The art of hiring a Chinese Market Sales Manager for a CVB, by Pierre Gervois

Recruiting a Sales and Marketing Manager for the Chinese inbound market may be a tricky task for U.S. hotels, CVB’s and destination management companies. Luring Chinese consumers is never easy, but naive missteps can be avoided.

In July 2009, an average of one article per day about the surge of Chinese inbound tourists in the United States was posted on Twitter. By November 2009, there were three articles per day, and in March 2010, more than ten new articles per day were posted about this subject. Every day, all over the country, major hotel chains, luxury boutique hotels, holiday resorts and budget hotels suddenly realize that luring a few of the 50 million Chinese outbound tourist should be a crucial part of their financial salvation in recession and post-recession times. Taking into consideration that the United States is the number one “dream destination” according to the 2007 Travel Industry Association Research Report on China1, and the fact that only 400,000 Chinese tourists actually visited the U.S. in 2009, it’s easy to imagine the impact for the entire hospitality and tourism industry once the flux of Chinese tourist will have reached its natural level — anticipated to be a minimum of one million visitors per year.

Thanks to the realistic approach of the U.S. General Consulates in China, and particularly in Shanghai, the issuance of tourist visas has been recently simplified and accelerated for Chinese tourists travelling in groups and individually. For each hotel and resort of the United States, and particularly in the four states of California, Nevada, New York and Florida, the bottom line challenge is how to convince Chinese travelers to choose their hotel over another.

Just counting on the presence into Chinese hotel booking engines is like finding a particular grain of sand in the bottom of the Chinese Sea. The probability that a Chinese tourist — or a Chinese travel agent– specifically picks your hotel when preparing his travel online is close to zero. The fact is that these outbound travel booking engines are just bourgeoning in China and won’t have the necessary maturity, reputation and exposure to be meaningful for another two to three years. They can’t yet be considered an efficient marketing tool.

In most cases, the most proactive and efficient solution is to recruit a dedicated sales and marketing manager in charge of this promising, largely untapped and fast-growing Chinese market. This manager can be located at the hotel (for small / medium size hotels), or, for major hotel chains or big resorts, being an expatriate (or a local employee) located in China in a representative office. The job description requirements generally follows this pattern:

-Implementing marketing strategies in China to lure the new generation of affluent Chinese outbound tourists preparing a holiday trip to the U.S.
-Developing relations with Chinese outbound travel agencies, mostly located in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou
-Building the hotel’s brand image in China
-Doing Public Relations with Chinese journalists writing in Chinese
outbound travel magazines
-And, last but not least, understanding the behavior and expectations of
Chinese travelers to the U.S. when they select a hotel

Which profile fits the best with these arduous tasks? Here are the profiles Human Resources departments think are the best and actually recruit on a preferential basis, according to our experience and examples taken in many hotels, CVB’s and Destination Management Companies within the U.S.:

-A candidate who has learned Chinese language at university
-An American Born Chinese (ABC) person
-A Chinese citizen (in many cases a former Chinese intern)
-Generally junior people

This kind of profile springs from two basic myths: that having a Chinese background is an advantage, and that youth is an asset. Having Chinese origins and/or speaking Chinese language are neither advantages nor disadvantages for this kind of position. They are just irrelevant criteria. We have often seen hotels that have recruited a “Chinese Market Sales Manager” on the sole criteria that the candidate was a Chinese citizen, despite having no previous experiences in travel, tourism, or marketing. China Elite Focus has seen also some candidates with no Chinese or Asian origins even specifiy on their resume the fact that their spouse is Chinese, or that they “like Chinese food” hoping that it will positively influence the recruiter! It is striking to see how many recruiters in the hospitality industry still commit
these kind of naïve mistakes today.

According to China Elite Focus‘ five years expertise in assisting various hotels, golf resorts and incoming travel agencies to recruit Chinese Market Managers, good recruiting criteria should be based on the following three golden rules.

Rule #1 : Recruit a candidate at least 30 years old
First of all, this position is not for junior, inexperienced people. Negotiation with Chinese outbound travel agencies to sell the hotel and convincing a Chinese Editor-in-Chief to publish a story about a resort in a travel magazines require experience and judgment that comes with field experience. Moreover, Chinese people prefer to discuss business with senior western people rather than freshmen. Shanghai is full of these young expatriates, who are cut into pieces during negotiations with Chinese senior business people. The process may be effective field training for the young recruits, but a disaster for their employers.

Rule #2: Recruit a candidate with a previous field experience in China, even if he/she has never worked before in travel or tourism industry
Having field experience in China is essential. The ideal candidate should have a minimum of three to five years proven track record of field experience in China. That experience should include demonstrated negotiation abilities with Chinese businesspeople and Chinese officials, preferably in the industries of Hospitality, Travel, Consumer Goods, Retail, Wine & Spirits, Entertainment, Luxury goods, or Media.

Rule #3: Take in consideration exclusively the professional business background of the candidate in China, not his ethnicity, nationality, or fluency in Chinese
The nationality, ethnic profile or fluency in Chinese language, so often mistakenly valued by recruiters, are not relevant criteria in any way. Candidates from any nationality or any ethnic profile, Asian or not, can master and understand the marketing strategies which actually work in China. We have witnessed examples of highly talented people from all over the world, some speaking Chinese, some not at all, who had obtained awesome results in China because of their personal talent.

The counter-argument we often hear is “Speaking Chinese is absolutely necessary to undertake marketing operations in China.” The fact is that having studied ancient Chinese poems of the Song Dynasty, though remarkably interesting for the pleasure of the mind, does not translate into marketing and sales abilities in the fast-changing China of the 21st century. For a sales and marketing executive in charge of the Chinese market, working in team with a Chinese translator and interpreter is the best solution, and gives the best operational results. That is what really matters.

Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Limited.

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