Slippers & dim sum: hotel chains woo Chinese guests

FRANKFURT (Reuters Life!) - When you next step into a hotel in the Americas or Europe, look out for a more Oriental flavor to the breakfast buffet, as the world's largest hotel chains step up efforts to attract Chinese customers to their hotels.

Starwood Hotels and Hilton Hotels both said they will start to provide guests traveling from China with tea kettles, Chinese tea and slippers in their rooms, along with a selection of familiar foods at the breakfast buffet, such as congee and dim sum.

"I know how daunting it is to step into a country for the first time," Starwood Chief Executive Frits van Paasschen told Reuters on Monday.

"We want to make sure that when Chinese travelers go outside of China for the first time, whether for business of pleasure, that they are as comfortable as possible."

Starwood, which even moved its headquarters to Shanghai for a month in order to build better relationships there, is now offering the services at 19 hotels in cities such as New York, Paris, London, Bangkok and Sydney.

"There's a whole variety of things you can do, that aren't necessarily expensive but which change a customer's experience a great deal," van Paasschen added.

Hotels are currently returning to the sentiment of it being the little things that count, such as a friendly smile, rather than trying to lure guests with fancy freebies.

Hilton Worldwide has named its program for Chinese travelers 'Huanying', which means 'welcome' in Chinese. It will roll out the concept to 30 hotels next month.

"As the world prepares to welcome the growing number of Chinese travelers, we continue to lead and give guests compelling reasons to choose Hilton," Dave Horton, global head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, said in a statement.

Starwood estimates the number of people traveling from China will reach 100 million by 2015.

"There's 25 million going abroad for the first time each year," said van Paaschen. "That's not far off the population of Canada."

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan, editing by Paul Casciato)

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