The company announced the Starwood Personalized Traveler program to cater to Chinese guests as they travel to other hotels around the world.
SHANGHAI—It’s been five weeks since Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide relocated its executive team to China in a move that was symbolic of the importance the country will play in the future growth of the company.
Speaking Monday at Le Royal Méridien Shanghai, Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO, said it would have been more difficult trying to explain why the company shouldn’t spend time getting to know the culture and people.
“The thing I’m most focused on is taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity,” he said at a news conference today. “It’s clear that there’s much greater risk in not being fully engaged than living through the ebbs and flows of a great, dynamic economy.”
Starwood in China currently has 75 hotels open and 100 more in the pipeline.
Van Paasschen also said Starwood’s next phase, first establishing itself as an outpost for Westerners and now drawing close to 60% domestic travelers, is to focus on outbound Chinese travelers. As such, the company today launched the Starwood Personalized Traveler program to cater to Chinese guests as they travel to other hotels around the world. Specifics of the program, which launches at 19 hotels with the largest number of outbound China guests, include: in-house Chinese specialist; amenities, such as tea kettles, slippers, instant noodles and toiletries; translated hotel collateral; and Chinese-friendly menu items like congee, noodles and rice.
While the program launch coincided with the conclusion of the Starwood exec relocation, a year of research went into the development, van Paasschen said during an interview. Costs associated with implementing the program were not available at press time. All hotels will adopt the program by 2012.
The Chinese outbound traveler has attracted the attention of many in the travel and tourism industry. In 2010 there were 57.4 million border crossings (including visits to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) for a year-over-year increase of 21%, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. For 2011, COTRI estimates 65 million border crossings (data on exact number of travelers is not collected).
Chinese enrollment in Starwood Preferred Guest membership grew 71% and last year became SPG’s second largest base of active members behind North America, van Paasschen said. Half of Starwood’s occupancy in China comes from SPG members, he added.
The company will draw upon this loyal customer to communicate the new program, said Qian Jin, senior VP, operations, Greater China. The Chinese language Starwood booking site and call center will also play a large role in marketing the Starwood Personalized Travel program.
He also said Starwood’s hotel owners will take this as a good sign of the company’s commitment to China.
In similar news today, Hilton Hotels & Resorts announced Hilton Huanying, which means “welcome,” a custom experience for Chinese travelers that will launch 16 August in San Francisco. Guests will find familiar comforts in three key touch points of the on-property experience (arrival, guest room and Breakfast at Hilton).
The company said 30 hotels are enrolled in the program.