While China is about to overtake the world’s top position with its now-booming tourism trade, its hospitality industry is already leading in how it leverages technology. There is an opportunity for the rest of the world in this exploding market, both inside China and from its citizens when they travel internationally.
How big is the opportunity? China is on pace to be the number one tourism market by 2022. In the first six months of 2018 alone, Chinese tourists made 15% more trips from the mainland to other countries than the same period in 2017, an astounding 71.3 million trips. Credit the Chinese government for lowering visa restrictions and how direct international flights are being added to meet the demand.
Tourism within the country is up, too – it’s US-dollar-equivalent total of $358.9 billion for 2017 registered a 12.5% increase from 2016. And tourists are interested in China. The government reports almost 23.8 million trips by foreign tourists, with more than 75% of that from other Asian countries.
But because of its quick adoption of technology, hospitality is transacted differently in China. To welcome Chinese guests, whether in their country or in your own, the rest of the world is going to have to offer technology they’re already accustomed to, particularly in three areas.
In many Chinese establishments, mobile payment isn’t simply one option, it’s the only option besides cash. And this is driving guest expectations in the hospitality industry. Almost 60% of Chinese tourists surveyed said that mobile payment is a very important factor when deciding on which hotel to stay at.
Ensuring that various aspects of your hotel are mobile friendly is increasingly important when catering to Chinese guests. In fact, Phocuswright reports that Asian hotel stays are dominated by Chinese mobile bookings, which are the third highest source in the continent (after total bookings in China, followed by Japan). China is simply leading the world in the adoption and development of mobile payment. And it shows how far it could grow in other countries.
In the US, adoption of paying by phone has been slow, probably due to consumer caution. But as younger consumers enter the market, mobile payment in the US is taking hold.
In the case of Apple Pay, transactions have tripled year over year through June 2018 and 31% of all iPhone users now use Apple Pay. Other mobile payment platforms from leaders like Samsung and Android promise to propel the momentum at even greater rates.
Hotels who hope to benefit from the increase in mobile payment should start preparing to accommodate this kind of guest. But if you’re looking to accommodate China’s mobile-savvy guests, astute hotel operators will look to provide mobile payment options sooner than later.
Social Media Integration
If China’s WeChat, a popular social media platform, is any indicator, the world is going to see other social platforms grow to envelop a tremendous range of capability. With more than 800 million signed up, WeChat users total the number for Instagram and Twitter combined. Every smartphone sold in China comes with the mobile app pre-installed.
Chinese WeChat users can use the app for the typical social media functions but can also reserve and purchase flights, hotel rooms, car rides, excursions, and more. It alone combines almost everything smartphone users in other countries do with a host of apps. And it gives hotel operators many ways to advertise and sell their properties as well as deepen their relationships with their guests.
In China, social media is so influential, it’s even affecting how tourists travel. They are moving from the desire to accumulate possessions to demanding experiences when they travel, which they can then share with their friends on WeChat and other social platforms. The industry is shifting to accommodate, with leading hotel brands opening resorts that offer skiing, indulgent spas, and other “social media-friendly” experiences just outside of major metropolitan areas.
Smart Room Control
WeChat is even helping to power how hotel guests operate their room controls. At the Minimax Premier Hotel Shanghai Hongqiao, OpenKey’s China office has pioneered a system that combines its industry-leading keyless entry with WeChat’s suite of room control automation services. So they not only book and purchase their room from the app, they can also unlock and lock the door, control the lighting, operate the curtains, set the thermostat and more within WeChat. It can even automate combinations of those items with “sleep,” “arrival” and other grouped settings so they all simultaneously change to the user’s preferences with one touch of the app.
InterContinental Hotels has brought Smart Room suites to its Beijing Sanlitun and Guangzhou Exhibition Centre locations by partnering with China’s Baidu, a pioneer of AI as well as other high technology. According to a company press release, these suites will “fully embrace voice control technology to deliver a more natural human-computer interactive experience.”
Expected to attract millennials, the systems, among other conveniences, will allow guests to simply speak their choice of settings grouped for their ideal conditions for whether they are working or relaxing. IHG Greater China plans to open 100 Smart Room suites across its various properties in China.
At the Altour S Hotel in Beijing, it won’t be odd at all for guests to starting speaking when they enter their empty rooms. Because they’ll be using their voices to control their Tencent Cloud Xiaowei systems to start entertainment systems, operate their window treatments, and more.
With a simple “Hello Xiaowei,” they can do all this as well as contact management or the front desk without dialing a phone. Tencent Cloud also powers bathroom “smart mirrors” that can display weather forecasts, news, messages, and other information of the guest’s choosing.
The hotel benefits as well with higher efficiency and lower operating costs since artificial intelligence also powers the property’s systems. Further, information gathered from their guests allows the hotel to deliver a service experience closely customized to each traveler’s preferences.
The world of technology has much to offer the hospitality industry, and it’s only just beginning. And to get an idea of what’s next, the industry only has to look to the East.