Hotel rooms in Hong Kong were snapped up fast for this year's Chinese "Golden Week" holiday, with the occupancy rates having reached over 70%, according to Caspar Tsui Ying Wai, executive director of Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners. The ones near popular tourist destinations including Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui saw the greatest number of hotel bookings, said Tsui.
Apart from the travel destination, the choice of hotels has become an increasingly important part of travel among Chinese tourists. According to Finn Partners' report titled Outbound Rebound 2023 - The Return of Chinese Travellers, 86% of affluent Chinese travellers chose a destination first before selecting the hotel or resort in 2019. Today, that number is down to 77%, said the report.
Furthermore, a brand’s portfolio is becoming a deciding factor among savvy travellers, as 16% choose to plan their vacations around locations where their favourite hotel brand has a property, versus 11% in 2019. This is particularly evident in the 21 to 25 year-old age bracket (26% versus 16% on average).
Commenting on the trend, Alan Lui, VP and head of Shangri-La Circle said the pandemic escalated the demand for hotels that can offer an end-to-end experience for holidays, and these have become more popular with Chinese travellers. “Chinese families and Gen Z travellers are particularly prioritising experiential travel rather than focusing purely on destinations...They want to spend as much of their vacation at the hotel or resort without missing out on well-rounded experiences, including rooms, dining, wellness, and family-themed activities,” he added.
Agreeing with him was Philip Chau, VP and head of marketing, Regals International, who said hotels have now become destinations in themselves and provide a wide range of experiences above and beyond the traditional stay and dine.
Over the past few years of the pandemic, hotels have been trained to come up with creative and immersive experiences, which often impress and surprise customers.
The objectives of travelling also matter, according to Chau. "If tourists' objective is to relax or de-stress, then a hotel experience can already provide what they need. If their objective is to try something different, something premium that they normally would not try, then a brand hotel experience will fulfil their needs. If their objective is to show off their experience on their social media, then a brand hotel experience provides them with the value that they are looking for," he added.
The key for hotel brands to stand out from the crowd
With the choice of hotel now playing a more important role in travellers' decision-making processes, how hotel brands can stand out is also a million-dollar question. Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer, APAC at Marriott International said today’s luxury travellers are looking for personalised, thoughtful and uniquely meaningful experiences that allow them to discover and experience the true essence of a place.
Taking the recent debut of Ritz-Carlton in Melbourne as an example, Buiring said the hotel celebrates Australia’s ancient stories and vibrant cultures through its curated artworks. "Every evening, a cultural soundscape maps the city’s story and combines the beat and rhythm of the country’s past, present, and future," he added.
Apart from revamping its existing properties and services to meet and exceed the needs of customers, Shangri-La Circle’s Lui said the hotel has been making an effort to enhance guest experience across all aspects of its hotels, including hotel design, guestroom features, gastronomy, wellness, and bespoke programmes.
A hotel needs to offer something unique to really stand out, which is why Shangri-La leverages the resources available in each hotel’s destination to create bespoke, authentic experiences for customers.
Brand reputation and creativity are also key, according to Regals’ Chau. “People are now looking into social media, online forums, and the surrounding community to gain their perception of a brand. This is where marketing comes in. For the China audience, brands need to ensure they talk to them in a relevant language in the relevant channels such as Xiaohungshu,” he said.
He added that hotels that are able to come up with creative and innovative ideas can draw the attention and interest of consumers. “This extends to creating unique partnerships with local brands and attractions, to further build up on the brand and link back to the city’s elements.”
Travellers are looking for inspiring perspective
On the agency front, Yvonne Ma, founder and managing director of travel marketing agency Eighty20, said telling a good brand story and creating a personal and emotional connection between the brand and its target audience are factors to consider. “People choose hotel brands which not only simplify choices and guarantee quality, but the ones which also add fun and interest, while providing aspirations and dreams for consumers.”
If I were to choose a hotel brand, I would look at the hotel’s brand ability to deliver under pressure, the willingness to do what is right than it is expedient. Just the way we judge a person’s character by his/her past performance and the way he/she thinks and acts in both good times, and especially bad.
Agreeing with her view was Jenny Lo, managing partner, China, CatchOn from Finn Partners, a marcomms consultancy specialising in leisure, lifestyle and travel. Lo said travellers’ always look for moments they can capture through cameras, stories they can bring home, and memories they can cherish. “For hotels looking to drive destination success, they need to offer an inspiring perspective to a destination. Integrating its brand essence with destination inspiration in a harmonious manner, and creating compelling stories around it are keys to standing out,” she added.
Sometimes, inspirations come with emotional and spiritual engagement. David Ko, managing director of RFI Asia said apart from an instagrammable infinity pool with a swim-up bar, fancy room service, or a beautiful lounge are all nice amenities, hotel brands must seek to fortify the emotional connection with their guests and build a long-term relationship with them to become the top choice when it comes to travel accommodation.
"A good way to engage with customers is through brand-led destination experiences. For example, hotels can provide guests with recommended travel tips and personalised itinerary suggestions before and during their stay. A great portfolio of different activities directly provided by the hotel can also be a huge appeal point when choosing a hotel to stay at," Ko added.
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