hotel amenities

Hotels court Chinese tourists with tea & special amenities

steaming-cup

For U.S. hotels hoping to attract big-spending Chinese travelers, it may start with learning to say “Nin Hao” but it’s also about knowing the lucky numbers, unlucky colors, and which carafes to order for the coffeemakers.

The staff at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel recently got a crash course in how to welcome some of Amway China’s 1,500 guests who won incentive sales trips to New York City in April.

“We replaced the carafes so these guests could make tea each morning,” said Kathleen Duffy, Marriott International’s Market Director of Public Relations/NYC. “And we brought in Terri Morrison, author of ‘Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands,’ to give a course for managers to learn all the cultural things we need to be aware of.”

From the days when its only Chinese visitors were high government officials, the Marquis had already assigned names (Royal, Pinnacle, etc.) to presidential suites on the 44th and 45th floors, because the number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese culture.

But now that many more Chinese citizens are heading to the United States on business and leisure trips, Marriott International hotels, as well as Starwood, Hilton and many other lodging brands, are working harder to boost brand recognition and make the hotel visit a more important part of the Chinese tourist’s visit.

The target market is big – and getting bigger.

In 2013, an estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the United States. For 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries expects that number to rise by 21 percent, to more than 2.1 million, with increases of about 20 percent per year through 2018.

Los Angeles and New York City received the most Chinese tourists in 2012, according to the Department of Commerce. And in the New York region alone, Marriott has seen a 17 percent growth in 2013 over 2012 for the Chinese market, according to Robert Ambrozy, Marriott International Sales Director for the New York City region.

On an internal website for its associates, Marriott International provides tips and guidelines for properties to use to “customize, personalize and cater to the Chinese traveler.”

The suggestions are separated into categories that include pre-arrival, food and beverage, guest amenities, concierge, and things to avoid, such as writing a guest’s name in red ink – which signifies death in Chinese culture.

The number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture, so standing out to a Chinese guest “can be as simple as what the Chicago Marriott Oak Brook did, which was to put eight chocolate coins and candy in a small mesh bag with an attached welcome note,” said Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Markets and Alliances for Marriott International.

In Chicago, tourism growth from Asian markets was up more than 30 percent in 2012; twice the national average, according to Choose Chicago.

That led the Hyatt Regency Chicago to create a “Nin Hao” welcome program which makes sure Chinese guests checking into their room find bathrobes and slippers, tea kettles with special teas and tea cups, a welcome letter, maps and information brochures in Chinese and a Chinese TV channel.

hyatt nin hao menu

 

The hotel also tries to insure a Mandarin-speaking employee is available and, in addition to having translation technology such as iPad and iPhone translation apps handy, maintains a 24-hour hotline to a Mandarin-speaking translator.

Overall, in 2012, Chinese visitors to the U.S. spent $8.8 billion, nearly $6,000 per visit, according to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group.

Nightly room rates in New York City and Los Angeles can be quite pricey, but not all that money was spent at hotels.

Shopping, dining, sightseeing, visiting museums and spending time at amusement and theme parks are among the top activities participated in by Chinese visitors to the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

And while right now only about 4 percent of all outbound Chinese travelers head for the United States, “it’s a burgeoning market and, beyond hotels, there are companies and destination adapting their products and services to these new clients,” said Greg Staley, Vice Presidents of Communications at the U.S. Travel Association.

It’s a new market for many destinations around the country and a vast opportunity to grow the U.S. economy,” he said.

(My story about U.S. Hotels Courting Chinese Tourist first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Beer for dogs: newest hotel amenity

Some travelers choose a hotel for the complimentary continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi. If dogs ruled the world, they might choose a pet-friendly inn where the welcome amenities include a bottle (or two) of dog-friendly beer.

Bowser Beer — a malty, non-alcoholic brew that replaces hops with chicken or beef broth — was cooked up by Jenny Brown of 3 Busy Dogs in 2008 as something to go with the peanut-butter pretzels (Bowser Bits) she’d been marketing for pooches.

“Some people give the beer to their dogs with ice or poured over a bowl of dog food. But lots of dogs drink it right out of the plastic bottle,” Brown said.

Bowser Beer is stocked at many pet shops in six-packs, but Brown says many pet-friendly restaurants and bars have added the product to the menu for their “Yappy Hours.” Now the FireSky Resort and Spa — a Kimpton Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz. — and some of the more than 25,000 “pet-friendly” lodgings listed on sites, such as BringFido and in the AAA PetBook, are tucking the beer into amenity kits handed to guests checking in with their pets.

At the boutique Le Parc Suite Hotel in Hollywood, Calif., pets receive a welcome note signed by pet relations director, Bella (a Boston Terrier), as well as a kit that includes water and food bowls, a pet-friendly magazine and a bottle of Bowser Beer.

“Beer for dogs is a cool product,” said Barry Podob, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “And adding it to our welcome kit gives us a competitive edge over other hotels. The payoff is that we’re known as a very pet-friendly hotel.”

Offering an amenity that shows customers that your hotel “gets it” can “grab a potential guest’s attention,” said Katie Davin, director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. “And a special amenity such as Bowser Beer or Westin’s Heavenly Dog Bed may be a differentiator.”

In microbrew-crazy Portland, Ore., the pet-friendly Hotel Monaco includes Bowser Beer in its special pet-package rates and offers it on the complimentary menu during nightly hosted wine hours, where dogs are welcome.

