Time for NZ hotels to perfect their welcome for Asian guests

Some hotels are still missing out on the lucrative opportunities that come with catering well to New Zealand’s second largest visitor market. Around 450,000 Chinese visitors every year are spending over $1.2 billion here, and the majority of those visitors stay in hotels. 

According to data from Tourism New Zealand, Chinese visitors are largely happy with their New Zealand experience, but there is a portion whose expectations are not being met.

For a Chinese traveller, the experience typically starts long before they reach New Zealand’s shores. They will likely find and book their accommodation through the world’s largest payment platform, Alipay. The ‘super app’ has completely transformed the way the average Chinese person books travel and there is no doubt that if a hotel can't be booked on the app, it will be missing out on this market.

On top of that, 93 percent of Chinese visitors say they would spend more in New Zealand if mobile payments were made available, and 99 percent pay for everything using technology linked to their Chinese bank account.

Whether enough hotels have jumped on board the latest tech to ensure New Zealand remains a viable destination for Chinese guests is yet to be seen. Hoteliers did enthusiastically adopt UnionPay during the last decade, that being the payment system to have at the time. And with Christchurch Airport driving the Alipay project as part of its "South" programme, helping businesses become Alipay merchants since 2017, there is plenty of support available.

Those who are getting Chinese visitors through their doors need to consider their breakfast options carefully. Asian visitors in general tend to come to New Zealand looking for an authentic experience, but access to familiar food can be the difference between a fantastic stay and an alienating one.

Most large hotels and chains now offer breakfast options such as congee alongside continental options for the European markets – but therein lies a challenge. How do you cater for every single market along with dietary requirements such as vegan, gluten and dairy-free, in days where sustainability is being emphasised? The amount of additional wastage this creates is enormous and increasing. This means smaller hotels are still working to get the balance right, and there’s no easy answer on the horizon.

Plenty of hotels now offer 'halal-friendly' tourism by providing resources to help Muslim guests find nearby mosques and restaurants that serve halal food. Some provide Qibla signage that points in the direction of Mecca in each room - though with so many apps providing this service, and nearly all hotels having WiFi available, this may now be more of a friendly gesture than a must-have for a Muslim guest.

In key visitor destinations such as Rotorua and Queenstown, hotels that focus on the tour or wholesale market usually have key signage in Cantonese or Mandarin. The approach here has traditionally been around ‘what not to do’. This kind of messaging can come across as rather unwelcoming and is not terribly useful. I have always felt the message should be ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do it’, with some explanation of cultural norms.

Hotels could look to the holiday park sector for some inspiration. Since 2011, Holiday Parks New Zealand Chief Executive Fergus Brown has been working with partners to educate holiday parks on market and cultural requirements. HPNZ has produced a language video providing detailed information on what a holiday park is and how Chinese visitors can experience a campervan holiday. They also developed a purpose-built Chinese version of their website and developed a number of Chinese language blogs.

The trick for making Asian guests feel welcome, as for all international guests, is in finding the right balance between an authentic New Zealand experience and a familiar one. With a few home comforts, decent translations and practical inclusions, Asian visitors will go home raving about their experience, and others will follow. So, as we look forward to Chinese New Year kicking off at the end of January, it seems a perfect time for hotels to work on their welcomes.

Views expressed in this article are personal to the author. 

- Asia Media Centre