Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Gearing up to address China's rising outbound tourism

By Martin Rinck, Special for CNN
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A Chinese tourist takes a photo in Thailand using a smartphone.
A Chinese tourist takes a photo in Thailand using a smartphone.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Martin Rinck: More and more Chinese are traveling around the world
  • A more nuanced understanding of the cultural and social backgrounds of Chinese travelers is needed
  • China's large outbound tourism numbers make it challenging for industry to adapt at equal pace

Editor's note: Martin Rinck is the President, Asia Pacific for Hilton Worldwide. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. This month's episode of On China with Kristie Lu Stout focuses on China's outbound tourism and airs for the first time on Thursday, May 29, 4.30pm Hong Kong/Beijing time. For all viewing times and more information about the show please click here.

(CNN) -- If you are noticing as you travel that more fellow travelers are Chinese, you are not wrong in your observation.

It is estimated that almost 100 million Chinese traveled out of China in 2013 with this number expected to reach 200 million by 2018. These staggering figures can be attributed to China's growing middle class, more annual leave, easier visa applications to more countries and increased air travel routes to overseas destinations.

Today the United States is the top destination for Chinese travelers, followed by several Asian destinations, with Italy, France and Australia also featuring high on the list. As the Chinese take more trips overseas, their booking methods, preference for group size and the types of experiences they desire are also shifting rapidly.

China now has more than 618 million Internet users, about 80% of whom access the Web via their smartphones. So it is not surprising that the technology-savvy Chinese are increasingly booking more travel online. Guided tours remain popular, but group sizes are shrinking and more are opting for individual travel, with the younger generation gradually choosing "adventure" travel.

Shopping is still a priority for Chinese travelers, and this is evident as the item most often left behind in rooms occupied by Chinese guests are old pieces of luggage, presumably because they have upgraded to newer and branded ones to accommodate shopping items. However, "seeing the world" and "experiencing life" are growing aspirations as they explore new lands.

Based on these trends and developments, the travel and hospitality trade must recognize that a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the cultural and social backgrounds of Chinese travelers, as well as the operational aspects of dealing with the rise of Chinese tourism, is not only fundamental, but absolutely necessary across the sector.

From the perspective of a leading global hospitality company providing a "home away from home" for travelers, we have to be even more attuned to the unique qualities of each nationality, Chinese travelers included.

In 2011, recognizing China's rising outbound tourism, we launched a program called Hilton "Huanying," which means "welcome" in Chinese. Hotels in our portfolio in the Huanying program offer Chinese-speaking front office staff, amenities such as teapots and slippers in guest rooms, Chinese-language TV channels and a range of traditional Chinese dishes such as congee, noodles and dim sum on the breakfast buffet.

While we believe these are steps in the right direction, we are also aware that a lot more can be done to understand and court this fast-growing demographic. As much as the Chinese seek distinct experiences as they travel, we too must recognize that practices such as tipping and queuing are not as common in Chinese culture.

And therein lies an opportunity for us as a hospitality company to play an active role in the educational process. For instance, Chinese guests staying at our Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort are fascinated with the coral formations around the resort, and sometimes try to bring a piece back as a souvenir. Our resort team members receive cultural training that enables them to then educate their Chinese guests on the length of time coral takes to form and the fragility of the formations, and hence the importance of leaving them in their natural state.

To put things into context, there was a comparable phenomenon years ago when other nationalities such as Americans and Japanese embarked on international travel, and went through similar "growing pains." However, the sheer size of China's population is such that when even 1% of the population travels, that is a huge number of people and as such their traits and behaviors are amplified, and inevitably more obvious.

Ultimately though, it is a receptiveness to understand, coupled with mutual respect that endear people to learn from one another.

We also firmly believe that to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese outbound traveler, we first need to build up strong brand equity within China itself. Being familiar with what a brand has to offer provides a level of trust and comfort to Chinese travelers as they venture further and further afield.

I will not deny that the sheer size of China's outbound tourism numbers, combined with the speed at which travelers' tastes are changing, make it challenging for those in the travel or hospitality trade to adapt at an equal if not faster pace. But frankly, to not do so is at the peril of your business.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:57 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
Over 200 Chinese villagers in Sichuan province have signed a petition to banish a HIV-positive eight-year-old boy, state media reported.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
updated 12:03 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
updated 7:21 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
updated 12:42 AM EST, Sat December 6, 2014
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
updated 3:26 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
updated 1:48 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
updated 3:55 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
updated 8:53 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT