With the USA, Europe and Japan experiencing economic uncertainty, the markets Australian tourism has traditionally catered to are declining. In 2010-2011, our market share fell or was flat for eleven major markets and achieved growth in only one: China.
Thanks to its proximity to Australia and its rapid ascent to economic prominence, China has the potential to be an increasingly significant source of visitors for the Australian tourism industry in coming years. But how welcome do we make our Chinese visitors feel?
I pondered this question as I transited through Sydney Airport recently, and as an experiment, decided to imagine myself as a non-English speaking Chinese visitor.
The first thing that struck me was the distinct lack of multi-lingual signage and public address announcements. Even for a China Airlines flight, the only Chinese characters I saw seemed to be indicating what seating class the counters were checking in. None of the important safety messages were offered in Chinese at all (or any other language besides English for that matter) and nor were flight announcements or requests for individual passengers to go to the gates.
At customs there were no signs anywhere to explain to non-English speakers that they had to complete a departure card. Instead, a staff member barked loudly at all and sundry, seemingly impervious to the confusion and uncertainty this generated on many peoples’ faces. I found his manner intimidating and demeaning, and was embarrassed to realise that this was the farewell we were offering people who had just spent a lot of money in our country.
The security screening process was no better, with staff shouting instructions to everyone in the queue in English, regardless of their nationality. Unsurprisingly, many people turned up at the customs desks without their cards filled in, or approached the security screening without having removed their laptops or bottles of liquid from their bags. How frustrating for them, for the staff, and for the people stuck in the queue behind them!
Solutions to making Chinese and other international visitors feel more comfortable navigating the airport don’t seem terribly complex. At the very least we should have signs or videos with information in different languages strategically placed in highly visible locations to give people instructions about what to do and where to go. A downloadable app allowing you to choose a guide to the airport in your own language would be an elegantly simple solution too, and ideally, announcements regarding flights should be made in both English and the language of the destination of the flight.
The purpose of these observations is not to criticise Sydney Airport or its staff, but rather to point out that, as an industry, we haven’t as yet rolled out the red carpet for the very visitors we’ve identified as being most vital to our future.
As a hotelier, when did you last step into the shoes of your clients and really experience how it feels to be a guest in your property? For an unbiased and objective opinion, it can be very worthwhile to get someone external to perform an audit for you. Alternatively, get your staff involved, ask them for their honest feedback and commit to making changes based on the information they supply.
If you’re serious about attracting Chinese guests, you’ll start implementing initiatives designed to make them feel welcome. For example, below are just a few things that Accor and other international hotel chains have put in place – how many of them could you introduce in your hotel?
- Language: Consider supplying welcome letters, service directories, menus, registration cards and guest feedback forms in Mandarin, as well as hotel signage. Recruit Mandarin-speaking staff, or incentivise staff to develop their language skills. You could even offer a special service phone number staffed by a Chinese speaker.
- Menu items: Is your menu attractive to a Chinese visitor? At a minimum, you might want to add rice porridge to the breakfast menu and ensure your dinner menu includes good quality steak and seafood. (In my experience, it’s best not to offer Chinese meals unless prepared by a Chinese chef).
- In room amenities: What home comforts can you supply your Chinese guests? How about green tea? Chinese language newspapers and movies? Multi-point power adaptors?
- Cultural: Do your staff understand the etiquette of allocating seating and taking orders in the restaurant? Do they know which room numbers are considered most auspicious to the Chinese visitor and which are considered unlucky?
All of this has to be backed up with training and a genuine commitment
to taking care of clients. Lip service is not enough. For any changes you implement to be successful everyone in your business, from the top down, must wholeheartedly
embrace the Chinese market rather than taking it on board reluctantly and perceiving it as being difficult to service profitably. Staff must be aware of their role in making the experience memorable and enjoyable, and the whole hotel team needs to understand what is and is not seen as good service in the cultures of different guests.
China is a developing market, it’s growing and it will become more sophisticated. It’s a market that’s too big to miss out on, so get in early to grow your revenue from existing business and build a strong base for the future.
 BDA Marketing Planning, July 2011.
Published in the Accommodation Association of Australia newsletter 9 March 2012