China is not just influencing the travel industry these days—the country is beginning to dictate it. And if you work in the travel industry and you’re not keeping abreast of the latest travel technology, you are doing yourself a disservice. According to the third annual Hotels.com Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM), published today, more than half of Chinese travelers surveyed said they now book their hotel room via the Internet or mobile apps, up from 45 percent in 2013. On top of that, just under half go through online accommodation websites and online review sites, and one-third even check social media during their trip planning process.
According to China Information Network Information Center, China now sports an Internet usage rate of 45.8 percent. That equates to 618 million Internet users, including 500 million mobile Internet users. More than 90 percent of these users reportedly have a social media account. That’s why it makes sense that free Wi-Fi is now the most important amenity for Chinese travelers (59 percent surveyed). Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) ask about free Wi-Fi when staying at hotels.
“We saw that Chinese travelers—as well as many other cultures—continue to increase their reliance on the Web—the importance of Wi-Fi, as well as mobile technologies,” said Taylor L. Cole, APR, Director of PR and Social Media for Hotels.com North America. “Keeping in mind, today’s travelers want to stay connected, they want to stay in sync with social media networks and they want to stay informed. Anything that hotels can do to help to keep them in closer contact is certainly a benefit.”
Hotels around the world are offering services specific to the Chinese traveler as a result. For example, Chinese travelers to Hilton Hotels & Resorts in Vancouver and Toronto are offered Chinese television programming in their hotel rooms. Hyatt Regency, Chicago, offers a Chinese TV channel. The dusitD2 Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, accommodates several different languages on its official website, including Mandarin (38 percent of those surveyed by Hotels.com said it’s very important for websites to accommodate the Mandarin language). And Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel recently promoted the chance to win free cash vouchers through China’s most popular microblogging service, San Weibo (for more on the scope of Weibo, check out these charts from the World Cup).
“For travelers in general, the special services like a Twitter concierge (are valued), where you would simply tweet your question to a certain (Twitter) handle and the hotel staff would respond back to you,” Cole said. “If you’re out at the beach or you’re enjoying the pool, then you can tweet your request to the hotel and they could come out and bring you your service. We’re finding that while these would be services that would be great for Chinese travelers, they’re also great for travelers in general.”
Cole highlighted Ritz-Carlton, as well as Mexico hotels in general, as being particularly exceptional when it comes to service through social media.
“Having all sorts of Chinese service options and having Chinese programming are things that can really make (Chinese travelers) feel at home, as well as the most important element of having that free Wi-Fi so they can stay connected,” Cole said.
A record 97 million Chinese traveled abroad in 2013, up 14 million from 2012, per China Daily. China represents the most travelers abroad and the biggest spending travel sector in the world since 2012. Of the 3,000 worldwide hoteliers surveyed by Hotels.com, more than half said they had seen an increase in the number of Chinese guests in the last 12 months, while 36 percent believe the increase in Chinese tourists is one of the factors that will have the biggest impact on their business in the next 12 to 24 months.
Also, consider this: No more than 5 percent of China’s population of 1.36 billion people has a passport, according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics report. The average mean spent per day amongst Chinese traveling abroad is over $1,000, per the CITM, and that figure is widely expected to rise in the coming years.
Cole pointed to U.S. cities such as New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco as being model cities in accommodating Chinese travelers.
“There are many factors driving the desire of the Chinese people to explore the world,” said Abhiram Chowdhry, vice president and managing director APAC of the Hotels.com brand. “The rising affluence of the growing middle class with higher disposable incomes, the upward trend in the numbers of repeat travelers, more relaxed visa conditions and improved local infrastructure are all dovetailing to expedite this growth. However, our report quantifies another factor: the rate at which technology is transforming the landscape of Chinese overseas travel.”