China Ready: Is Berlin ready for China?
Whether it’s private tourism or conference delegates, Tim Hong makes it his daily responsibility to take care of guests from China and the whole of Asia. Mr. Hong is Key Account Manager for the corporate group Albeck & Zehden Hotels and Gastronomy. He is specialised in the Asian market with attention on China. We spoke to him about visitor figures, intercultural differences and programmes such as “IHG China Ready” that are focused on the specific needs of Chinese guests in the hotels.
BerlinMeetings: In recent years, Berlin has become increasingly popular with Chinese visitors. How many nights a year do Chinese guests spend in Berlin hotels?
Tim Hong: Between 2012 and 2015, the number of nights spent by Chinese guests in Berlin hotels climbed from 153,000 to 266,000 a year. The growth continued in 2016, with Chinese guests having spent 273,500 nights in Berlin Hotels through November already. In the past year, we have also noticed that Chinese guests are staying in the capital longer, on average two and a half days.
BerlinMeetings: When is the main season for guests to come from China?
Tim Hong: Generally, the tourist season for Germany and Berlin is May to October. Chinese tourists travel in summer, from May to June there are also lots of conferences and conventions. Even in September, trade fairs are still being organised. The IFA is the most important fair: half of the exhibitors are from Asia and at least 50% of them come from China.
BerlinMeetings: How do Chinese guests spend their time in Berlin?
Tim Hong: Chinese guests have an approximate duration of stay of two and a half days per city. Berlin is large and there is a lot to see – that’s why the time spent here is usually two and a half to three days. The special thing about Chinese tourism is that the daily schedule is always very full. The tourists want to make sure they see all attractions and that’s why everything is planned. Even the business tourists want to get to know the city next to all their professional appointments.
For Hotels, it’s important to know that guests check in late: 6 o’clock or even later. They also check out very early – 8 or 9 o’clock – and spend the whole day in the city.
The Chinese only have a few days off and travel once a year. As a result the spend lots of money, especially on shopping. They want to buy as much as possible for themselves, their business partners and their families.
BerlinMeetings: Is this the reason why Berlin is especially interesting as a holiday destination for Chinese guests?
Tim Hong: Berlin is a typical city trip: Chinese people find cultural and historic experiences very important when they come to Germany. Like other German cities, Berlin has a lot of history to offer. The Prussian time, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall – this is appealing for Chinese tourists.
The typical Berlin city life found in the different neighbourhoods is only something for Chinese visitors that have been to Berlin before. Then they have time to explore Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain or Charlottenburg. The guests travel from large main Chinese cities in smaller groups and usually stay longer. Then the city life also becomes interesting.
BerlinMeetings: In your opinion, what makes Berlin so interesting as a congress destination for companies from China? What do your guests value about Berlin?
Tim Hong: Berlin stands for health, mobility and information technology – hereby the medical area is especially important. There are lots of visitors that come to Berlin due to medical congresses. They usually also stay longer, at least a week.
Berlin stands for health, mobility and information technology – hereby the medical area is especially important. There are lots of visitors that come to Berlin due to medical congresses. They usually also stay longer, at least a week.
"Berlin stands for health, mobility and information technology – hereby the medical area is especially important."
Additionally, the good price-performance-ratio of the Berlin hotel landscape in comparison to other cities is also an advantage.
BerlinMeetings: Which areas can we improve, to make Berlin even more attractive for Chinese guests?
Tim Hong: Berlin needs to expand the existing good infrastructure, especially direct flights to China.
Major international events and sporting events also help Berlin’s image in China. The marathon is an excellent example of this. Health and sport are two issues very important to Chinese guests because of the comparatively lower standards for environmental protection back home.
"It’s not simply done by offering a Chinese meal or putting a Chinese flag on the table. The focus is on understanding the culture and providing it with a form of appreciation."
BerlinMeetings: And what can tourism employees do to make the travel planning as comfortable as possible for Chinese guests?
Tim Hong: Event and tourism agencies should be present continuously at international tourism fairs and roadshows. This allows congress and event planners from China to inform themselves about different programmes. The providers and agencies must be flexible when doing this, a little bit of sponsoring and a hands-on mentality.
I always say: Berlin needs open-minded people! The employees which work in tourism have to be very positive and friendly with the guests. When interacting with Chinese guests this is unbelievable important.
BerlinMeetings: How can local organisers improve their services for the guests? There are for example “Welcome-Chine”-programmes such as “China Ready”, that offer employees within the hotel industry cultural insights in form of a training. Which advantages do these bring the hotel industry in Germany?
Tim Hong: It’s not simply done by offering a Chinese meal or putting a Chinese flag on the table. The focus is on understanding the culture and providing it with a form of appreciation. This can be done in many ways. The hotels of the Albeck & Zehden Group are sending this signal with its “IHG China Ready” programme. The “IHG China Ready” hotels currently include the Hotel Crowne Plaza Berlin City Centre, which was the first one to be certified in Europe, as well as the Holiday Inn Berlin City Centre East, just certified this year.
These programmes offer numerous advantages! We have Chinese speaking employees, have revised our breakfast menu, offer Chinese television, have a Chinese website – it’s about offering Chinese guests a service which makes their long journey into a foreign culture easier for them.
- KaDeWe gourmet floor
- Sausage stands such as „Kudamm 195“ or „Curry 36“
- Hofbräu at Alexanderplatz
- Exclusive shopping: KaDeWe, Bikini Berlin, Kurfürstendamm
- Berlin Philharmonie or Friedrichstadt-Palast
BerlinMeetings: In closing: Which spots in Berlin do you recommend Chinese guests?
Tim Hong: Of course, all attractions such as the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag.
When business travellers want to experience a bit more of Berlin, local bars and restaurants in the city centre are very important. Shopping is important too, of course – KaDeWe, Boutiques at KuDamm or Bikini Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonie or the Friedrichstadt-Palast offer themselves for entertainment.
We thank Tim Hong for the conversation and his insights towards tourism from China in Berlin.