“We see pets as an extension of our guests, so we do everything we can to make them as welcome and comfortable as possible,” said general manager Craig Thompson. “The dogs like it and the owners like that we make that extra special effort to welcome their pet to the hotel.”

(My story about hotels offering beer for dogs as an amenity first appeared on NBC News Travel)

Hotels dispensing with tiny bathroom amenities

I’m a lucky duck and have been staying at some really posh hotels lately. Not just posh in terms of price and number of pillows; but posh in terms of properties where the staff is truly friendly, helpful and attentive to details that can really count when you’re out on the road.

Like the handful of bite-size end-of-the-day chocolates I was given when I checked into a Staybridge Hotel earlier this week in Elkhart, Indiana. And the complimentary pot of strong coffee that showed up outside my door at 6 am at an Omni Hotel in Indianapolis, even though I only signed up for the free program that offers that amenity (and free Wi-Fi) the night before.

Are those amenities more important than having a complete set of personal-sized toiletries in your bathroom? Take a look at my Well-Mannered traveler column – Hotels dispensing with bathroom clutter – on msnbc.com this week, vote in the survey and let me know what you think. Here’s the story:

(Courtesy RoomsService Amenities)

You arrive at a luxury hotel, check in and let yourself into your room. But something is missing.

Bathrobe? Check.

Minibar? Check.

High thread count bed sheets? Check.

King size bed with five – or is that six?– pillows. Those amenities are all there.

What about the bathroom? The counter seems sort of bare. You pull back the shower curtain, and what the …?

You’ve ended up in one of the upscale hotels doing away with tiny shampoo bottles and miniature bars of bath soap and installing push-button dispensers instead.

Standard in many budget hotel chains across the U.S. and Europe, amenities dispensers in luxe hotels strike some frequent travelers as tacky and unsanitary. “Seems cheap to me,” says software trainer Melissa Odom, who spends about 200 nights a year in hotels. “I’d think, ‘Ick, whose hands have been on this?’ ”

Other travelers notice, but don’t seem to mind. “I don’t particularly like them,” says travel planner Sheri Doyle, “but I appreciate the environmental reasons for doing it.”

Pat Maher, the green consultant for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, predicts amenities dispensers will be the norm within five years. “Right now, half a million of those little shampoo bottles end up in landfills every day. Hotels that say they’re eco-friendly establishments and doing all those things they do with the greening of their hotels … will start getting complaints if people stay at their hotels and they don’t have soap dispensers.”

Maher says properties currently testing or installing bathroom amenities dispensers include the Kimpton, Ritz Carlton and Choice Hotels as well as Starwood’s extended-stay Element Hotels.

But the historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash. — the first hotel to have air conditioning and a central vacuum system — has had amenities dispensers in all guest bathrooms since the hotel’s $38 million makeover in 2002. “The hotel owners were a little ahead of the curve on that,” says the Davenport’s Matt Jensen. “It’s very efficient, it makes sense financially and it fits in with the hotel’s historically green approach. We fill the dispensers with very high quality bath products, and the only people who seem disappointed are the ones who like taking home those little bottles of shampoo.”

S.O.S. — Save Our Soap

Of course plenty of hotels still stock guest bathrooms with a full array of miniature products. But look closely and you may notice those products tend to be shrinking. “Only about 10 percent of a bar of hotel soap gets used,” says Maher. “So some hotels are using smaller bars or using bars with curves carved into them so that the bars look the same size, but have a third less soap.”

Other hotels aren’t trying to hide the fact that their soap has something missing. Among the hotel guestroom amenities offered by RoomService Amenities is a line of environmentally friendly products called Green from Natüra, which includes a bar of soap with a large hole in the middle. RSA’s Marshall Summer says the soap is designed “to eliminate the unused center of traditional soap bars” and is stocked by between 50 and 100 hotels nationwide, including Xantera Parks and Resorts, which operates hotels in Zion, Yellowstone, Death Valley and other national and state parks.

The nation’s hotels, however, still throw out about 800 million bars of slightly used soap each year. Some road warriors collect unopened soaps from their hotel rooms and donate them to shelters or groups in need. But several nonprofit organizations are gathering used soap, shampoo and other toiletries and recycling them to homeless shelters and communities where hygiene products are in short supply.

Close to 200 hotels, stretching from Florida to Hawaii, pay a tax-deductible recycling fee to Orlando-based Clean the World, which in 2009 collected and redistributed more than 230 tons of partially used soap and other toiletries. The nonprofit has a recycling plant where it re-batches about 10 percent of the donated soap it gathers by cooking it down and re-forming it into new bars. Ninety percent of the slightly used bars get sanitized and repackaged.

n Atlanta, former refugee Derreck Kayongo of Uganda and his wife Sarah operate the Global Soap Project, which is getting shipments of used soap from about 200 hotels across the nation. The group recently bought its own soapmaking machine and has 15 tons of used hotel soap in a warehouse waiting to be processed.

“Our plan is to sanitize and melt the soap, and turn it into new six-ounce bars,” says Kayongo. “Then we’ll ship the soap to Africa and work with an existing NGO [non-governmental organization] to distribute the soap at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which has been kind in hosting brothers and sisters who are escaping wars in other countries.”

What’s next?
Trend-wise, green consultant Maher says after all the tiny bottles and bars get replaced by dispensers, look for hotels to begin the wholesale installation of digital thermostats that can sense if a person is in the room and adjusts the temperature accordingly.

All well and good, says The Davenport’s Jensen, “But first it would be nice to come up with something that solves the problem of what to do with all the half-used rolls of toilet paper hotels end up with.”