International hotels race to woo Chinese market
Last week, two major international hotel groups announced Chinese-centric service programs almost at the same time.
Their motivation was easy to see: China is becoming one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing travel markets. Around 100 million Chinese are expected to travel overseas between now and the end of 2015.
The “Starwood Personalized Travel” program has launched in 19 Starwood hotels around the globe, and it will later feature in almost 1,000 hotels in Starwood's affiliated brands Sheraton, Westin and W.
Its rival, “Hilton Huanying” (huanying means "welcome" in Chinese), will be unveiled on August 16 in San Francisco, and will be rolled out in other cities popular with Chinese travelers, such as New York, Tokyo and Sydney.
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The two new programs share similar features, both providing:
- In-room amenities that suit Chinese people's living habits, including tea kettles and slippers
- At least one Mandarin-speaking employee
- Chinese translation and more Chinese food on the menu, such as congee
- Chinese eating utensils
"This will definitely draw more tourists from China," Chinese businessman Tan Yejun told the Los Angeles Times. For Tan, who stayed at the Hilton in San Gabriel, the most difficult part about visiting the United States is to find locals who speak Chinese.
Marriott is also planning to serve Chinese breakfast around the world from this autumn.
Hotel building in China
Meanwhile, international hotel giants are building new hotels in China at an unprecedented rate.
Marriott International plans to double its hotel count in China, the company's second biggest market after North America, by the end of 2015.
JW Marriott, Marriott International's high-end brand, recently soft-opened a self-proclaimed six-star hotel in Changsha, the 11th JW Marriott in China, to accelerate its development in China's second-tier cities.
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Its sister brand Marriott Hotel and Resorts expects to open its first Marriott City Centre in Shanghai's People's Square in September, a mere 15-minute walk from JW Marriott Shanghai. The new five-star hotel boasts 712 rooms, making it the biggest Marriott in Asia-Pacific by far.
Marriott International's close competitor Starwood is not lagging far behind.
The company told Bloomberg Businessweek that it currently has 70 hotels in China and another 90 in the pipeline. Starwood is expecting to run 100 properties throughout China by the end of 2012.
Starwood, the New York-based hotel company, is also considering a listing in China after shifting its headquarters to Shanghai temporarily, from June 8–July 11, in order to better understand its second biggest market in the world.
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China National Tourism Institution released a report early this month on China's tourism market in the first six months of 2011.
According to the report, Chinese citizens spent US$28 billion on overseas travel from January to June, a 17-percent growth over the same period last year. The report also pointed out that the market volume of overseas tourism in China was estimated to reach US$71 billion by the end of 2011.