Hilton Worldwide’s welcome program for Chinese travelers, Hilton Huanying, officially launched Aug. 16 with a global unveiling at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. The program rolled out with 51 participating properties in 13 countries, in cities such as London, Sydney, Mexico City, Toronto, and New York. Led by Hilton Worldwide’s flagship brand, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Huanying is available to any hotel across the company’s 10 brands that can deliver the program’s service standards.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ launch event had local significance not only because four hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area have introduced Hilton Huanying, but also because the city is a leading global destination for Chinese travelers and has one of the largest Chinese communities in the United States.
Taking its name from the Chinese word for “welcome,” Hilton Huanying features special services and amenities across the arrival, guestroom, and breakfast experience to accommodate the exponential growth of Chinese travelers.
The initiative coincides with Hilton Hotels & Resorts' commitment to growth within China, where the company has more than two decades of experience. Today Hilton Worldwide has 18 properties open in China, and that will rise to more than 100 within the next five years, more than half of which will be branded as Hilton. “As Chinese people travel, they’re looking for brands they recognize,” says Andrew Flack, vice president of global brand marketing for Hilton Hotels & Resorts. “And the more we grow in China, the more people will feel comfortable traveling outbound.”
To kick off the celebration, a local troupe performed a traditional Chinese lion dance ceremony. Attendees then visited three interactive stations to see, and taste, the experience firsthand.
A Chinese version of the Hilton Global Media Center, which also launched on this day, was displayed via iPad at the arrival station. Hilton Huanying properties have a dedicated front desk team member who is fluent in Mandarin. Participating guests will also receive a welcome letter written in Chinese.
The guestroom station showcased amenities such as a television broadcasting Chinese programming, slippers, a tea kettle, and a selection of Chinese teas that are available upon request.
The breakfast station featured Hilton Huanying dishes, including two varieties of congee (rice porridge) with an assortment of toppings, har gau (prawn dumplings), char siew pau (barbecue pork buns), fried rice and noodles, and other dim sum selections, as well as cereals, eggs, fresh fruits, juices, Chinese tea, and more.
Attendees included Flack; Philippe Garnier, vice president of sales and regional marketing, Asia Pacific, Hilton Worldwide; San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; and Chinese Deputy Consul General Yi Xianrong.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts built the Hilton Huanying program, set the standards, and conducted tests at three hotels, in Los Angeles, London, and Seoul, to refine the offerings. “We spoke to those hotels that we knew were already benefiting from significant Chinese travel and worked with them to sign them up,” Flack says. “We announced the program a month ago, and since then we’ve seen weekly additional sign ups. That’s what’s got us to above 50 for today and it will continue to grow as more destinations see the opportunity to put some guarantee around the Chinese visitor experience.
“Of course the other end to this is back in China,” he adds, “where sales and marketing teams are now promoting the program to Chinese travel agents who want to give something guaranteed to their groups.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, 802,000 mainland Chinese residents visited the United States in 2010, which is a 53 percent increase over levels in 2009. Flack says Hilton is consistently seeing double-digit growth in Chinese travelers at its properties worldwide. At Hilton San Francisco Union Square, for instance, he says the number of Chinese visitors has doubled compared to this time last year.
Hilton is not the only hotel company that has recognized the huge role China will play in global travel within the next decade. On July 11, the same day Hilton first announced Hilton Huanying, Starwood Hotels & Resorts announced the launch of Starwood Personalized Travel, a program of initiatives designed to serve the preferences of Chinese travelers. It’s also been reported that Marriott International is planning a new Chinese breakfast in the U.S. for the fall.
This is not the first time Hilton has launched a program for multicultural segments. When a significant amount of Japanese travel emerged in the 1980s, Flack says Hilton had a similar program. Going back the ‘60s, it had a program called Lady Hilton built around the emerging trend of female business travel. “With all these changes in travel behavior there comes a time where you need to make a bit of statement, that we’re serious about this market, and we’ll offer some consistency in the experience, and then it gets absorbed into normal hotel operations,” Flack says. “There is that tipping point where it becomes a significant part of your business.”
While Flack says he is sure there will be additional programs launched in the future for other cultural groups, right now Hilton’s focus is on China. “History says there will always be another audience who is starting to embrace travel.”