For well over a decade, hoteliers and other tourism-related businesses have been busy targeting the growing number of Chinese tourists across the globe.
Chinese outbound tourism is going through some important changes which should eventually benefit hoteliers in Europe and elsewhere.
First of all, "Free Independent Travellers" (FITs), as opposed to groups, are on the rise.
In 2016, 60% of outbound trips from China were taken by individual travellers with only 40% in groups.
Indeed the market is becoming much more segmented.
At the basic level, are those on classic package tours "to see all famous sites in 5 days"; meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, are fully independent backpackers.
But there are also those in between travelling on semi-self-organised packages customised or bespoke tours with some degree of flexibility, which include the purchase of fragmented travel products from OTA's.
Destination choice evolving
The destination choice of Chinese travellers is evolving too.
A quirk in Chinese statistics is that trips to 'Greater China' destinations like Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are treated as outbound travel. However, the 'Greater China' share of outbound trips has been falling continuously and, in 2017, accounted for less than half of the total.
Still the great majority of Chinese outbound trips are to Asian destinations.
For instance, in Q4 2017, all but one of the top-ten destinations (outside the Greater China region) were Asian countries, led by Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea. The US, the only non-Asian country, was far down the list in 9th place.
However, many of the coming outbound tourists will be younger, which could favour 'aspirational' destinations like the US and Europe, which are already very much on the radar screen of China's youth.
Indeed, aspirational travel is more important for younger tourists, which will undoubtedly make up a large portion of the growing number of passport holders. Moreover, younger tourists are more comfortable with speaking English and other foreign languages which will enable them to travel independently.
In spite of the slowdown in the growth of the Chinese economy from its hectic double-digit pace of recent years, outbound tourism continues to grow.
The Chinese took an estimated 127 million outbound trips in 2017- up 4.0% on the prior year figure.
Theoretically, the Chinese outbound market has great growth potential, as only about 8.7% of the population (120 million people) have a passport.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Jane Sun, the CEO of Ctrip, the leading Chinese OTA, predicted that the number of Chinese passport holders would grow to 240 million by 2020.
So if her forecast proves to be correct, the potential number Chinese outbound travellers will effectively double over the next two years.
What do Chinese guests expect from a hotel?
Chinese tour groups are known for seeking out low-cost accommodation in order to allow travellers to splurge on purchases of luxury goods (like Swiss watches).
The paradox is that the more basic the accommodation, the more likely it is that the Chinese guests will expect tailored service in the form of Chinese–speaking staff and food prepared according to Chinese tastes.
In-room teapots, special food items and slippers, as well as mobile payment solutions like Alipay and WeChat Pay, are all amenities appreciated by Chinese guests.
Swiss hotels have targeted Chinese guests for over a decade
It was already in 2004 that hôtelleriesuisse (Swiss Hoteliers Association) published its first guide about how to serve Chinese guests, “Swiss Hospitality for Chinese Guests”.
For example, the brochure advises hoteliers that Chinese guests should not be given rooms on the 4th floor or to rooms which contain the number 4 (4, 14, 24, 34, etc.), because this is considered to be an unlucky number, even associated with death. However, room numbers containing 6, 8 or 9, as well as rooms located on the 6th, 8th and 9th floors are considered to be lucky rooms.
A Chinese leaflet or an electronic concierge (with a Chinese language option) offering information about the hotel and the services provided should be made available in all rooms.
Otherwise, Chinese guests travelling in groups should be provided with rooms featuring twin beds – not double beds – as, generally speaking, group members, who will not have known each other before starting the trip, will be sharing the same room.
F&B tips for Chinese guests
The hôtelleriesuisse brochure also notes that the Chinese like to combine different dishes and tastes and expect all courses to be served at once, with the exception of the soup – which generally comes at the end of the meal.
Chopsticks should be placed on the right-hand side of the bowl or plate for each person, along with classic European cutlery. Chopsticks should never be put into the food, as this would be associated with bad luck or even death.
The Chinese eat early: breakfast between 7.00 a.m. and 8.00 a.m., lunch at 12.00 noon and dinner between 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m.
They eat fast and leave the table immediately once the final course is consumed, so a speedy and efficient service is appreciated.