Attracting the Chinese guest

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Titled "How to attract the Chinese guest", the session provided a fascinating insight in to how the hospitality sector can tailor its offer to attract the affluent Chinese visitor, and a broader look at Chinese culture.

The panel consisted of Kate Xiong-Britton, diplomatic global sales office, The Langham, London; Greig Holbrook, director,OBAN Multilingual; Nathan Alemany, partnerships account manager, VisitBritain; and Jason Li, business development manager, China and South East Asia, Royal Garden Hotel, London.

The first point to really leap out from the conversation was how important it is for hotels to lay on the little extras that really make Chinese guests feel at home. These include a Chinese breakfast, Chinese newspapers and TV channels in the rooms, adaptors for Chinese electrical appliances, and an in-room guide in Mandarin telling the guest how to use all the facilities. At least one Mandarin speaker on the concierge desk is also vital, both to make the guests feel comfortable, and to sell extras such as rounds of golf and tourist excursions.

Jason Li read a fascinating presentation to familiarise the audience with important elements of Chinese culture. You can click here to read it.

From a web perspective, Greig Holbrook stressed the importance of doing some research in to the Chinese market for the purposes of optimising a hotel's online presence. Google has a less than five per cent market share in China, with the online search space dominated by Baidu (www.baidu.com). Holbrook suggested hotels use Baidu's pay per click option as a way of testing the water in China to see what response they get. Jason Li suggested hotels use Chinese interns to run social media accounts to talk about their properties, and suggested Weibo (similar to Twitter but with twice as many users) and Renren as the most influential. A recent report claims that Chinese internet users spend a staggering 19 million years on social media sites in 2012.

In a similar vein, Kate emphasised the power of PR and suggested hoteliers invite Chinese media to their properties. This is particularly important as the Chinese guests are very brand aware and feel comfortable staying with hotel brands they know and trust - introducing a new name will take time and perserverance.

It has been well documented that the relative difficulty in obtaining UK visas is a major factor in limiting the number of Chinese guests on these shores. Nathan Alemany said that there were 150,000 Chinese visitors to the UK in 2012, but that the government aims to increase this to 450,000 by 2020, both by improvements to the visa system (with online applications) and by opening up new air routes to second tier Chinese cities. The air capacity issue can not be ignored - the UK is currently the 13th most visited country by Chinese tourists, whereas France is ranked 1st. Thanks to Jason Li's insights we know that the Chinese love Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, and Louis Vuitton products, but the fact is that France has air routes to five Chinese cities, the UK only two.

Alemany also said that Visit Britain is also about to launch a promotional drive in partnership with eLong, Expedia's Chinese platform.

A key element of Chinese tourism to the UK is the fact that the majority of visits are arranged by travel agents rather than by individual travellers. The average party size is eight to nine, and the average length of stay is eight or nine days. At the end of the session, the panellists were asked to give their top tips for hotels attempting to attract the Chinese market for the first time - and engaging with the Chinese travel trade figured highly on the list.

Other tips included providing guests with the facility to use their Union Pay credit cards in UK hotels, and deciding which element of the Chinese market you wish to concentrate on, such as business visitors, shopping/sightseeing parties, or even the growing demographic of Chinese parents visiting their children in UK boarding schools.

To see a video review of the event click here.

The next Boutique Hotel News networking event is titled "How to Attract the Russian guest", and is taking place at the Stafford London Kempinski on April 8th. Click herefor more information and to buy tickets.

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