Study: Urban hotels among Chinese travelers' preferences

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If you own a full-service hotel with a pool and dinner-buffet service in a European urban beach town, you're in luck, because one of the fastest-growing contingents of international travelers will likely be seeking you out.

China's outbound travelers, whose annual numbers are expected to grow to 100 million by 2020, from about 80 million last year, are big on urban hotels providing access to nearby beaches and/or shopping areas, Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research revealed in a report released last month. As for destinations, Europe and North America are the two regions where Chinese are most likely to increase visits, followed by Australia, according to the report, which cited responses from 51 China-based tour operators that specialize in outbound travel.

The results disclosed in the 26-page study are relevant to both travel professionals and lodging operators because China will account for the world's largest number of international travelers by the end of the decade. China's annual outbound tourism spending has quadrupled since 2005, to $85 billion, while the country will produce 25 million first-time travelers a year.

"Although Chinese outbound tourism is still in its infancy, the market is growing rapidly into a large, sophisticated group of consumers that is having ripple effects on hospitality industry around the world," Cornell reported.

Some of the world's largest hoteliers have already developed strategies for ways to attract this growing market. In 2011, Hilton Worldwide and Starwood Hotels and Resorts debuted their Huanying and Starwood Personalized Travel Program initiatives geared toward Chinese travelers. Hotels in popular U.S. cities added features such as in-room instant noodles and the porridge-type dish known as congee, as well as adding staff who could speak Mandarin.

Meanwhile, companies such as U.K.-based InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) are banking on a jump in travel within China by planning an upscale intra-country brand called Hualuxe. It will include such touches as tea houses, late-night noodle bars and lobby gardens.

IHG has said that Hualuxe — the name is a combination of the Chinese words for "majestic China" and "luxury" — would debut by 2014.

Some other features sought by Chinese travelers include the aforementioned pool and dinner-buffet service as well as nearby shopping areas, breakfast service and in-room coffee- and tea-making capabilities.

As for North American cities, New York is the most popular among China's outbound tourists, followed by Washington and Las Vegas. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver, all of which have substantial Chinese populations, also made the list of most popular North American destinations.

The United Nations' World Tourism Organization reported in January that international tourism arrival counts hit the 1 billion-person mark for the first time last year, largely because of increased travel by Chinese tourists. Among the world's largest 10 travel markets, China grew the fastest, with a 42% jump in outbound tourists last year, according to the organization.

"Chinese travel operators paint a picture of their clients as a focused group of travelers who seek to experience diverse aspects of the world's cultures on trips while also making the best possible use of the time available," the Cornell team reported. "Although China's outbound tourists have primarily been visiting nearby Pacific-region destinations, their target destinations are expanding to Europe and the United States, among other locations."
Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.

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