Dubai hotels target Chinese travel market

An increasing number of Chinese have been travelling overseas in recent years as the nation’s economy gains strength and its government relaxes rules on travel abroad. Figures from the China Tourism Authority show that total Chinese outbound departures are expected to reach 65 million in 2011, up 13% year-on-year.

Overall, China’s share of the global tourism market is expected to reach 8% by 2013, surpassing Japan as the world’s second largest tourism market, Boston Consulting Group said in a recent report.

Chinese tourists tend to travel in groups and shop extensively while travelling abroad. Chinese tourists’ spending on overseas travels has been forecast to reach $55bn this year, up from the record high of $48bn in 2010. Since 2009, Chinese travellers have been the world’s fourth-biggest spenders behind travellers from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Hotel and tourism officials in Dubai have noted these trends and have taken steps to attract more tourists from China, especially given the sharp drop in tourist arrivals from key feeder countries in Western Europe in the wake of the downturn. The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has opened offices in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, and Dubai-owned carrier Emirates has rapidly expanded its routes to the Asian nation.

Dubai’s efforts to attract Chinese tourists were given a boost in the autumn of 2009 when the emirate gained “approved destination” status from the Chinese government, which enabled Chinese tourists to undertake leisure travel in groups to the destination.

Taken together, these factors helped raise the number of Chinese travellers to the emirate from just over 96,000 in 2008 to 150,000 in 2009. The trend continued in the first six months of last year, when Dubai received 57% more tourists from China as compared to the same period in 2009.

China has fastest rising group of travellers

Dubai-based Jumeirah Group says travellers from China are the fastest growing group of guests at its hotels and now represent about 5% of its guests, up from less than one percent three years ago. “During Chinese New Year this year we were looking at almost 80% occupancy from China alone within the Burj Al Arab,” the company’s chairman Gerald Lawless said at a press conference earlier this year.

Lawless said an increase in flights between Dubai and key cities in China has helped boost the number of Chinese tourists visiting the emirate. The expansion of service to China continued this week as Emirates launched A380 service to Shanghai, the most populous city in China.

Shanghai is Emirates’ third destination in Greater China to welcome the superjumbo, following the launch of the aircraft to Beijing in August 2010 and Hong Kong two months later.

Cultural awareness is key

Catering to Chinese tourists has been a key focus at the Ibn Battuta Gate hotel in Dubai since it opened in October last year. “We decided early on that we would focus on the Chinese market,” said Andrew Hughes, director of sales marketing at the hotel. “It started pre-opening with our recruitment strategy, and now we have over 40 Chinese speaking staff in the hotel.”

The hotel has a Chinese sales team that makes regular trips to China and it offers brochures written in Chinese. It also adjusts the menus at its restaurants to cater to Chinese guests during periods such as Chinese New Year. “We really understand that the Chinese market requires a level of cultural understanding as well as the physical elements, and we have had a great deal of success as a result of that,” he said.

One of the cultural differences that the hotel has learned to adapt to is the way the Chinese use social media. Although the Chinese are the biggest users of social media in the world, Facebook is not available in the country, he noted.

At the same time, e-mail campaigns, which are usually highly successful in the GCC market, are not effective in China because they are not ‘instant enough’, he noted. “People in China are looking for instant responses and instant answers. That’s the way the marketplace works. We tried an e-mail campaign but had a very limited open rate since a lot of the e-mail addresses were not even valid in the Chinese market because it is not as commonly used,” he said.

Instead, the hotel uses instant messengers such as QQ and Windows Live Messenger to communicate its offerings and promotions to the Chinese market.

The hotel expects that Chinese travellers will represent about 6%-7% of the guests that it receives this year, and is looking to expand that figure in 2012. “The traditional markets are still coming, but we need to turn to new markets to continually grow Dubai, and obviously the Chinese market with its sheer volume of people and economic growth is hugely appealing for us in Dubai to target,” he said.