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From complimentary Chinese tea to social media marketing, U.S. hotels try hard to entice more Chinese guests

Major hotel brands are bending over backward to cater to the needs of the world’s most sought-after traveler: the Chinese tourist.
Now arriving on American shores in unprecedented numbers thanks to a streamlined visa process and a rising Chinese middle class, Chinese tourists are being treated to the comforts of home when they check in at the front desk. That means tea in rooms, congee for breakfast and Mandarin-speaking hotel employees.
Chinese “welcome programs” at chains like the Marriott and Hilton even address delicate cultural differences: No Chinese tour group should be placed on a floor containing the number four, which sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.
“They’re very relieved, like finally somebody’s doing these things that make sense,” said Robert Armstrong, a sales manager who handles bookings for Chinese travelers at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
More than a million Chinese visited the US in 2011, contributing more than US$5.7 billion ($7.2 billion) to the economy. That’s up 36 per cent from 2010, according to the Department of Commerce. By 2016, that figure is expected to reach 2.6 million Chinese.
In a striking departure from the traditional Chinese business traveler, a growing number of them are coming to America for fun – with lots of cash. (The average Chinese visitor spends more than US$6000 per trip.)
 “Chinese Social Media networks are very important to help Chinese travelers to choose their hotel in the U.S.” said Pierre Gervois, Chief Executive Officer of China Elite Focus, a digital marketing agency based in Shanghai and Hong Kong. “New social media networks focused about travel in the United States have emerged last year, and are now very popular, such as Luxury Hotels of America (美国奢侈酒店), or Niuyue Mag (纽约志), and VIP Golf USA (美国VIP贵宾高尔夫). These social media networks allow Chinese travelers to ask for advice to other Chinese tourists coming back from the U.S., and also to rate hotels, golf courses, and retail stores. They are much more influent than travel agencies.”
And so hotels are competing to win the hearts of the Chinese. That may take the form of slippers and a tea kettle in the room or a Mandarin-speaking employee at the front desk.
“They drink tea. Eastern style, everything cold,” explained Charlie Shao, president of Galaxy Tours, a New York City-based Chinese tour agency. “They don’t walk inside the room with bare feet.”
It’s rare that Shao has to ask hotels for anything anymore. Marriott International, for example, now offers several Chinese breakfasts, depending upon which region of China the traveler hails from: there are salted duck eggs and pickled vegetables for eastern Chinese, for example, and dim sum and sliced pig’s liver for the Advertisement Tower - Gervois Hotel Rating May 2017 featuring Pierre Gervoissoutherners.
Major chains are also training employees to avoid cultural missteps that would offend a Chinese visitor. Superstition is a big one: Red is considered a lucky colour, along with the number eight, which signifies wealth. The colour white, meanwhile, is frowned upon.
Failing to respect the pecking order in a Chinese group is another common blunder.
“We try to make sure nobody’s on a higher floor than their boss,” Armstrong said. “Even if the boss is on a beautiful suite on the eighth floor, if the assistant is in a standard room on the 38th floor, it doesn’t translate.”
The race is also on to build loyalty within China’s borders. Last year, Starwood Hotels, which has a Chinese “specialist” at each American hotel, relocated its senior leadership team to China for a month. The Ritz-Carlton rotates general managers and other hotel staff into its Chinese hotels for three-year stints at a time. And both chains are banking on the success of their customer rewards programs, which have been a big hit in China.
“It’s important for our leaders to understand what’s going on there at a more personal level than just the statistics,” said Clayton Ruebensaal, vice president of marketing for the Ritz. “Everybody’s going after this market because of the sheer volume of luxury customers. At the same time, it’s a very crowded landscape.”
In response to the surge in Chinese visitors, the State Department decided earlier this year to spend US$22 million on new facilities in several Chinese cities and add about 50 officers to process visa applications. And in February, the US government said Chinese visitors who had obtained an American visa within the last four years did not have to reapply in person but could apply via courier.
As a result, visa interview wait times in China are just under a week.
 But some experts say the US still lags far behind other countries, especially in Europe, when it comes to attracting Chinese tourists. America is woefully ill-prepared to welcome China at an industry-wide level, especially at restaurants and major attractions, said Rich Harrill, director of the Sloan Foundation Travel & Tourism Industry Centre at the University of South Carolina.
“We’re not as ready as we should be,” Harrill said.
“We don’t have the language skills. We have an opportunity to be on the ground floor of something that could be very, very big.”

