grand Mercure — to win the loy­alty of mil­lions of Chi­nese who travel do­mes­ti­cally and abroad.

Ac­cor op­er­ates 135 ho­tels un­der seven brands in 48 cities across China.

“As the cor­po­rate and leisure mar­kets ex­pand, we felt that it was im­por­tant to have lo­cally in­spired ho­tels. That in­cludes a new iden­tity and a lo­cal name,” Richard­son said.

He said that the new strat­egy is ex­pected to help Ac­cor ex­pand its brand port­fo­lio, as the com­pany is well aware of the great op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by “an in­creas­ing num­ber of so­phis­ti­cated Chi­nese tourists” in­ter­ested in busi­ness-class and medium-priced ho­tels.

The brand, known as mei­jue (beau­ti­ful and noble) in China and as Grand Mercure in­ter­na­tion­ally, has rolled out Chi­nese el­e­ments such as daily tai chi ses­sions, tea cer­e­monies in ho­tel lob­bies and 24-hour con­gee.

“We of­fer a blend of Chi­nese tra­di­tion with a touch of French cul­ture, which has been very pos­i­tively re­ceived by both our in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic guests,” said Den­nis Old­field, gen­eral man­ager of the Grand Mercure ho­tel in Bei­jing’s Xi­dan neigh­bor­hood.

“There has been a rise of ap­pre­ci­a­tion to­ward a deep Chi­nese her­itage that crosses cul­tural bar­ri­ers and is en­joyed by all.”

In ex­cess of 100 ho­tel build­ing projects are in the pipe­line, with a fur­ther 15 Grand Mercure ho­tels planned in sec­ond- and third-tier cities. More than 20,000 staff are to be re­cruited within the next three years, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cor.

In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tels Group Plc last year made a splash with its Hualuxe Ho­tels and Re­sorts brand for China, which is set to spread across the coun­try’s cities and re­sort des­ti­na­tions.

The new brand has many mean­ings. Hualuxe lit­er­ally trans­lates as “China lux­ury”, while the Chi­nese name is Hua Yi (Chi­nese city). Yi can also be as­so­ci­ated with co­gnac — a sym­bol of lux­ury in China.

“It is our first up­scale brand specif­i­cally de­signed for Chi­nese trav­el­ers who de­mand an in­ter­na­tional ho­tel brand that demon­strates pride in Chi­nese cus­toms and re­flects lo­cal tra­di­tions,” said Nick Bar­ton, chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer, in an e-mail.

He said that the brand Hualuxe will fo­cus on China’s first-, sec­ond- and third-tier cities, cater­ing to a grow­ing mid­dle class and stressed-out busi­ness trav­el­ers.

Bar­ton con­firmed that the first Hualuxe ho­tel will open in early 2014. The brand will then ex­pand to more than 100 cities in China and through­out the world.

The Lon­don-based ho­tel group plans to open nearly 200 ho­tels through­out China.

It seems that the surge in Chi­nese trav­el­ers rep­re­sents a gold mine for in­ter­na­tional hos­pi­tal­ity play­ers, but ex­perts warned that the mar­ket may over­heat and skilled staff may be in short sup­ply.

When an in­ter­na­tional ho­tel chain moves into a small city, find­ing the right peo­ple can pose a chal­lenge.

Dai Bin, pres­i­dent of the China Tourism Acad­emy, said that an­other chal­lenge for ho­tels is cater­ing to the ever-chang­ing needs of lo­cal cus­tomers.

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