Houston ho­tels get China-friendly

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By MAY ZHOU in Houston mayzhou@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

In some guest suites at the Crowne Plaza Suites Houston, you might find a few spe­cial ameni­ties not typ­i­cally found in Amer­i­can ho­tel rooms — a carafe of hot wa­ter and two bags of Jas­min tea la­beled in Chi­nese, a pair of slip­pers, a wel­come let­ter (also in Chi­nese) and a copy of the South­ern China Daily News.

“We are get­ting more and more guests from China,” said John­Paul Jourard, se­nior sales man­ager of the 240-suite ho­tel. “Last year, about 30 per­cent of our clients were Chi­nese, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber.”

Jourard’s first Chi­nese guests came about 10 years ago. “Nancy Li, owner of Eas­ton Re­source Devel­op­ment which pro­vides train­ing pro­grams to Chi­nese lead­ers, be­gan in­tro­duc­ing cus­tomers to me in 2006,” said Jourard. “That’s how I started and I’ve been chas­ing the Chi­nese mar­ket ever since.”

A few years ago, Jourard read an ar­ti­cle about how some East Coast ho­tels were of­fer­ing small touches to ap­peal to Chi­nese vis­i­tors.

“I thought we should do the same thing here,” he said. “So start­ing in 2010, we be­gan to of­fer con­gee (por­ridge) for break­fast and a wel­come let­ter in Chi­nese.”

The ho­tel went a step fur­ther by hir­ing in­ter­na­tional busi­ness travel con­sul­tant Joanna Xie in 2011. With her in­put, the ho­tel be­gan to of­fer slip­pers and a carafe of hot wa­ter to Chi­nese guests.

The ho­tel’s chefs now are trained to make Chi­nese dishes such as fried rice and the bar is stocked with Ts­ing­tao beer. “We ro­tate Chi­nese dishes on our spe­cial menu and of­fer them on re­quest too,” said Jourard.

The ho­tel has cel­e­brated Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val and Chi­nese New Year. “We bor­rowed Chi­nese dec­o­ra­tions like lanterns from the Con­sulate Gen­eral of China here in Houston. The events were very well re­ceived,” said Xie.

The ho­tel has grad­u­ally de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing Chi­nese-friendly. Over the past few years, it hosted busi­ness groups from Chi­nese com­pa­nies of all sizes, from big names like Sinopec, CNPC, Sinochem and Huawei to many smaller pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal groups.

“The for­mer Deputy Con­sul Gen­eral of China Li Guixi stayed with us for a month and half un­til his res­i­dence was ready,” said Jourard.

The China-friendly trend is catch­ing on with other Houston-area ho­tels too, ac­cord­ing to Leo Yao of the Greater Houston Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau.

“Most ho­tels close to Chi­na­town are start­ing to do what the Crowne Plaza Suites has been do­ing,” Yao said. “The two Westin ho­tels in the Gal­le­ria (the largest shop­ping mall in Houston) have em­ployed Man­darin speak­ing per­son­nel to help the Chi­nese guests.”

Dim­ples Boettcher, sales man­ager of the Crown Plaza River Oaks ho­tel which is eight miles away from Chi­na­town, has seen a con­sid­er­able in­crease in the num­ber of Chi­nese guests over the past year.

“Roughly 5 per­cent of our guests were Chi­nese last year,” she said. “We re­al­ized that Chi­nese are where the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket is, and I have been talk­ing to travel agents and oth­ers to get some ideas. Slip­pers and hot wa­ter carafes seem to be a big deal for the Chi­nese. So we pro­vide those.”

The ho­tel also plans to add a cou­ple of Chi­nese dishes to its break­fast menu, and of­fer in­stant noo­dles, said Boettcher. “I was told most of them like in­stant noo­dles. How­ever, I think the Chi­nese are also be­com­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous. Some guests are start­ing to ask for rec­om­men­da­tions of Amer­i­can food. They want to try it.”

Yao at­tributes the in­crease in the num­bers of Chi­nese vis­i­tors to the di­rect Houston-Bei­jing air ser­vice that be­gan three years ago.

“The di­rect flight al­lows the Chi­nese to avoid a lay­over in the US, a con­sid­er­able ob­sta­cle for a lot of peo­ple with lim­ited English,” said Yao.

“We want to make Chi­nese vis­i­tors feel wel­come,” Yao said.

MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY

John­Paul Jourard and Joanna Xie, se­nior sales man­ager and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness travel con­sul­tant, re­spec­tively, at the Crowne Plaza Suites Houston, show the Chi­nese-lan­guage wel­come let­ter and news­pa­per pack­age spe­cially pre­pared for guests from China.

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