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Rolling out the red carpet

Published on Friday, 01 Feb 2013
Tourists from mainland China vie to capture the best Victoria Harbour views from the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.
Photo: AFP
Cecilia Wong
Photo: May Tse
James Chow

HK hotels welcome neighbours

More than half of all inbound travellers to Hong Kong last year came from mainland China. This sector has emerged as a strategically important segment for the city’s hospitality and tourism industry. So what are Hong Kong hotels doing to ensure they get a big slice of this burgeoning market?

The Langham Hong Kong has seen the room-revenue share of mainland visitors jump from just over 4 per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent currently.

“We are delighted to see this market increase and we are working hard to continue to grow it,” says James Chow, director of sales and marketing at The Langham Hong Kong. “Mainland visitors have become an integral part of Hong Kong business and have grown by over 20 per cent year-on-year consistently. With China’s rapid growth, the number of visitors is expected to grow consistently.”

The hotel has geared its offerings to suit their mainland guests’ needs and preferences. These are often based on deep Chinese traditions, such as avoiding room numbers with ‘4’ (deemed unlucky) in favour of rooms with ‘8’ (prosperity).

“Some Chinese guests also prefer smoking rooms. Our colleagues are well aware of these requirements and, whenever possible, will endeavour to meet their needs,” Chow says.

The Langham’s training programmes focuses on the nuances of Chinese culture. “We have Mandarin-speaking staff and we have added bilingual menus and hotel guide books. Our food and beverage menus have also been enhanced to appeal to the mainland traveller and ensure there is something to make all of our guests feel more at home,” Chow adds.

It serves comfort food such as congee and noodles and a wide variety of Chinese dishes are served at its Michelin-starred restaurant, T’ang Court.

The Langham Hong Kong has included a shopping element, such as giving away Duty Free coupons, in many of its packages. It also develops marketing programmes and joint promotions with well-known retail outlets.

“Last but not least, we accept UnionPay credit cards. Guest folios can be presented in simplified Chinese upon request,” Chow says. “Our efforts are endorsed by the fact that TripAdvisor ranked us 13th and 19th in the Top 25 Hotels in China and Top 25 Hotels for Service in China, respectively, among over 68,000 hotels.”

One of the problems encountered by The Langham Hong Kong’s staff in dealing with many mainland guests is the short booking lead time.

“This market tends to try different luxurious hotels during their trips, so we have to work extra hard at converting them to become loyal to the Langham brand,” Chow says. “We are developing loyalty programmes, as well as value-added early-bird packages, to entice our mainland guests to return to our hotel.

“There’s also not much peripheral business from mainland guests. That’s why we are developing comprehensive packages to increase their overall spending at the hotel,” he adds.

At the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, 18 per cent of guests in 2011 were from China. In 2012, this grew to 25 per cent, says director of communications Cecilia Wong.

“This represents both corporate and leisure guests, although majority is from the leisure side. In previous years, most of our visitors have always come from the US and Europe. The percentage of guests from the mainland is growing fast. Honestly, we always thought it’s important, but now it has become even more important,” Wong says.

As part of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – the biggest hotel chain in China – the Grand Stanford rides on its parents’ deep marketing resources. It has rolled out promotions targeting premium card holders with the biggest credit card firms in China. It has also launched an e-store on Taobao Travel, a very popular online travel booking platform on the mainland.

The Grand Stanford Hong Kong is a regular at the China International Travel Mart, Asia’s biggest professional travel show. It also joins IHG roadshows in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

The hotel is popular among mainlanders, which is why its guest letters have always included a simplified Chinese version. All public announcements are also repeated in Mandarin.

“Our frontline staff are all fluent in Mandarin. We provide Mandarin training to all levels of staff, including operations. Cultural familiarisation is part of it as well,” Wong says.

A variety of mainland publications is displayed in the club lounge, business centre, and guest rooms. The hotel has likewise hired guest relation officers who are native Mandarin speakers.

“We always remind our people to be flexible and anticipate common requests, such as twin bedding and rooms on the same floor whenever guests come as a big family group. We usually pre-assign most of the twin-bed rooms to them before they arrive,” Wong says.

Front office staff have also been prepared to expect the unexpected. “The travel pattern of mainland visitors is usually not fixed. They come for one night, and then extend their stay. So for our people on the operations and sales side, it is sometimes difficult to meet their needs,” Wong adds.

Even the time of arrival is uncertain. “We cannot immediately assign rooms to them when we don’t know what time they’ll arrive and then they suddenly come in big groups. It’s a big challenge, but we still try to cater to as many as we can,” Wong says.

One of the hotel’s must-visit outlets is its Michelin-star restaurant, Hoi King Heen. “Mainland travellers still like to eat Chinese food when they come to Hong Kong. The Hoi King Heen has a lot of exposure in mainland publications and has really upgraded our hotel’s profile,” Wong says.

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