Chinese travelers present huge opportunities, challenges

NEW YORK — China is the fastest-growing travel market in the world, with the potential to generate 100 million international travelers by 2020, but in order to attract those new tourists, hotel operators must understand key differences about Chinese travelers, according to a presentation here at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show.

International trips from China grew nearly fivefold — to 47.5 million — from 2000 to 2009, said Kevin B. Murphy, president and CEO of Asiawide Hospitality Solutions and chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association Hospitality Committee. He called China “a dynamic and resilient outbound market,” but also noted that with a growing number of countries gaining approved destination status for Chinese travelers – 137 destinations had achieved that status as of March 2010 – competition for the market is becoming fierce.

“Chinese travelers have more options,” Murphy said.

Characteristics of Chinese travelers

Murphy highlighted a number of general truths about Chinese tourists that are important for those in the hospitality industry to understand. According to Murphy, Chinese travelers:

  • Are highly sensitive about how others treat and report about them
  • Prefer the comfort and safety of a group and group activities
  • Value the usage of Chinese signage, language and symbols at their travel destinations
  • Place little importance on schedules and punctuality
  • Prefer to visit places where celebrities have been sighted
  • Prefer to visit as many sites as possible rather than staying in one place for a longer period of time

Five key considerations for hoteliers

Although Chinese travelers have many unique needs, Murphy pointed out five areas of particular concern for the hotel industry:

1. Chinese tourists’ behavior 

What might be considered unacceptable among many groups of travelers – excessive noise, for example, or smoking regardless of no-smoking signage – is normal behavior for Chinese visitors, Murphy noted. Front-line hotel employees must be prepared to deal with these types of situations tactfully, Murphy emphasized, especially because Chinese guests are fond of sharing both good and bad experiences with friends back home.

2. Chinese tourists’ service expectations

Although not all of Chinese visitors’ expectations are unique – they value fast service, for instance, as do many travelers – others are more distinctive. They like to see Chinese food on hotel buffets and restaurant menus, for example, and value the freshness of food more than its presentation.

3. The need for Mandarin-language communication

Although many hotels hire Chinese staff to manage communication with Chinese visitors, Murphy said this is largely a short-term solution. Hotels must also consider the need to provide written communications – in-house directories, menus – in multiple languages.

4. The need for Chinese market-ready managers and front-line staff

As with potential language-barrier issues, Murphy cautioned against viewing this challenge too narrowly. Instead, he urged hotels to empower all managers and staff to welcome Chinese visitors appropriately.

5. The need to look beyond the statistics

Murphy’s overarching message was that at the end of the day, Chinese travelers are people, and not that much different from visitors of any nationality.
“They’re like anyone else in wanting improved lives, and part of that is the desire to travel,” he said.