145 million Chinese tourists travelled overseas last year, but how did they make their hotel or accommodation choices?
The Chinese are quite cautious when selecting accommodation for their next overseas trip. Security is a top priority, and they also want to feel comfortable and welcomed in the accommodation they choose. Services like Mandarin staff, Chinese-language hotel information booklets and restaurant menus, and accepting Chinese payment apps go a long way to helping achieve this.
However, the Chinese hotel experience has evolved in the past few years, with increasingly more Chinese tourists choosing to stay in apartments or homestays rather than high-end hotels. Many high-end or luxury hotels are fighting back this trend by improving their hotel’s ‘China Welcome’ and image of offering of ‘a home away from home’ for Chinese tourists.
This article seeks to identify how hotels are adapting to the changing needs of Chinese overseas tourists, why different kinds of accommodation are popular among different demographics, and the importance of websites and applications Chinese tourists use to book their accommodation in informing their decisions.
Homestays provide a more authentic travel experience
The rising popularity of room and apartment rental booking platforms such as Airbnb and Xiaozhu in China have transformed the landscape of online accommodation booking. According to Nielsen’s 2017 Outbound Chinese Tourism and Consumption Trends Report, 53% of China’s post-90s generation tourists favour homestays, inns, and guesthouses over hotels due to their eagerness to throw themselves into unique and authentic experiences. For some destinations, these accomodation types have become their preferred choice — this is the case with Japan where 64% of Chinese tourists choose to stay in homestays.
Similar findings were exposed in Hotels.com’s recent Chinese International Travel Monitor, which published the results of interviews with over 3,000 Chinese residents, aged between 18 and 58, who travelled abroad between May 2017 and May 2018. The report found that throughout this period, 55% of travellers stayed at independent hotels compared to 49% who opted for international hotel chains, and 33% chose boutique hotels. Furthermore, 56% of travellers cited “living in atypical accommodation” as a great travel experience, which demonstrates that not only is their accommodation choice a significant part of their travel itinerary, but they see independent hotels as providing a gateway into what makes the destination unique and exciting to visit.
Chinese tourists value the security of staying with a recognisable hotel brand
This isn’t to say Chinese tourists disregard hotels entirely; in fact, many choose to stay at international hotel chains due to their universal standards and reliability. International hotel chains uphold a quality of service that is (usually) replicated by all of their hotels worldwide, so Chinese tourists not only know exactly what they’re paying for, but see their services as specifically catering to overseas travellers.
Hyatt, in particular, has caught a whiff of this as it plans to double-down on its presence in China by introducing 60 hotels and 22,000 more rooms in the next four years. This is presumably in the hopes that the Hyatt brand will become more familiar in the Chinese market and thus tourists will choose to stay with them over a lesser-known hotel.
Furthermore, some hotels brands have partnered with influential Chinese travel platforms to help with their brand promotion. Radisson Hotel Group and Ctrip announced a strategic partnership in October that aims to expand the hotel group’s properties to more destinations and to help develop China as the group’s key source market.
Following suit is NUO, a home-grown Chinese hotel brand that hopes to expand its locally recognisable hotels globally into cities including Rome, New York and London. NUO’s Director of Marketing Communications, Cindy Zhu, claims the company’s goal is to expand into “each major city around the world” to comfortably accommodate Chinese national leaders on overseas visits.
These points show the importance of making your hotel brand more recognisable in China, to demonstrate your commitment to providing a good ‘China Welcome’ and willingness to accommodate Chinese guests.
Acknowledge the differences in how Chinese guests interact with hotels
While many of us may just search for the best and most affordable places to stay in our chosen destination, there’s a lot more that Chinese tourists take into account when selecting their accommodation.
In speaking about how hotels can improve their communication with potential Chinese customers, Yearth Alliance founder and CEO, Joseph Xia, said due to Chinese guests’ reliance on technology and information easily accessible from their mobile device, the “digitisation of hotel’s content, promotions, [and] payment method would help guests save their time” when booking accommodation. This digisation is important to consider as, if given the option, over 90% of Chinese outbound tourists would use mobile payments overseas. By introducing mobile payments alone, your hotel will put it on the map to the large section of Chinese tourists who base their travel decisions on whether their destination of choice accepts these payment methods.
Marriott International is a huge player who seems to have acknowledged the benefits of digitising their content as, this June, they readied 1,500 of their hotels worldwide to begin accepting Alipay mobile payments. This coincided the brand’s redesigned storefront on the Chinese travel platform Fliggy (owned by Alibaba, same as Alipay) to showcase to Chinese travellers their 6,000 hotels across 30 global brands in a user-friendly and accessible manner. The global hotel brand also employs Mandarin-speaking staff and offers a range of tailored services to Chinese tourists as part of its “Li Yu” initiative to welcome them in open arms.
KOLs are key
Marketing your accommodation brand through Chinese travel KOLs is a fantastic way to increase your exposure on China’s premier travel review platforms. China’s most popular KOLs have built fanbases of millions of followers through their credibility in providing top-quality and trustworthy travel recommendations. Demonstrating that your hotel comfortably accommodates the savviest of Chinese travellers can result in extremely valuable promotion in the China market.
We have worked with a number of accommodation providers on Chinese KOL and media trips who recognise their value and have facilitated their stay with complimentary rooms, in return for exposure in travelogues published on platforms such as Mafengwo, Qyer and Ctrip. Native Places, who offer long and short stay serviced apartments in London and other UK cities, have worked with us on a number of trips, and the KOLs and media have detailed how personal and homely their spaces feel. Likewise, The Grand in York, the city’s most luxurious hotel, has successfully hosted a number of high-profile KOLs and media FAM trips over the years, showing their commitment to providing a positive ‘China Welcome’.
Independent hotels have a big opportunity
So, what about luxury independent hotels? Do they have a chance in this market? The answer is certainly yes.
If you combine the Chinese tourists’ quest for luxury with their quest for authenticity, the opportunities for success are huge. This is particularly true where hotels cater well for affluent, multi-generational Chinese families, travelling independently and seeking comfort for grandparents and new experiences for treasured children.
Admittedly, independent hotels are unlikely to have access to the marketing funds of a Marriott or Hilton, but a strong presence on China’s major review sites, press coverage, hosting KOLs and media, a WeChat or Weibo account, and engaging with the Chinese travel trade will all go a long way in attracting Chinese guests.
Where does this leave us?
Your Chinese guests have vastly different expectations and needs to your Western guests, so your accommodation brand will need to make the extra effort to show that you’re ‘China Ready’. The importance of introducing mobile payments, Mandarin-language services and hosting KOLs cannot be understated, but also making sure the Chinese market recognises your efforts in accommodating Chinese guests is paramount. As such, digitising your content especially for Chinese tourists, and ensuring you have active presence on China’s review site platforms, will help keep you in the minds of Chinese tourists when they plan their next trip abroad.
If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.
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This will be our last article for 2018, so from all of us at Guanxi’s Brighton and Beijing offices, thank you very much for reading and we hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!