IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Global hotels look to woo Asian travelers

Hotels and hospitality groups are stepping up efforts to entice travelers from booming Asia by adapting menus, offering Chinese-language booking services and even Indian weddings.
/ Source: Reuters

Hotels and hospitality groups are stepping up efforts to entice travelers from booming Asia by adapting menus, offering Chinese-language booking services and even Indian weddings.

U.S. hospitality firm Carlson, which controls hotel group Rezidor, said there were around 3 million Chinese visits to Europe each year at present, compared with about half a million to the United States.

Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen said there were some estimates that the number of outbound Chinese travelers could reach more than 100 million a year over the course of the decade as personal wealth increases.

He said Starwood had recently launched a booking engine purely in Chinese and had made sure all of its marketing materials were in Chinese and English.

"We're making sure that in high-traffic destinations for Chinese travelers that we have local language capability," he told Reuters at the ITB travel fair in Berlin.

Carlson CEO Hubert Joly said cities such as London and Paris especially stood to gain from the influx of Chinese travelers.

"This is just the beginning. What's very exciting for all of us is the growth opportunity," he said.

Joly added the food and beverage selection was an area that hotel operators would have to work on, as customers from India, for example, prefer vegetarian food.

Carlson also owns restaurant chain TGI Friday's, and China is one of its key target markets as it expands.

"We have a team that is working on a strategy for China, which we believe requires adapting the menu and the concept. We'll be ready to launch later this year," Joly said.

Starwood's van Paasschen said he was taking lessons from when the Japanese outbound market took off in the 1980s.

"What we've certainly learned from the Japanese visitor visiting Hawaii is that there are things we can do in terms of service, breakfast, language, to make our guests feel more comfortable."

Starwood is also training hotel staff in European cities such as Venice and Frankfurt in how to throw Indian weddings in anticipation of increased visitors from the country, who tend to travel in large groups.

Britain's Intercontinental, whose brands include Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, said at its 2010 results last month it was planning to launch a brand especially for the Chinese market, which it estimates will overtake the U.S. market by 2025.

Van Paasschen said Starwood was not yet considering a Chinese brand as its Sheraton label was already strong in the country.

"Given the extraordinary growth there, it's not something I'd rule out either," he added.

Hilton Worldwide has been focusing on expanding outside the more mature U.S. market by adding hotels in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

"China and India clearly offer major growth," Chief Executive Christopher Nassetta said.

In 2007, only about 15 percent of Hilton's planned new hotels were outside the company's U.S. home market. By now, half of new projects are international. Among planned new hotels are the luxury Waldorf Astoria Shanghai On The Bund due to open in the second quarter of this year and the Conrad Dalian in China's Liaoning Province, which will open early next year.

Starwood's van Paasschen said China was its second biggest country at present in terms of hotels, with 70 already open and a further 85 in the pipeline.

Phoenix, Ariz.-based Best Western, the world's largest hotel chain with more than 4,000 hotels in 90 countries, also says financing for new hotels is easier in Asia.

"It's on a very fast growth track, almost straight up," CEO David Kong told Reuters. "There aren't a lot of hotels in Asia compared to Europe."