Last week, Hilton and Starwood hotels announced the launch of their new programs aimed at tailoring the travel experience to Chinese travelers in their various hotels around the world, starting in the US.
The concept is to provide Chinese guests with all the comforts of home, including everything from Chinese tea to Chinese TV stations in the guest rooms.
The concept is a great way to engage the world's richest economy to continue to travel to the U.S., but it has us wondering: will this concept alienate travelers of other countries, or boost the hospitality industry by appealing to elite clientele?
According to spokespeople at both hotel chains, the concept for the Chinese travelers' programs came from suggestions from hotel guests. Here's how they work:
Hilton Hotels & Resorts' Hilton Huanying (taken from the Chinese word for "welcome") debuts with a dedicated front desk member fluent in Chinese, tea kettles and selection of Chinese teas, slippers, welcome letter written in Chinese, two varieties of congee with condiments (as well as other Chinese food favorites including fried rice or fried noodles, and dim sum).
The Starwood program, called Starwood Personalized Travel, gives Chinese guests a packet of local area information upon arrival with all the shopping, sightseeing, tourist attractions and restaurants translated into Chinese. Starwood has already launched the program at 19 hotels around the world, and will continue to roll out to its key markets.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Simon Turner, President of Global Development for Starwood, for 4Hoteliers [ See "Related Articles" column on the top right
In our interview, Turner told me: "Starwood is working on multiple fronts to ensure Chinese travelers feel as at home in our hotels abroad as they do at our hotels in greater China. For example, we are training our associates on Chinese customs, hiring native speaking associates, customizing our food and beverage offerings – things as simple, yet meaningful, as putting tea kettles in our rooms."
The purpose of the programs is pretty straightforward: According to travel statistics, the number of visitors to the U.S. from mainland China has more than tripled since 2000, giving hotels a reason to cater to the trending tourist market. But they're not only coming to America in droves, Chinese travelers are among the biggest spenders - the U.S. Commerce Department recorded Chinese visitors spend an average of $6,243 per person per visit, including airfare.
While the U.S. hotels plan to cater to Chinese guests, Turner also told me that for Starwood, China has become the fastest-growing hotel market. "Asia is leading Starwood's global growth and we expect that trend to continue. There is plenty of room for further hotel development, and plenty of benefits to expanding our brands not only in China, but also across Asia Pacific in fast-growing markets such as India, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand," he said in our interview.
Currently, Starwood operates 75 hotels in China and has nearly 100 more under construction. The hospitality market in Asia is one of the fastest growing in the world and there's no doubt that hotel developments soar in China. As the U.S. economy rebounds and more businesses are sending execs back to Asia for business, the question is: will these hotel chains also offer special "home" amenities to travelers from the U.S.?
I'd imagine it would be slightly difficult, to be honest, for the hotels to do any more than they can possibly can to make American travelers feel at home when they're abroad to Asia.
Both hotel chains, with roots in the U.S., offer restaurants and in-room dining menus with typical American fare including burgers, fries, salads and decadent chocolate desserts. We, too, find slippers in our closets and in many hotels in China, there's in-room coffee machines or kettles to fill our caffeine cravings.
As a frequent traveler to China, I can attest with certainty that the hospitality is second-to-none at the hotels. So, what more can be done?
Personally, I welcome the hospitality efforts of the hotels for Chinese travelers to the U.S. Here's hoping the U.S. can
reciprocate the economic efforts and work to rebuild business back in Asia, where hospitality still remains the epitome of perfection.Melanie Nayer is a hotel reviewer and expert on luxury travel around the world. She has covered all aspects of hotels including corporate restructures, re-branding initiatives, historical aspects and the best of the best in luxury hotels around the world. Melanie writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com