Chinese travelers have become the largest and fastest-growing group of spenders in the world, a new report has revealed. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese travelers spent US$258 billion abroad in 2017 and made over 142 million international departures. Let’s see what hotels have been doing in working with their Chinese counterparts to meet this demand.

In this conversation we are joined by
Hu Shuo Hua, Corporate Director of Sales for Centara Hotels & Resorts – Greater China & Northeast Asia;
Frank Grassmann, General Manager, The Nai Harn Phuket;
Patrick Eger, Director of Sales, Amara Bangkok.

What are the most efficient marketing strategies you use to target the Chinese market?

Hu Shuo Hua: We found the most efficient marketing strategies makes use of social media, which includes but is not limited to WeChat and Weibo. We use all kinds of live broadcasting platforms.

Frank: In my opinion it’s word of mouth, or rather exposure on social media channels. Chinese guests share each and every little detail of their travels on social media. We received a lot of feedback to this effect from our guests and realized that this is a very powerful mechanism for marketing.

Patrick: Knowing your distribution options – we work with Ctrip as 90% of travelers in China use the internet to search for information when they plan their holiday, so we’ve worked hard in terms of getting good reviews, and also being a preferred Chinese hotel does help.

Does your hotel employ any particular initiatives that help enhance the guest experience for your hotel’s Chinese market guests?

Hu Shuo Hua: Yes. We do have Chinese speaking specialists for our top Chinese market properties. For Centara Grand Island Maldives, the ratio is higher than 1:10, where we have 15 Chinese speaking staff for a 112-room property. On top of Chinese speaking staff, we also have a website in Chinese and a corporate WeChat account where guests can find all necessary information such as a resort map, menus, and promotions in Chinese.

Frank: Obviously we have Chinese speaking hosts working across various departments of the resort. Most importantly at Front Office, but also in F&B. All the collateral that we produce in the resort is translated into Mandarin, including welcome letters, the compendium, menu cards, wine lists, etc. In terms of the cuisine, we find that our Chinese guests are happy with the same menu items that we offer all of our guests throughout the year.
Patrick: Understanding their behavior is the key to enhancing the guest experience; in turn it’s crucial for building loyalty. It’s also important to take advantage of apps such as Instagram or WeChat because these could help enhance the guest experience using the USP of the hotel.

What are the challenges you have faced working with agencies and tour operators in China?

Hu Shuo Hua: Centara has a great sales team based in China spread out into four offices to cover the Greater China area. We have great business relations with them and we work directly with overseas agents more than via our office. The only challenge that we might meet is payments, as the Chinese government is controlling overseas payments more and more strictly and all payment gateway services are charging certain commissions.

Frank: No real challenges. The systems are all well established for Chinese agencies and non-Chinese agencies alike. The only noticeable difference is that lead times between making a reservation and arrival at the resort are very short, as is the average length of stay – just two nights.

Patrick: More choice of hotels, increasing price transparency, and decreasing customer loyalty.

What are your biggest fears when looking ahead to the next five to ten years of Chinese tourism?

Hu Shuo Hua: We would not say there is any fear for Chinese tourism as this is still an emerging market. Only 7% of the Chinese have a passport, so we foresee there will be continuous increases in this market. However, we need to be ready to greet this huge number of tourists. This is not just true for one hotel group or company, it is generally the case for the whole country, or even for the industry around the world.
As for Centara, we are moving fast to be a China-ready hotel chain. We have implemented WeChat pay in May and Alipay will come right after. We have our Chinese website and in order to offer a better booking experience we have set up one server in China.

Frank: We have noticed, at least in our class of resort belonging to the very high end, that Chinese guests are beginning to travel and spend the same sort of money as non-Chinese guests. This means that in peak periods such as Christmas and New Year, when traditionally Western guests booked the hotel, the number of Chinese guests is increasing. With their different spending patterns outside of the room cost, and the shorter length of stay, this is a trend that needs to be monitored and addressed appropriately.

Patrick: China will break out of the middle-income trap and join the ranks of high-income societies, and also the Chinese government is encouraging inbound travel so the change of new destinations could be a huge threat.