Houston hotels get China-friendly
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.
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.