Hilton's Huanying Chinese traveler program is delivering real results because it taps into the emotional needs of guests who place a high priority on things like tea and slippers.
Hilton Worldwide announced yesterday that it’s expanding the global scope of its four-year-old Huanying program, which will now provide added amenities for Chinese travelers at 110 Hilton properties in 30 countries worldwide.
“Huan ying” roughly means “welcome” in Mandarin. It symbolizes the spirit of hospitality that many hotel brands are developing to attract the booming numbers of Chinese middle class tourists anxious to explore outside their country, estimated to grow from 100 million people today to over 200 million by 2020.
Hilton reports that bookings for rooms with Huanying amenities grew 15.3% in 2014 over the previous year.
Those amenities include an in-room welcome note written in Simplified Chinese, tea kettles, jasmine tea, slippers, Mandarin television channels, and Mandarin interpretation services at the front desk. If there isn’t a Mandarin-speaking associate employed at the hotel, the front desk calls a live translator, available through a Hilton partnership with translations.com, who can broker a conversation between the guest and staff member.
Special Chinese breakfast dishes include congee, fried rice, fried noodles, dim sum, hard boiled eggs, Chinese tea, soy milk and other items, including chopsticks.
This week in conjunction with the announcement of the expansion, Hilton invited a small group of Chinese journalists and entrepreneurs to San Francisco to tour a variety of Hilton hotels and meet with Rob Palleschi, global head, full service brands; and Jon Scofield, senior director, program management/analytics; at Hilton Worldwide.
We spoke with the two Hilton executives and one of the Chinese visitors, Mr. Leo Lee, via a Mandarin-speaking interpreter.
“The primary focus of Huanying is to make Chinese travelers feel at home and welcome, because we’re seeing the trend from regimented group delegations with a tour operator coming out of China toward more individual travelers inbound to the United States and many other countries,” says Palleschi.
Scofield adds, “We’re going to have a lot more Chinese travelers in the coming years, and I think the U.S. in particular is going to see a disproportionate percentage of that because we’re a preferred destination for them. We’re also going to see them staying longer and diving deeper into the cities to get that local experience.”
To promote the Huanying program to Chinese travelers in China, Palleschi says there’s significant print and digital signage at all of the Hilton brand properties throughout the country explaining how select international Hilton hotels are catering to their unique travel preferences.
Hilton pushes out Huanying messaging on WeChat, and it has partnered with Chinese celebrities and brands on Weibo to drive exposure around the program. There’s also a dedicated Hilton Worldwide Chinese website produced in Mandarin.
“And we’re using a lot of search engine marketing to drive people to the Chinese website…, so we’re really trying to highlight these properties much more than we have in the past,” says Scofield.
He also notes that Hilton properties participating in the Huanying program see a 5-10% jump in guest satisfaction surveys among Chinese travelers over non-participating hotels.
Palleschi summed up saying, “Huanying is just one more of these initiatives that I hope spreads across the industry. Because the better we take care of the Chinese consumer, the more they’re going to travel to the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere, and the longer they’re going to stay in our markets.”
Speaking with Mr. Lee, who was visiting San Francisco this week from Beijing, his translator told us that the things he likes most about the Huanying program are the welcome note in Mandarin from the general manager, and the availability of noodles, hot water and chopsticks. He especially liked that the chopsticks were covered in red wrapping.
When asked why he might use the translation service, Lee said it would come in useful if he had any questions about technology or where to shop for souvenirs in the immediate neighborhood.
So then we asked Lee if he would like to have a list written in Mandarin in his room, or on the hotel website, detailing places to shop in the area. Lee seemed quite excited about that possibility, with his translator saying effusively, “Yes, definitely.”
We also asked if there were any certain cultural customs that Western hotel associates should be aware of when engaging with Chinese travelers, or any particular mannerisms that might be considered extra polite or rude. Lee’s translator replied, “No, not really.”
Lastly, we questioned Lee about what Hilton could do to improve the Huanying program.
He told his translator first that he was impressed with the level of service at the Hilton hotels in San Francisco that he visited. Lee also said Hilton is well recognized in China and that makes it much more attractive for Chinese travelers visiting a foreign country.
However, he mentioned, he would have liked one or two more pairs of slippers in his Hilton room, as is customary back home. One pair each for the bathroom, bedroom and living room.
Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at [email protected].
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Photo credit: Chinese outbound travelers are expected to rise to 200 million people by 2020. Hilton Worldwide