In the mad rush to capture the Chinese market, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), stands out as one of the first international hotel brands to focus on China. Blair McSheffrey, Vice President, Commercial – Greater China, IHG, explains why the brand is so dominant in Asia, and how domestic Chinese travelers are changing how hotels do business.
Every major brand is rushing to open hotels throughout Asia Pacific. Why is InterContinental already ahead of the pack?
China is our second largest market, after the U.S. It was designated as a key market for IHG a long time ago and we were the first international hotel brand in the country. The Holiday Inn Lido opened in 1984. Back then, if you were traveling to Beijing, you stayed at the Holiday Inn Lido or the Great Wall Sheraton. It was legendary and even today, everyone still talks about the heyday of the Lido.
What made a Holiday Inn so special in Beijing?
For years, the hotel served American-style “chicken dinners.” It was the only American food available and people flocked to them, both foreigners and locals. This classic Holiday Inn became the anchor for Western restaurants and shops that built up around Lido, and it became the hub for this ex-pat community. Because of that Holiday Inn, and because IHG is so dominant in Asia, we have incredible brand recognition in China.
The original structure still stands today as the Metropark Lido Beijing. On the 30th anniversary of that first Holiday Inn, we opened the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido directly next door.
There is no secret recipe to attract Chinese business. It’s not as simple as, “If you put congee on the breakfast menu they will come.”
What cities does IHG have its eyes on next?
We currently have 215 hotels in 87 cities in China, and we’re opening another 200 in the next couple of years.
There’s simply less opportunity in the traditional city center locations. Hong Kong is completely built out; main cities of Shanghai and Beijing are growing out, so we’re moving into the suburban areas. Other emerging cities in China include Dalian, Harbin, and Shenyang.
We’re also moving west to cities like Chongqing and Xi’an. Chengdu has grown into a hub and we’ve had a presence there even before international airlift increased so dramatically.
There’s also a lot happening in the Yunnan Province in the southwest. We’re opening three hotels in Kunming—it’s currently a third-tier city but it still has 10 million people. We have two hotels in Lijiang, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site–a Crowne Plaza and a boutique-style Hotel Indigo. The Crowne Plaza Resort Xishuangbanna, which opened in April 2013, has already won many awards. It’s the first international hotel in this region and the first Crowne Plaza resort in China.
Is there a big focus on the leisure market?
We are seeing incredible growth in resort areas. It’s not just in Sanya, on Hainan Island, where all the major international brands are. We’re building a lot of hotels just outside of the cities for the weekend getaway crowd. That includes Thousand Lakes outside of Hangzho, Heilong Lake outside of Chengdu, and the InterContinental Huizhou outside of Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Just outside of Beijing is the Holiday Inn Resort Beijing Yanging; outside Shanghai is the Crown Plaza Shanghai Harbor City on Dishuihu Lake, and the Crown Plaza Shanghi Anting Golf. The InterContinental Suzhou sits on the waterfront of Jinji Lake.
Where do you see hotel trends going in China, specifically?
This year, we’re doing something entirely new: we’re opening a Chinese luxury brand, HUALUXE. When you look at a Marriott or Hilton, it’s truly an American brand, no matter where it’s located. HUALUXE will be a distinctively Chinese option, made for the Chinese traveler.
Click here to go inside HUALUXE with Kenneth Macpherson, CEO Greater China, IHG
What advice do you have for other hotel brands that are trying to capture outbound Chinese travelers?
There is no secret recipe to attract Chinese business. It’s not as simple as, “If you put congee on the breakfast menu they will come.” You really have to adapt.
Like any other culture, the goal is to make Chinese guests feel at home. They tend to travel in groups, they like certain types of food, they’d like to be able to watch Chinese TV. It’s extremely difficult to have Chinese speakers in every hotel, but think about how you can accommodate the languages. I travel in China a lot and my Chinese is not where it needs to be, so I appreciate simple things like English translations. For a Chinese traveler in the U.S. and Europe, that kind of basic support can help tremendously.
How can travel providers cater to the outbound Asia market? Get tips from Brett Tollman, president of The Travel Corporation.