Thinking of opening a hotel in China? Not so fast. Let’s take a look at what Hilton Worldwide is successfully running 54 hotels in Greater China and have another 170 in the pipeline. Hilton sure knows the China market and HotelIntel.co has Hilton’s Greater China and Mongolia Senior Vice President of Operations Mr. Bruce McKenzie to share some of his insights and experiences with us.
Hilton has opened a lot of new properties in China. How are you managing finding the numbers of staff needed that have the skills to be able to maintain Hilton’s high international service standards? Do you find sourcing and training staff more challenging there than other regions?
**Bruce Mckenzie: **There is a huge demand for good talent in China as it continues to grow exponentially. It is challenging as the supply and demand of talent may not always be in balance especially in the hospitality industry. Hilton Worldwide currently operates 54 hotels in Greater China, of which 52 are in Mainland China. We have over 170 hotels in the pipeline, which will open in the next three to five years, and this will fuel our need for more talent. The skills required in the hospitality industry, specifically in our hotels, are also similar skills demanded in the retail and other service industries. It is therefore critical for us to have a robust human resource strategy in place to identify, develop, grow and retain talent.
Having been in China for the past 27 years, we have built a strong reputation as an employer of choice. Recently, Hilton Worldwide was honored as one of 2015’s Most Attractive Employers in China and received the Top One Industry Awards – Tourism from Universum, which is a testament to this. In May this year, more than 60 of our hotels throughout China organized career events as part of Careers@Hilton Live: Youth in Hospitality Month, which drew more than 4,200 participants. Attendees were introduced to over 400 front office and F&B career opportunities in our hotels across China. We have also forged strategic partnerships with hospitality and tourism schools to nurture talent so that their graduates would eventually join our organization. We are also working with International Youth Foundation (IYF) to create job opportunities for youth.
Once they are on board, we have comprehensive talent development programs such as Hilton Worldwide University to prepare young Chinese talent for leadership roles in the hospitality industry. Team members working in our hotels receive comprehensive training to deliver excellent and consistent service. They are also given opportunities to learn new skills or up-skill to progress in their careers as well as be eligible for international postings.
Are there any areas where the hospitality industry in China needs to pick up its game? If so, what is Hilton doing about it?
BM: Mobile technology has become a significant consumer trend which is impacting retail and service industries including hospitality. In November 2014, World Travel Market reported that mobile bookings for hotels will account for 35 percent of online bookings by 2018.With more than 632 million Internet users in China, more than 80 percent of whom have access to the web via a mobile device, the hospitality industry here seeks to gain significantly from the development of related technology. Reflecting this trend, Hilton Worldwide has developed technological features in order to provide the best guest experience.
Hilton is leading the industry with the introduction of digital check-in and room selection – our digital room selection technology is now live across more than 4,100 hotels spanning 11 brands worldwide. With digital check-in and room selection, guests are able to select in real-time the actual room they want to stay in, at any of our properties with availability around the world. This month, we launched our unique digital key capability in our hotels in the US and this will be rolled out in phases across the globe. By incorporating mobile key technology into the HHonors app, HHonors members will be able to unlock their rooms and access the gym, elevator, parking, Executive Lounge, etc. with their smart phones. It’s an important step forward in providing travelers with the choice and control they crave while positioning us as an industry leader.
Moreover, at StayConnected hotels across the globe, all Hilton HHonors members will receive complimentary standard Wi-Fi access at our more than 4,200 hotels when they book their stay directly through a proprietary Hilton channel or a GDS.
When building and opening new hotels in China, is there anything that you need to take into consideration or do differently that might not be in the standard western hotel handbook? (For example, in Southeast Asia, many hotels realize that they need to install toilet sprayers to satisfy local hygiene norms.)
BM: After operating in China for close to three decades, we understand the needs of Chinese guests and what they look for when they stay at a hotel. To ease the anxiety of travel for Chinese guests, and to make them feel close to home, we recently introduced “Huanying”, epitomizing the concept of a warm welcome in Chinese, as a global standard across key destinations that Chinese travelers visit. Huanying is currently available at over 110 hotels in 32 countries and 65 cities, including Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, London, Paris, New York and San Francisco. Huanying focuses on three signature hospitality touch points, the arrival experience, guest room amenities and the breakfast experience to provide functional services as well as emotional comfort for Chinese guests. Features include an authentic and traditional Chinese breakfast and jasmine tea in the guestrooms, Mandarin-language TV channels and bedroom slippers, a 24-hour hotline for translation assistance, as well as Mandarin speaking team members at hotel properties.
These are base requirements for Chinese customers and are evident in every one of our hotels in Greater China along with great Chinese food available across the hotel, from the All Day Dining to our specialty Chinese restaurant and our banqueting.
We also introduced the Embassy by Hilton brand to China in order to meet the growing demand in the mid- to upper-upscale sector of the lodging industry here. The innovative “three-zone” guest room design that Embassy by Hilton utilizes to appeal to Chinese travelers for a variety of stay occasions, thus creating a category of hotel as yet unseen in the upper-upscale hospitality space in this region.
What do you think is the biggest mistake that Operator SVP’s or VP’s are at risk of making when going into the Chinese Hospitality market?
BM: Expecting to operate in the same way as other countries. China no longer uses a completely Western management model to operate and manage hotels, but more a blend of Chinese and Western methods. Hilton Worldwide has accumulated an in-depth understanding of China and providing local relevant products and services to guests. Our strategy is to make sure each of the brands in our portfolio offer experiences that resonate with Chinese consumers whilst at the same time, deliver international standards of quality, safety and security.
At Waldorf Astoria Beijing, guests can enjoy personalized services to help them enjoy what Beijing has to offer. Guests who are interested in shopping can rely on our recommendations on local retailers and have access to personal shopping service. The hotel can also customize Hutong visits for its guests. Guests in China expect great food and beverage offerings and we have invested in ensuring that our F&B outlets consistently delivers great dining experience. For example, the Noodle Bar in Hilton Garden Inn Lijiang, which features hand-made noodles and rice noodles, offering guests the option to enjoy and appreciate authentic Yunnan cuisines.
Similarly Chinese team members look for a more nurturing leadership style than may be the norm in more developed or Western cultures. So to be a successful leader of a hospitality company in China requires a genuine interest in our team members, their lives and aspirations.
What is your advice for hoteliers who are looking to work in China?
BM: For starters, expect that China will be very different from any experience thus far in your career. The pace at which China is developing is unlike any other hospitality market in the world, and this presents both great opportunities but also challenges. To succeed in China, it’s crucial to embrace the local culture and understand the target customers, making every effort to appreciate the similarities and differences among various cultures and backgrounds.
Moreover, building a strong relationship with owners should be a top priority, which can be realized with an enhanced cultural understanding. This will help to achieve a win-win situation from construction through operation, as a better understanding of the local culture will result in a clear plan to select the right partners.
To be successful, it is also crucial to research and understand the market well. Close attention should be paid to policy changes, constantly evolving consumer needs and industry trends that impact every aspect of our business. Being in China can be extremely interesting and rewarding, and hoteliers should be open to new experiences and fully embrace the opportunity to live and work in such a dynamic market. Here, there are opportunities to meet people from all different backgrounds, offering you the chance to see the country from a completely new perspective. Finally, it never hurts to learn the local language, which always brings you one step closer to a better understanding of the culture.