IHG's Zhou Dao caters to Chinese Travellers

>

Given that 2018 is the Canada-China Year of Tourism, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is catering to Canada's third largest incoming travel market — business and tourist travellers from China. 

Catering to this influx of
Chinese travellers, IHG implemented the “China-ready” program (“Zhou Dao”)
globally in 2015. In Canada, IHG now has five hotel properties with this program
including – InterContinental Toronto Centre, Candlewood Suites Calgary Airport North, Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre (Broadway) and most recently InterContinental Montreal.

Last year, Canada welcomed more than 750,000 Chinese tourists directly from China. Tourism Canada is looking at doubling that between now and 2021.

Beata Cieplik, InterContinental Hotels Group.

Beata Cieplik, InterContinental Hotels Group.

“We wanted to grow the potential of doing business and commercial exchange,” said Beata Cieplik, who was recently appointed regional vice-president Canada, Marketing Commercial & Revenue Management for IHG Canada. “The Chinese middle class has surpassed the U.S. middle class [in numbers], and they want to travel and explore the world. Canada has all the experiences they want — natural resources and other experiences they are looking for. The question is: what can hoteliers do better to make them more comfortable?

“We sat with our partners and asked, what is important for Chinese traveller abroad; what are the items they want? Then we encouraged all hotels to get onboard. For now, Chinese guests target Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, as those destinations offer direct flights from China.

“We currently have five accredited hotels in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, and it's up to the hotel to become accredited. Once they are accredited, it allows us to showcase the hotels in Mandarin. Key account directors in Asia then have access to the brochures, both digital and online.” Last month, IHG's sales team attended an international hotel show that provided direct access to buyers who do business with Chinese travellers,” said Cieplik.

The properties where Zhou
Dao is available to cater to the needs of Chinese travellers offer: Chinese-speaking staff at the front desk or via 24/7 phone support, acceptance
of China Union Pay cards, a welcome package, Chinese channels in guestroom TVs,
and Chinese food and beverage options.

According to a Destination
Canada report, Holiday Inn was identified as the number one recognized
hotel brand by Chinese travellers – all the more reason for IHG to invest in
the program.

Alexi Hakim, InterContinental Toronto Centre.

Alexi Hakim, InterContinental Toronto Centre.

“Toronto has a huge Chinese community. China increased travel here by five per cent in 2016/17 and it continues to increase this year,” said Alexi Hakim, general manager, InterContinental Toronto Centre, one of the five accredited hotels.

“Expenditures are up 11 per cent year over year, and Chinese visitors spend more than other visitors.”

Chinese speaking staff

“Having Chinese speaking staff available 24/7 is feasible because Canada is such a diversified country. In Canada, we are rich in people who have come from everyplace,” Cieplik said. 

Staff at the InterContinental Toronto Centre speak more than 40 different languages, said Hakim, adding that this is more than any hotel he has experienced. Fifteen associates speak Cantonese and Mandarin in various departments of the hotel.

Acceptance of Chinese Union Pay cards

“Most Chinese people don't have VISA, AmEx or MasterCard,” Cieplik noted. “They don't use money and they rarely use credit cards. The two most popular phone apps are WeChat and AliPay. Outside of the country, the only credit card they use is China Union Pay.  Eventually, as this emerging market grows, we will be looking at those other technologies [WeChat and AliPay] as well.”

“If we accept Union Pay, then they don't have to carry cash or worry about exchange rates,” added Hakim. 

Welcome package

The welcome package can cater to the guest's sweet tooth, and very often they will receive local-make chocolate — something very Canadian, said Cieplik, adding that many Chinese are very big foodies and are interested in anything regional such as icewine candies or chocolate.

“We provide Chinese welcome letters, breakfast vouchers and Internet instructions,” said Hakim.

Chinese channels in guest rooms

“We offer CCTV 4, which is fully in Mandarin; and Phoenix which broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese,” said Hakim. “They have Chinese themes, news  and game shows.”

Chinese food and beverage options

“Having Chinese and Asian menu items in the restaurants and available through room services, is important as well. In terms of being China-ready, food elements are close to their hearts. For breakfast, we can provide Dim Sum, noodles and Chinese green tea,” said Cieplik.

“For the Chinese, breakfast is a big meal. There are different types — kimchi, beef, seafood and plain steamed buns are normal staple items,” said Hakim. “Our kitchen is available to make traditional Chinese food with notice,” he added. 

“This is really unique to their travel experience,” Cieplik said. “They often come for three weeks and visit more than one city. They really appreciate the fact that they are in a foreign country, yet able to identify familiar items from their lives in China, such as a kettle so they can unwind and really enjoy their tea. And conversations in their own language make the experience much easier for them.”

“Staff are really excited about the program,” said Hakim. “We put every employee through a half-day training regarding Chinese customers, and have refresher courses once or twice a year. They have embraced it; it's something new, and they are glad we are on top of the game before other hotels are.

“The Chinese are excited as well. They feel at home with the amenities in the room, the food they have for breakfast, and because someone speaks their language, they can communicate freely,” Hakim said.

Initial results from the IHG Zhou Dao hotels indicate that Chinese guests are more satisfied when they stay at an accredited hotel. On average, IHG Zhou Dao accredited hotels show increased ROI versus non-Zhou Dao hotels.