How Can UK hoteliers Unlock Chinese Market?

Susan Cully, columnist and Managing Director at Marlin Apartments discusses how the UK hospitality industry can unlock the Chinese market by embracing the cultural differences and communicating with Chinese visitors through their media platforms..

With UK domestic tourism figures showing consistent and stable year-on-year increases since 2012, many accommodation providers in the UK and Europe are looking further afield for business. One of the most lucrative markets for new business is China – especially for the UK now that the process of obtaining a visa has been simplified and aligned with the Schengen visa.

China is currently the world’s second largest economy (behind only the United States) and Chinese are much more mobile now than ever. According to a survey, Chinese tourist volume increased by 20% last year to 107 million – and is forecast to grow significantly by a further 67 million travellers by 2019.

As I’m sure any of you that are already regularly welcoming Chinese visitors through your doors are aware, Chinese guests tend to have a different set of traditions and behaviour than Westerners. It is our responsibility as professionals within the hospitality industry to embrace these differences and make a considerable effort to respect these traditions in a bid to attract more Chinese tourists. Otherwise, other big European countries surely will.

Spain has set a good example for European hoteliers to follow. Despite being one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations after France and the United States, Chinese tourists are relatively uninterested in Spain in comparison to other European regions. As an act to prove themselves as well-equipped to suit the requirements of Chinese travellers, a handful of Spanish hotels have stepped up to the challenge to receive the “Chinese-friendly” stamp of approval from organisation Chinese Friendly International.

For instance, these hoteliers are mindful not to give Chinese travellers a room number with a four in it or place them on the fourth floor, since the word ‘four’ sounds very similar to the word ‘death’ in Mandarin. And for hotels which provide food, there are numerous pieces of advice waiters and servers need to follow to maintain traditional Chinese respect customs.

But why is it that the UK receives less visits each year by Chinese visitors than other major European destinations? According to Travel China Guide, in the first half of 2015 the most popular European tourist destinations for Chinese travellers were France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

Unfortunately the strength of the UK economy is a double-edged sword when it comes to the potential for overseas visitors from China. With the Pound remaining so strong, combined with a weakening RMB since the beginning of summer, the UK can be viewed as an expensive European destination. This can explain why other destinations in Europe are receiving much larger outbound tourism levels from China than London.

Whilst economic factors may very much be out of our direct control, we must ensure all other factors that we can control within our industry are actioned to counteract the detrimental effect of the strong Pound on overseas tourism figures.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, word of mouth is highly prominent amongst Chinese. Chief Executive of Chinese Friendly International, Kurt Grotsch, said: “If a Chinese enjoys themselves somewhere, more will come.” At Marlin we have made a foray into the Chinese market by launching ourselves on Weibo to maintain a social presence in China. We have also been featured prominently in a successfully collaboration with China’s Next Top Model, which saw our penthouse apartment at Marlin’s flagship Empire Square property televised throughout two episodes, reaching a general audience of over 46 million.

So it seems that apart from embracing the cultural differences, the key to unlocking the Chinese market for the UK hospitality industry is to create a buzz and speak with prospective Chinese visitors through their own channels. Whilst this is certainly much more easily said than done, as an industry, we need to acknowledge that the benefits of doing so are limitless.

About Susan Cully: Susan Cully is Managing Director of Marlin Apartments, London’s leading serviced apartment provider. Alongside Marlin Apartments’ CEO, Susan established the company throughout the official launch in London 2003. Susan has played a pivotal and consistent role, growing the company to six sites and now with over 700 apartments and a staff of more than 100, while also successfully earning an MBA at Imperial College London.

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