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When visitors from China enter their room at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel, they are greeted with a Chinese tea set, pillowcases monogrammed with “Welcome” in Chinese, and a handwritten note, in Chinese, from guest relations agent Tiffany Li.
The hotel is certified “China-ready” by the Preferred Hotel Group, which runs 249 hotels and resorts in the United States.
The programme was launched last month, with guests from China in mind, and hotels are advised to follow a 25-item checklist with pointers such as “provide porcelain soup spoon”.
Group executive vice-president of Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa Ananya Narayan says China is a “key focus market”.
With the number of tourists from China shooting up, hotels, retailers and tour operators have doubled efforts to please this group — from expanding Chinese options at the breakfast buffet to inviting a city’s mayor to speak to these guests.
In 2012, China was ranked the seventh largest international market for travellers to the US, behind Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan, Germany and Brazil. Last year about two million Chinese visited.
By 2021, China is projected to be No.3, trailing only Canada and Mexico — with more than 4.8 million Chinese expected annually.
In New York City alone, their number jumped 20 per cent from 541,000 in 2012 to 646,000 last year, said Chris Haywood, senior vice-president of communications at NYC & Company, an organisation which promotes the city. Its tourist information booths scattered around the city have three Cantonese speakers and one Mandarin speaker to assist visitors.
Independent tour operator CTN Tours says it has a separate reservation department for the China market, with two Mandarin speakers.
Retailers and hotels are hiring Mandarin speakers too.
Language aside, the tourism industry is also hoisting in cultural nuances.
At the Pacific Palm Resort in California, for example, the eighth floor is mostly reserved for Chinese guests because the Chinese consider eight an auspicious number. The rooms come with Chinese teapots and cups, slippers, noodles and signage.
The Preferred Hotel Group advises front-desk staff to avoid putting Chinese guests on the fourth floor, as four is considered “unlucky”. And because hierarchy matters in Chinese organisations, senior managers should be allocated better rooms on higher floors than subordinates.
Hotels have also prepared their staff to expect the Chinese tourists not to tip — there is no tipping culture in China.
Mr Rob Palleschi, the global head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, said it covered tipping in a resource guide on Chinese visitors, pointing out that the lack of a tip is not a reflection on the service provided.
“We explain that many of our Chinese guests may be travelling abroad for the first time and may not be familiar with tipping customs,” he said.
Cecilia Chen, 29, a brand manager, said she and her husband travelled from Shanghai to Las Vegas in 2011 and joined 1,000 Chinese tourists for a special Chinese New Year dinner at MGM Resorts’ Monte Carlo hotel.
“The Las Vegas mayor gave a speech to welcome us, and we even saw a dragon dance,” she said. “I hardly see it in Shanghai now.”
She returned to Las Vegas with her mother about a year ago to find shops with Mandarin-speaking staff and restaurants offering Chinese translations of their menus.
Carl Winston, the director of the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University, said that while the industry has awoken to the needs of Chinese tourists, this is just a transitional period.
“Over time, the Chinese traveller will become more sophisticated, and there will be less need to cater (specially) to them,” he added.