Hotels Roll Out the Welcome Mat for Chinese Travelers

The word on every hotelier's lips these days is "China." And with the outbound Chinese tourism sector growing exponentially seemingly overnight (100 million outbound travelers are expected by 2012), I suspect it is going to stay that way for years to come, as hotels hone their strategies for luring this new groundswell of deep-pocketed travelers. Out the starting gate this week, and breaking early from the pack, were Hilton Hotels & Resorts (the flagship brand of Hilton Worldwide) and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which both announced the launch of amenity and service programs specifically targeting the Chinese traveler.

Hilton's program, Hilton Huanying, which takes its name from the Chinese word for welcome, debuts Aug. 16 at the Hilton San Francisco Financial District. Currently more than 40 Hilton properties in destinations popular among Chinese -- Hawaii, New York City, London and Tokyo -- are enrolled in the program, with more jumping on board every day. Hilton says it launched Hilton Huanying after three months of research and interviews with general managers in China and Chinese travel agencies to determine cultural preferences with regard to amenities, food-and-beverage offerings, and service touches. Guests can expect to find a front desk clerk fluent in Chinese, guest rooms loaded with special slippers, tea kettles and a selection of Chinese teas, as well as Chinese TV programming, and a welcome letter in Chinese. On the breakfast menu is a selection of typical Chinese comfort foods, such as two varieties of congee (a type of rice porridge popular in Asia), dim sum and hard-boiled eggs.

Likewise, Starwood, whose entire senior leadership team decamped to China last month for four weeks in a highly publicized move to emphasize the company's dedication to that market -- its second largest -- launched a very similar program, Starwood Personalized Travel. The program, which made its debut at 19 of the company's hotels, also includes tea kettles, slippers, translated welcome materials and the requisite congee at breakfast. Hotels offering the new program include the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, as well as properties in Hawaii, Rome, Mexico City, Paris and Tokyo. Starwood plans to roll out the new program across all Starwood properties by year-end 2012. "Just as our hotels in China have historically catered to American and European travelers with familiar amenities from home, now our hotels globally will provide the same services to Chinese travelers," said Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's president and CEO.