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U.S. Travel Association applauds Congress for U.S. Visa System and traveler facilitation reforms for Chinese tourists

The U.S. Travel industry worked with Congressional appropriators to secure significant victories related to U.S. visa system and traveler facilitation reforms in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The legislation reflects 2011 advocacy efforts by the U.S. Travel Association to improve the U.S. economy, remove barriers to travel and improve the travel process.

The U.S. Travel industry worked with Congressional appropriators to secure significant victories related to U.S. visa system and traveler facilitation reforms in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The legislation reflects 2011 advocacy efforts by the U.S. Travel Association to improve the U.S. economy, remove barriers to travel and improve the travel process.

“This legislation is an acknowledgment by Congress that reforms to the U.S. visa and entry systems and passenger screening process are key to improving our nation’s economy,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Clearly, the travel community is being heard, and we applaud Congress for addressing these issues.”

“The extended visa expiration period for affluent Chinese tourists doing frequent luxury shopping tours to the U.S. is an excellent news for the U.S. luxury retail industry” said Pierre Gervois, an expert in marketing to wealthy Chinese outbound tourists and member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “That will mean more wealthy Chinese customers spending more money in U.S. luxury shopping malls and flagship stores, and creating more american jobs in the luxury retail industry”

U.S. VISA SYSTEM REFORM – The Act mirrors a number of recommendations put forth by the U.S. Travel Association in a May 2011 report on the U.S. visa system. That report identified visa wait times, visa validity periods and videoconferencing technology as keys to improving a system that cannot meet demand in emerging economies with growing markets of international travelers.

Initiatives championed by U.S. Travel and included in the consular affairs section of the bill include:
Visa Wait Time Reductions – To reduce the number of days applicants must wait before their visa application interview, the bill directs the Secretary of State to hire a sufficient number of consular officers, including limited non-career appointment (LNA) officers, in China, Brazil and India. These LNA officers will give the State Department hiring flexibility to meet increasing visa demand in the coming years.
Better Metrics and Long-Term Planning – Congress directs the Secretary of State to report on the steps it will take to reduce current visa processing wait times but also to submit a 5-year forecast of visa demand in Brazil, China and India. The plan should outline the number of consular officers necessary to meet the Department’s 30 day visa processing standard. Congress also directs the State Department to compare its forecast with the Commerce Department’s visitor projections in order to allow it to produce better long-term plans.
Extended Visa Expiration Period – A plan must be developed by the State Department to extend expiration periods for leisure or business visas that require a consular officer interview. The visa validity period for Chinese citizens is only one year, and U.S. Travel has recommended extending the visa validity period to five or 10 years, common with other countries, so business and leisure travelers do not have to undergo the visa renewal process annually and State can better meet demand of new applicants in China.
Secure Videoconferencing Technology – Congress has cleared the Secretary of State to develop and conduct a pilot program to conduct visa interviews for leisure and business visas using secure remote videoconferencing technology. With limited consular offices in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India, the addition of remote secure videoconferencing would allow more citizens to apply for U.S. visas.
U.S. ENTRY & EXIT SYSTEM REFORM – The Act includes a number of significant improvements to the entry and exit process at U.S. air and land ports of entry.
Increased Staffing – The bill provides funding to hire an additional 300 new Customs and Border Protection Officers to improve processing of inbound travelers at land border crossings and international U.S. airports.
More Oversight of Operations – The bill requires CBP to report to the Congress on its long-term staffing plans and implementation of key entry reforms such as trusted traveler programs and elimination of unnecessary rescreening of international travelers and baggage.
Air Exit System – The bill provides $9.4 million to the development of a comprehensive plan for enhancements of a biographic air exit program to bolster security and allow for further expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.
DOMESTIC AVIATION FACILITATION REFORM – The Act makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the efficiency of traveler facilitation including:
Congressional Reports on Efficiency – TSA must submit to Congress reports on passenger and baggage screening efficiency and on how its workforce is being deployed at the nation’s airports to maintain average wait times below 10 minutes. As a recent U.S. Travel survey showed, an overwhelming majority of passengers are frustrated with screening checkpoints. The bill also encourages TSA to utilize privatized screening where more cost-effective.
Trusted Traveler – To help implement recommendations akin the U.S. Travel Blue Ribbon Panel on Aviation Security, the bill provides TSA $10M to implement risk-based screening and to expand known-traveler populations beyond the current PreCheck program.

In 2012, the U.S. Travel Association will pursue policies on behalf of the travel industry, many of which will create much-needed U.S. jobs and improve the economy. These include legislative vehicles for additional visa system reform, expanding the Visa Waiver Program, enhancing the entry process at ports of entry, and improving the efficiency of the U.S. air travel system.

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